“It’s Time to Try Defying Gravity”: The Young Writers Practice Songwriting and Character-Building

The third day of the 2022 Young Writers’ Workshop was a productive one! Though we were all a bit low on energy this morning, the young writers perked up with the help of our morning question: What song could save you (from Vecna)? (Can you tell we love Stranger Things?) Check out the playlist we put together!

The theme continued with our first writing exercise: musical Mad Libs based on Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” After a lyrical analysis and a discussion of how lyrics are related to poetry, each small group created their own unique version of the song, from the Investigators’ murder mystery theme to C3 taking the point of view of a pet dog.

Next, visiting writer Katy Karlin, K-State Associate Professor and founder of the Young Writers’ Workshop, joined us for some lively activities. First, the young writers came together in a circle and completed a collective character-building exercise. Using flipbooks which were passed around the circle, each person contributed to the development of every character in response to questions such as “What do you and your best friend argue about?” and “What is your least favorite smell?”

After sharing details about the characters they created, the young writers learned about musical theater. With examples from The Lion King, Hamilton, and My Fair Lady, Katy explained that in the structure of a musical, the second or third song functions as an “I Want” song, in which the main character expresses their innermost desires. After a group dance session to the “I Want” song from Fiddler on the Roof, the young writers settled down for some intensive writing time and crafted their own songs based on the characters they created during the previous exercise. Finally, Katy introduced another type of show tune, the “Eleven O’Clock Number,” ending on the high-flying song “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

After lunch, the young writers worked on bringing main character energy into the mix, inspired by David’s list of questions, which was designed to add layers to a character and make them seem more real. He discussed the importance of purpose, motivation, and knowing the character’s deepest want. Then, using postcards, story cubes, and random objects as inspiration, the young writers constructed a setting and a scene for their character to inhabit.

The afternoon ended with one-on-one conferences between the young writers and their instructors, which will help them prepare their work for the reading on Friday.

Finally, today’s closing question was another music prompt: What song would play at the end of your story/poem/essay if it became a movie? Check out the answers below!

It’s such a pleasure to work with these young writers. We’re excited to see what tomorrow brings!

— Adrien Sdao, Program Assistant

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