“Creating a Spy”: The Young Writers Practice Developing Character in Fiction

“What would your spy name be?”

The young writers started out their morning answering that very question on the Zoom board.

The theme for the day was “creating a spy,” and the young writers embraced it with fun spy names like Allegra, Rainstorm, and Phoenix. Some young writers aimed to be discreet by electing to choose “a common name in that area” or opting to keep their spy name a secret because to do otherwise felt contradictory.

After coming up with their spy names, the young writers took a break from the spy theme to share more of the postcard dialogues they had created the day before. The young writers did a tremendous job with their dialogues, and the level of characterization, backstory, and imagery was astounding!

The young writers share their dialogue videos and words of encouragement.

Next, Krista, one of our instructors, led the young writers in a brainstorming session, helping them with the character development of their spies. She challenged the writers to get specific, not only about what their spies look like but what motivates them and what their deepest fears or goals are. Krista demonstrated her own spy character, Vivienne, a French spy who works in a bakery, with a video enactment.

Krista as “Vivienne”

The young writers did an excellent job crafting their own spy backgrounds by adding vivid details and complexity. We met Paige’s “Bertie Jones” who likes to wear crazy socks and Stevie’s spy who recovers stolen paintings, lives in NYC, and is afraid of crowds.

Paige introduces us to “Bertie Jones” and her crazy socks!

Our visiting fiction writer for Day 2, Kenan Orhan, joined us next. Kenan shared a scene from his O. Henry Prize-winning short story “Soma” and showed the young writers how he captures a scene. Kenan talked about identifying pivotal moments and using vivid imagery to convey emotion and give a visceral experience to the reader. He challenged the young writers to go beyond writing what they know and to “come to know what [they] write.” With this goal in mind, he encouraged the young writers to research regional foods, cultures, traditions, and conflicts connected to a particular setting.

Kenan talks to the young writers about writing fiction.

The young writers then broke up into their groups to research their postcard destinations, searching for details distinct to the postcard’s location and time. The young writers identified local conflicts such as the crowds in New York City and bombing in London during World War II.

Allie and Josie working together in small group

Finally, Kenan and the young writers explored how setting informs a character’s desires as well as their conflicts, and how character development is more than a description of traits: it’s how a character reacts to situations. For his last activity before the lunch break, Kenan asked the young writers to start drafting a story in the first person to work on building empathy.

Bailey shares her postcard with Kenan.

Thank you so much for joining us, Kenan! And excellent job, young writers!

After the lunch break, Kathrine Schlageck, Associate Curator of Education at Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, led our young writers in a virtual tour of the Field Station 4 exhibit by Charles Lindsay. To aid with her tour, Kathrine interspersed video clips of Charles Lindsay describing his work and introducing pieces in the installation.

Kathrine Schlageck shares installation Field Station 4 with the young writers with the aid of a video tour from artist Charles Lindsay.

The young writers quickly caught onto the theme of juxtaposition (introduced as the “juxtaposition of time . . . of place . . . of culture”). In the exhibit, Lindsay experiments with time and space, and he juxtaposes an incredible variety of objects against each other such as old computers, horseshoe crabs, military cases, a Tibetan panel, and light and sound.

Following the virtual tour, the young writers were inspired to share examples of their favorite sci-fi and fantasy books, and they broke out into a conversation about how they would define the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and alternate history.

The young writers learn about the “architecture” of Field Station 4.

Adri led the young writers in the next activity: an exploration of conflict in dialogue. The young writers analyzed a set of photographs taken by the artist Dawoud Bey in which two people we would not expect to see together are paired (a continuance of the juxtaposition theme). The photos depicted people of differing race, age, cultures, style, and gender. After examining the images, in pairs the young writers crafted a dialogue for the photo of their choosing. To complete the exercise, the young writers used everything they learned today: creating backstories for their characters and focusing on character development and conflict. All of the groups were incredibly creative and thorough in coming up with their dialogues and explored relationships from stepparent/child to elderly client/caregiver on the way to a Bingo tournament.

Paige and Kylie work on their dialogue with aid from Krista.

Towards the end of the session, the young writers amped up the energy with a game. The challenge: find and gather up the most toilet paper! The young writers met the game with enthusiasm, and many had an impressive amount of toilet paper. Our winner was Ethan with an incredible 471 rolls! Also impressive were Maizie with 232 rolls, Paige with 119 rolls, and Raisa with 72!

The young writers show us their toilet paper!
For our final activity of the day, the young writers returned to the Zoom board to answer the question “What is your spy carrying in his/her pocket?”

It was an excellent second day, and the young writers did a tremendous job on their fiction writing activities. We are so impressed!

Join us again tomorrow to see what our young writers are getting up to!

— Cecily Cecil, Program Assistant

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