Event Recap: Teen Writing Workshop with Shannon Messenger

shannon_messengerMany of you heard Shannon Messenger speak at the Mission Viejo Summer Lovin’ event last summer.  On Thursday, September 14, 2014, there was another event at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library.  Her teen writing workshop drew over 60 middle schoolers.  Messenger taught us some of the fundamental steps for beginning writers.  She explained characterization and world building as well as plot methods.  Within an hour, I began to feel like a better writer and reader.

One of the first things she recommended was to know your characters and to treat them like real people.  From her personal experience, she advised that you shouldn’t care what people think of you for saying in a conversation, “I want my character to do this, but she won’t let me!”  This cracked everyone up.  As Messenger continued, with a smile, she said we need to know our characters like we know ourselves by asking our character five questions:

  • What does your character want?
  • What does your character need?
  • What is your character afraid of?
  • How does your character feel about himself/herself?
  • What is your character hiding?

The next topic she addressed was building your story’s “world”–big or small, rich or poor, or even fantastic or realistic.  You also need to add in the history, culture, technology, transportation, and government.  The history can be pretty easy.  If it is a fantasy story, you can just make it up, but in a realistic fiction or historical fiction, you may need to research the location.  Culture consists of art, music, fashion, and sports.  The technology means acknowledging the inventions appropriate for your time period.  She advised that transportation can be tricky.  Is your character old enough to drive?  Or do you need to come up with some other means of moving from place to place? Finally, you need to define the type of government, laws, currency, language, and social structure.

The last big topic was “how to.”  Shannon Messenger said that adjectives are one contributing factor to a best-selling author’s success. Use your sensory words to describe different aspects of your town.  Such as, “She saw the blue sky and smelled the fresh scent of pine and evergreen.  As the aroma wafted to her nose, a memory flooded into her mind, and she heard her dad cutting down a Christmas tree for their house before he left for the army.  The scene brought tears to her eyes, and she felt one stray salty tear find its way into her mouth.  She tasted its bitter remembrance.” Using sensory language envelopes the reader in the scene.  In addition, Messenger recommended keeping an “idea journal” to keep track of your great ideas.  Messenger concluded by wishing us good luck and advising us to listen to the stories within us.

This was one of the most helpful writing workshops I have attended.  Shannon Messenger is one of my all-time favorite authors, and you can read my review of her Keeper of the Lost Cities series here.

-Maya S., 7th grade