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Jared Thomas on contemporary fiction: Teen writing boot camp

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01 June 2021

At the Library's Teen writing boot camp in March 2021, international award-winning Nukunu author Dr Jared Thomas explored the art of contemporary fiction. Here he shares some tips and reflections from the workshops.

Throughout the fiction writing bootcamp I felt it important to provide participants an insight into all of the knowledge that I draw upon when developing a novel or short story, including methods for maintaining discipline and motivation.

I believe that everyone has the ability to be a great storyteller, and that through living our personal journey, hearing and watching stories unfold, we possess an understanding of what makes a great story, even if sometimes we can’t immediately put our finger on each and every element of what makes a great story. I also believe that everyone can train to be the most awesome storytellers. Like everything, practice goes a long way.

Throughout the bootcamp, I aimed to provide participants an understanding of each element of great storytelling, and how elements such as setting and character can have an interrelationship that impacts on the dynamism of story.

Having recently submitted two new titles to my publishers Allen and Unwin and Magabala Books − a young adult novel My spare heart, and a junior fiction title Uncle XBox − I am aware of just how much of a mountain climb writing a novel is. I therefore wanted to provide tips that set writers up from the get go that enable perseverance through the writing of long form fiction.

During the first week of the bootcamp I discussed with participants their love of particular books and films, and how stories may have been important to them at key points in their life. I also shared my motivation for writing particular stories, and how writing a statement about the importance of a novel, and returning to the statement before each writing session can be a great way to keep to task.

Whereas in the past I have written novels in an organic fashion, having a rough sense of the story I wanted to tell and then just letting it flow, today I believe that planning is integral to both devising a great story, and maintaining motivation. So, we spent the second week looking at character development and dialogue, and the third week exploring plot and structure and the way that setting can impact on character, plot and dialogue.

To represent the way that elements such as character and dialogue, plot, structure and setting work in stories, throughout each session we had a whole lot of fun reviewing films and novels that we’re all familiar with. We considered things such as how a character trait such as Nemo having one fin smaller than the other, impacts on the Finding Nemo story set up and plot, and interactions with other characters. I also provided participants a draft copy of my junior story Uncle XBox, so that they could see how I dealt with elements of story development in this book.

In the third week, as part of reviewing the principles of plot and setting, participants had the opportunity to thread elements of character, dialogue, setting and plot together in a very short story. The writing that was produced during this short exercise was phenomenal and evidence that participants had been completing their weekly homework, and gaining a great understanding of the many elements that contribute to a great story.

For the last week of the bootcamp I shared with participants principles of editing, working with an editor, submitting work to a competition and to a publisher.

I found the bootcamp a whole lot of fun, with so much interesting discussion, and it was highly enjoyable reading participants works. Presenting the bootcamp and listening to the ideas of participants, I also had the fortune of learning a whole lot more about the art of storytelling.

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