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The Worlds Inside
why teen novelists are so awesome
This week I’d like to talk about the awesomeness of teen novelists. I haven’t written about them yet because we don’t do Exciting! New! Prompts! every week, but I have a cohort of young novelists I’m working with this year who are each engrossed in a year-long (or many-year-long) writing project. Each of the five of them has invented a world, which sometimes intersects with a slice of our world they also invented. Each of them has a crew of characters — humans (etc.) that they MADE UP COMPLETELY — and who have all kinds of desires, fears, and interpersonal dramas, not to mention epic missions. And with zero enticements of fame, love, or glory, these young writers spend who knows how many hours planning and plotting and writing about their made up people and made up worlds. I mean, they’re like small time gods here, the kind no one makes any shrines to.
We started the year developing writing craft skills — practicing dialogue and character development, thinking about point of view and how to get our characters in maximum trouble. Then this winter we’re taking turns looking at each writer’s novel, then meeting to ask questions, throw out possibilities, work through challenges, give encouragement, and generally geek out on their world and characters and story. And the writers in my novel class are so kind and encouraging to each other, and the mutual geekery and excitement makes me so happy, because I feel the same way. And it’s just pretty fun.
But it’s not just fun.
I see my students using their novels for so many things:
The development of a writing/artistic practice: a super-useful scaffolding for being a healthy human adult. It’s the practice of working on a project from internal motivation and the practice of checking in regularly with their creative selves.
Positive escapism: imaginary worlds seem like a pretty healthy way to get away from pandemic teenage tensions and doldrums.
Tackling ambitious goals: regardless of whether they complete their novels, aiming high means acting on a positive belief about your abilities, which I support.
Challenging themselves as writers: they juggle complex, long narratives, dialogue, characters, storylines, world-building.
Tackling big issues: the imaginary worlds of these novels aren’t just vehicles for escapism. They are spaces the writers use for wrestling with big things in the world, their own lives, and themselves.
Why imaginary worlds are so awesome:
I like to quip that novel-writing is how grown-ups have imaginary friends. And I think novel-worlds can be as useful and important and comforting as a young child’s invisible buddies. Imaginary worlds are fun and safe and exciting, yes, but they are also spaces to test things out: to tackle big issues you can’t solve by yourself, to try out relationship dynamics, to go on quests and have rites of passage you might not get to have in 21st century Seattle. My students’ novels wrestle with climate change, patriarchy, gender, sisterhood, outsiderness, friendship, and newly discovered inner powers.
Also, they’re just plain fun and exciting stories.
This was all for you, grown-ups
I write all this not because my students and other young novelists need to be convinced they’re doing something worthwhile. They just know. But adults who have young novelists in your life, remember. There’s a lot going on that’s worth our support.
And I don’t think it matters that much whether the end result is abandoned in a computer file or becomes a self-published underground phenomenon, whether it’s something you’d enjoy reading or not. I don’t say this out of a lack of belief in what I see my students writing, but out of a deeper belief in the value of their process, their work, and the worlds inside them.