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

Book Review and Music Pairing: Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger

keeper_lost_citiesKeeper of the Lost Cities is about a girl named Sophie Foster who learns that she is not human. Shocker! She is a 12-year-old senior in high school and has been admitted to the most prestigious Ivy League schools. It all begins when she is sitting in science class one day, with ear-buds in, listening to music. The teacher asks her a question that she is not expected to know the answer, but her very rare ability, her photographic memory, helps her. Later, on a fieldtrip to a museum, an odd-looking boy tells her the words of her fate, “It’s okay, Sophie. I’m here to help you. We have been looking for you for 12 years.”

She has no choice but to go with him. She learns that his name is Fitz, and she is amazed at the lost world of the elves they have entered. Messenger provides some history and explains that the Ancients, the governing body for the elves, had a fight with the Humans a long time ago. When I read this, I thought of the song “Revolution” by the Beatles. After reading further, I realized not only is this not a revolution, but also it is the start of a broken bond. If the two groups had actually agreed, perhaps the world would be much happier. But, they didn’t. The Ancients wanted peace; however, humans wanted to go to war. So the two were separated, and the elves became forgotten to the humans except for the ones believed to reside in the North Pole. The forgotten elves actually live in areas called the Lost Cities. The human cities are known as Forbidden Cities to the elves, because nobody except for the Ancients and the Council members are allowed to enter them.

Sophie Foster starts school at the most prestigious school for prodigy elves. She learns that she is a Telepath with impenetrable brainpower, an elf who is able to read minds and transmit thoughts without anybody reading hers. She has always been able to read human minds. However, elf minds proved more difficult. And, another thing, it turns out a group of elves are out to get her. If this book was turned into a film, the song “When you wish upon a star” from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio is a symbolic song for the credits. Sophie wished that she could belong and not stand out as the only prodigy. I give this first book in the trilogy 11 stars out of 10! I loved it and the series so much that it is now my second favorite book series next to Harry Potter! Kudos, Shannon Messenger.

-Maya Salem, 6th grade