“Struggles of Today”: The Young Writers Learn about Conflict and Character in YA Fiction

Today’s theme was “struggles of today,” and the young writers started the workshop by answering the question “What personal struggles do young people face today?”

Their answers included peer pressure, self-image, self-discovery, being taken seriously, isolation, and taking on the burden of previous generations’ problems.

The young writers address personal struggle on the Zoom white board.

The young writers’ answers made an excellent segue into the first activity of the day: describing how objects can represent conflict. Krista introduced the activity by providing the example of the ruby slippers from The Wizard and Oz and explaining that the real struggle is not about ownership of the slippers but rather good vs. evil, power, and whether or not Dorothy can go home.

Krista then asked the young writers to think of other examples of objects representing a larger conflict in stories. The young writers talked about the elder wand in Harry Potter, the one ring in Lord of the Rings, the mockingjay pin in The Hunger Games, and the At. oow (blanket) in Touching Spirit Bear. The young writers felt that many of these objects also represented the struggle between good and evil and the struggle for power, but they also talked about fear vs. courage, rebellion vs. conformity, and friendship vs arrogance and pride.

The young writers work together to identify objects that represent conflict.

The young writers were then challenged to come up with their own object and conflict for a short story. They were encouraged to use the scavenger hunt list (or toilet paper or socks!) as inspiration for their object and to use an answer from this morning’s question of the day as inspiration for the conflict.

The young writers presented the beginnings of their short stories to the large group, and they all did an excellent job. Some wrote about self-image (creatively using a candle and a Snickers bar as objects). Some other great examples were the struggle with depression paired with green apple shampoo, and the conflict of peer pressure paired with a G.I. Joe discovered in an old cabin.

The young writers applaud as Jordyn presents her fantastic object and conflict!

Visiting YA author Miranda Asebedo joined us next. Miranda taught the young writers about character and voice. She talked about how a writer can control voice using vocabulary, sentence length, and grammar. Miranda then helped the young writers do close readings of passages from YA novels such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, and her own A Constellation of Roses. The young writers were asked to describe what the use of detail, slang, and choice of vocabulary and grammar told readers about the characters, including whether the characters seemed likable and reliable.

Visiting YA writer Miranda Asebedo talks about character in YA fiction.

Next, the young writers were asked to share some of their favorite literary characters. The young writers mentioned Hermione, Luna Lovegood, and several other Harry Potter characters as well as Little Women’s Jo March, Artemis Fowls title character, and Marie-Laure LeBlanc from All the Light We Cannot See.

Miranda then asked the young writers to come up with their own characters, paying special attention to the character’s motivations, fears, interests/passions, mannerisms, and appearance. The young writers were incredibly creative coming up with characters such as Ethan’s superhero, Ben Jones, who wants vengeance against Dr. Slayer; Jordyn’s fashion model who fears rejection; and Raisa’s student who desires equality and attends an academy for gifted orphans.

Jordyn volunteers to share her character with the group.

After sharing their characters, the young writers received a new challenge: choose a world for your character. Miranda presented the young writers with three options for their world: “end of the world,” “star-crossed lovers,” or “what happened last night?!”

The young writers did a fantastic job with the beginnings of their short stories. We saw the return of Stevie’s spy character from earlier in the week, Marshall Torino, facing the aftermath of a forgotten night, while Aspen’s dog character and Ethan’s superhero both contemplated the end of the world.

The young writers choose a “world” for their characters.

With the remaining time before our lunch break, Miranda answered questions from the young writers about her experiences with inspiration, working with a marketing team and publicist, and publishing. When asked about “writing what you know,” Miranda told the young writers that she believes that starting with the familiar is a good strategy as it presents the opportunity to tell a story only they can tell. However, she also encouraged them to get out of their comfort zones and expand into a variety of other characters.

The young writers present their stories to Miranda Asebedo.

Following the lunch break, the young writers returned to a game of two truths and a lie before sharing more of the postcard dialogue videos that they had created earlier in the week. As it turns out, the young writers are amazing actors!

The young writers watch Maizie’s amazing postcard video!
Josie as Wild Bill in her postcard video
And Kylie’s fantastic video response to Wild Bill!

We then moved into small groups so that the young writers could continue to work on developing their characters, conflicts, and stories. The young writers were also encouraged to workshop their drafts within their small groups and think about what they will read for Friday’s reading.

Members of the Variety Squad discuss their picks for Friday’s reading.

After moving back into the large group, the young writers were presented with another game! Today’s challenge was to find the oddest instrument. The young writers proved to be eclectic, and we had a pianist, three French horn players, and a guitarist in the group!

Our director, Katy Karlin, judged the competition. Charlie came in third with a gourd, Kylie was second with an Otamatone, and Paige came in first with a set of fake teeth she made into an instrument for a science class.

In 3rd place: Charlie with a gourd!
In 2nd place: Kylie with an Otamatone
Winner Paige shows her instrument to the group!

After the winner was declared, the young writers moved back into their small groups to workshop each others’ drafts. Each young writer selected a piece to share, and the others offered helpful feedback and suggestions.

Pyper reads her piece to the Variety Squad.

The day came to a close with the question “What global struggles does society face today?” Check out how the young writers responded below!

Excellent job, young writers!

We are so excited to see you again tomorrow for our last day of the workshop – and we can’t wait to see you present your work at the reading!

—Cecily Cecil, Program Assistant

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