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Contemporary fiction with Emily Gale: Teen Writing Bootcamp

21 April 2022

At the Library’s Teen Writing Bootcamp, writer Emily Gale explored the art of contemporary fiction with a group of talented young teens. Below she shares some tips and reflections from her Bootcamps in March 2022.

While designing my program for State Library Victoria, I decided to run with the idea that any teenager who signs up for an after-school creative writing course is already ambitious and industrious. So I took the term ‘Bootcamp’ quite literally and decided to pack in as much as possible. Years of running creative writing workshops in schools and libraries had taught me that if I was going too fast or getting into territory that was too complex, they’d soon let me know. My aim was to gradually provide them with a sturdy framework for any future writing they decide to do and give them time to plan a story over the four-week course. I think I was right to trust my instincts on this, going by the quality of work I’ve seen so far and the volume of insightful questions the teenagers asked during our sessions.

In our first week, I read them a short story that I would refer to numerous times during the Bootcamp to demonstrate how each dry theoretical component looked in a simple but effective tale. We started to think ‘big picture’ by brainstorming themes and areas of interest, and then we built main characters from the inside out, focussing on core desires and fears before adding backstory and personality. I gave them the rather tall order of writing the first sentence before the hour was up. Once that first session was done, I wondered if I’d gone too far: would anyone come back next week or had I scared them off?

As they filed into the Zoom call for week two, I thought: okay, you lot really are serious about this. We got straight into settings, inciting incidents, and how to take the narrative tropes we love and use them in less predictable ways. Already I was getting the sense that they were more than capable of taking whatever I told them and challenging it to suit their own unique vision: 'Can I add a light fantasy element to my story, or does it have to be realistic?' 'I know you said one main character for a short story, but I want two, is that okay?' 'What if I change my mind about my theme?' I’d been piling on the theory, so for part of this session, I decided to introduce them to the idea of free-writing and gave them timed challenges to get down as many words as possible without letting their pesky inner editors interrupt.

During weeks three and four - in between covering plotting, dialogue, the use of detail, resolutions and endings - more and more questions came my way - 'What’s the best way to write a fight scene?' 'How do I stop myself from deciding that my original idea is no good?' 'I want to write two first-person voices, how can I make them sound different?' Participants were letting me know about the challenges and joys of fiction they’d been working on before they’d signed up for the Bootcamp: some of these teenagers had written a whole novel already but wanted to write 'a better one' next time; a couple of them had come up with a complete micro-story during the first three sessions that they wanted me to read. Although this was on Zoom, and some were happier to have their cameras off and most preferred to use the chat function, it was abundantly clear by now that these young writers were passionate about their craft. 

I hope to meet the real people behind those little Zoom squares when the library hosts a day of workshops in June. And I’m sure that one way or another, I’ll be reading their fiction in years to come. 

More to explore

The Teen Writing Bootcamps will run from March to June 2022. All Bootcamps are open to teens aged 13 to 18 years old from all around Australia. They are free to attend but require consent from a parent or guardian.

Don’t miss your opportunity to strengthen your creative muscles.

This program has been made possible with the generosity of Serp Hills Foundation and The JTM Foundation.