Home > Stories > Science fiction with Lili Wilkinson: Teen Writing Bootcamp

Science fiction with Lili Wilkinson: Teen Writing Bootcamp

Author Lili Wilkinson with pink highlights and wearing a green sequin top.
06 April 2023

In March 2023 author Lili Wilkinson explored imaginative and futuristic concepts with a group of talented young teens in her Teen Writing Bootcamp classes. Below she shares some tips and reflections.

It’s always such an incredible privilege and pleasure to work with teens and hear their stories. In many ways, online sessions are an ideal way to work with teens. They are more comfortable in their own space, and can choose what level of interaction they want to have. Some participants left their cameras off the whole time, some shared their work in the chat, others sent me questions and messages privately. Writing can be very personal, and it can make you feel vulnerable, so I’m always trying to ensure that participants feel comfortable.

Storytelling is instinctive – everyone knows how to tell a story, it’s part of what makes us human. This is great news, because it means we can trust our instincts and follow where the story leads. But sometimes it can make for stories that feel a little tired or predictable. Being more aware of story tropes and structures makes it easier to inject a little freshness into our stories. To twist a trope here, or reimagine a character there.

In our first week together, we talked about science fiction stories and tropes. We talked about all the different subgenres (steampunk, solarpunk, space opera, VR etc), and then expanded out to speculative fiction more generally, and why we tell stories set in other times and places. We then brainstormed a list of all our favourite kinds of stories, and story tropes, before selecting a few to focus on for the rest of the bootcamp.

In week 2, we looked at character. I bombarded participants with 25 questions about character, and by the end of the session, everyone had a much better idea of who their main character was and what their story would be about. We also discussed character names, and participants shared some of their best naming strategies.

Week 3 was all about beginnings and endings. We looked at opening lines and why they are important, and dissected a few to see why they were so good. Then everyone had a go at writing one, and many were brave enough to share, which was awesome! We then zoomed ahead to endings, decided that we didn’t like all-happy or all-sad ones, and then brainstormed some better endings for Cinderella, before applying what we learnt to our own stories, and mapping out some possible endings.

In our final week together, I got to do my favourite thing, which was get very granular about plot and structure. We looked at a variety of different story structures and realised that they are actually all the same, and had a go at drafting a beat sheet, before finishing up with a bit of Q&A.

I loved spending these 4 weeks working with such articulate and enthusiastic young people, and I am looking forward meeting them in real life at our in-person event!

More to explore

Find out more about the Teen Writing Bootcamp programs. 

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