Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.

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The kids are all right: in which my students get published

The kids are all right: in which my students get published

I’m just wrapping up another term of creative writing classes for tweens and teens through CWC (the creative writing for children society).

Publishing books for kids

One of the unique things about our program is that we publish our students’ writing in the form of professionally-bound books.

In the Fall term, we publish anthologies, and I’ve recently mocked up the cover that we plan to use for the individual classes:

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Digital publication on amazon

Our Spring term is a little different. In that term, each students get to work on publishing an individual book. Many kids choose to write a chapter novel, though we also have some who choose to work on a collection of short stories or poems.

Certain students who have been with our program for multiple terms choose to also publish their books on amazon, so I thought I would share the covers and purchase links of those students who published books in 2018.

All proceeds go to support education of kids in developing countries (CWC is currently providing financial support for several teenaged girls in Guatemala, helping them complete their high school education).

Without further adieu, here is our latest series of books . . .

Realm, by Chloe Kang

The first time I met Chloe I knew she was a writer. You’ll never see her without a book clutched in her hands and her enthusiasm for writing bursts from every pore. She’s a lover of fantasy, so it’s no surprise that she crafted a book about a character stuck in a pixelated realm . . .

BUY THIS BOOK

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Mosaic, by Yongsuh Lee

Youngsuh Lee and was inspired by her volunteering with immigrant children from Southeast Asia in Seoul and observing the changing fabric of Korean society.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Undefined, by Cassandra Feltrin

Cassandra is a gifted middle-school student who wrote a dystopian thriller. She’s just one of those students that seems to shine in everything she does.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Unconditional, by Rosie (Jimin) You

Rosie, one of our long-time students in Korea, wrote a book of poetry. She was always a very poetic soul, even as a young kid, and now she’s coming into her own as a teenager.

The other neat thing about this book is that Rosie took all the photographs that appear alongside her words.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Twisted, by Avary Fawcett

Avary is one of your current young stars, skilled at twists, turns, and clever characterizations.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The 10 Dimensions, by Brian Leong

Brian is one of our youngest authors to be published. He is a passionate advocate for kids in developing countries, so is really pleased that all proceeds for his book will go to help those in need.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Salvatore, by Andrew Marzec

Andrew is another one of our long-time students. I first met him and his twin sister when they were only in Grade 3 and their passion for writing and creativity was on full display then. Now, they are teenagers!

BUY THIS BOOK

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Living In Secrets, by Rachel Kwon

Rachel is another one of our current CWC stars; a thoughtful young writer always striving to improve her craft. I am so proud to have been her mentor.

BUY THIS BOOK

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The Darkness is Just the Light in Hiding, by Elyse Nah

Elyse is one of our long-time students based in Oregon—and she’s an extremely gifted writer. She has a natural storytelling voice and a talent for creating memorable characters.

BUY THIS BOOK

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Murder with Lies, by Sarah Marzec

Sarah is yet another one of our long-time students—I first met her and her twin brother when she was only in Grade 3! She is a talented and thoughtful writer.

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Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

Propping up our stories: creating characters with prop-building

I’ve been doing a lot of prop-building lately—for example, crafting dragon eggs. Since prop-building is such an important part of my writing process, it’s something I like to bring to my students as well.

Getting away from the screen

One of the great things about prop-building is that it allows me to work on my book without staring at the screen. Let’s face it: Writing is hard and often exhausting. Sometimes, I feel like I have no words left in my brain, but I still have the desire to playin my world.

I’ve found that prop-building is a way to accomplish that. Working with tangible objects, working with my hands, has helped me to sort out plot problems. It’s kind of like doing the dishes and being suddenly struck by a eureka moment. Of course, when you wash dishes, all you get is clean dishes. When you build a prop, you get a tangible item from an imaginary world.

Nightmare Bottles

I’ve been working with a group of tween and teen writers this spring and one of the things I’ve tried to do is bring in the prop-building angle.

One of our first projects was to build “nightmare bottles.” This involves creating a character and metaphorically putting their fears in a bottle. Of course, this could provide fuel for a story in its own right, but the main purpose here was just to coax the kids into some brainstorming time.

Here’s some of their creations . . .

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Character Kits

The main prop-building project I introduced this term was to create a personal kit for each character. This could also be metaphorical or could actually appear in the students’ stories. I’m big on inventing interesting “tools” for my characters and, especially if you are writing a fantasy book, I think you have a lot of opportunities to add extra sizzle to your story.

For this project, the students get to decorate and paint the kits themselves, then fill them with a variety of mini-props that fit their specific characters’ journeys.

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This project has also tasked my students with a different approach to creativity. I’ve been trying to make sure they solve some of the problems they face.For example, one of my students wanted to build a spy kit with a gun. I looked around for toy guns and felt the creativity being sapped right out of me. I decided we could do something more original and unique. So, instead of buying a pre-made toy pistol, I bought tiny water guns and told the student to use it as a base for building something more unique.

He took one look at the brightly colored water guns and scoffed. I couldn’t convince him what a little paint a few cannibalized odds and ends could do. There was nothing I could do to change his mind, so I went home and built my own gun.

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Admittedly, my gadget turned out part steampunk, part alien ray gun, but I hope I’ve made my point! And, now, I have something more unique and interesting that I can use—yep, I decided this can belong to a character who’s currently running around causing havoc in one of my own stories.

That’s the power of prop-building!

The nightmare escapes: a writing prompt at our creativity camp

The nightmare escapes: a writing prompt at our creativity camp

My wife and I our currently in Korea, teaching a creativity camp for tweens and teens. We’re combing writing, art, prop building, and acting to provide the students with a week of intensive creativity!

One of our opening activities was based around the idea of bottling dreams. Students brainstormed characters, focusing on their fears and nightmares. The students then “built” the nightmares by imagining that they had been bottled.

Students could be as literal or symbolic as they wished. I brought a lot of general supplies such as black sand, hair, cotton, and feathers, all of which could be trimmed or stretched to represent the negative qualities of nightmares. There were also some more “on-the-nose” objects, such as plastic bugs and snakes!

For story purposes, those bottles get accidentally opened, unleashing story inspiration!

Here are some photos of the students’ bottles and brainstorming . . .

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Picture Perfect Covers

Picture Perfect Covers

This past season, I taught a creative writing class for tweens and teens that took inspiration from art history.

I described many of those classes, activities, and inspirations on this blog. The result of all that hard work by the students was that they each were given the opportunity to make their own book. That included not only producing all the words for the book, but any illustrations and artwork—including the front covers.

Here are the final covers that the students came up with. They did the artwork and I helped them with the design and typography.

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The books are professionally printed with perfect-bound spines. Yes, I’m biased, but I think they turned out pretty well!

The Galactic Glitch: In which we film a cheesy movie for our space camp

The Galactic Glitch: In which we film a cheesy movie for our space camp

In an earlier post, I described the creative writing “Space Camp” that I taught with fellow writers Stacey Matson and Marcie Nestman through the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC).

In preparation for that week-long endeavour, we got together with our creative friends and filmed a short Star Wars-inspired film.

The project was developed by my friend Luke Spence Byrd. His day job is working for Industrial Light and Magic, but he recently had some time off and wanted to work on something that allowed him to have some creative license. He’s done previous films in preparation for our creative writing camps, so when he found out our theme was “space”, he went all in.

Luke rented a space for a day of filming and we set up multiple green screens so that we could shoot against them. I’m no actor to begin with, but filming with limited physical props and virtually no practical sets was very challenging!

The only real set piece we had at all was a console for our spaceship, which my friend Rob and I built in the days leading up to our shoot day.

The console began with a pile of household junk and some plywood reclaimed from Rob’s scrap pile!

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This is how it ended up looking:

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It turned out pretty well for a quick-and-dirty job. It even had functioning LED lights that sparked to life with the flick of a few switches.

The only other thing I really did to prep was to put together my costume. Thankfully, I had many bits and pieces left over from previous events:

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It also helped that our friend Jeff Porter, our cosplay and costume guru, had many costume bits to help us out with the filming. And it also helped that Luke has a full-size Jabba the Hutt costume that we could use!

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The cast consisted of myself, actor and playwright Marcie Nestman, authors Stacey Matson and Kallie George, the aforementioned Jeff Porter and Rob Stocks (who actually didn’t intend to be in the film, but got roped into it once he was on set). Oh, and, of course, R2D2, whom you will see in the photos below . . .

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Well, the film turned out to be way more ambitious than originally intended. As it turned out, we could only finish a trailer in time for our space camp, plus a couple of scenes that really helped us when it came to a few specific writing activities. The rest of the film will be finished later this year.

But, for now, here is the trailer for CWC and the Galactic Glitch:

 

 

A galaxy of adventure at the creative writing SPACE CAMP!

A galaxy of adventure at the creative writing SPACE CAMP!

I recently returned from Korea, where, in addition to participating in an award ceremony at the Canadian embassy (read about that here), I led a creative writing camp on the theme of space, along with author Stacey Matson and playwright and actress Marcie Nestman.

Activities to connect writing with space adventure

The purpose of the camp in Korea was simple: inspire kids to write creatively. As such, Marcie, Stacey, and I tried to come up with as many inspirational activities as possible.
Since our theme was space, it wasn’t hard to generate ideas . . .

As an icebreaker, we handed out ordinary objects to kids (such as a fork or spoon) and asked the students to imagine that they had just met an alien and needed to explain the object’s purpose. There was just one hitch: they had to lie!

Intergalactic Explorer Application

In this activity, the students created a character who then had to fill out an “application” to become an astronaut and explorer. This involved a lot of creativity, since students weren’t restricted to imagining human characters!

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The Robot Catastrophe

This was one of the main projects for the camp. I brought a load of recycled junk (picked up at the wonderful Urban Source on Vancouver’s Main Street) and asked the students to choose different parts and gizmos. They then designed a robot with a very specific purpose (such as cleaning, protecting, or cooking). Afterwards, they built a physical model of the robot and did two separate writing assignments.

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The first assignment was to come up with an instruction manual for the robot. The key here was that they had to provide some warnings. This helped set up a problem for the second assignment, in which they wrote a story about a character who bought the robot, but ignored the warning, resulting in a catastrophic situation.

Here’s some pictures of some of the final models . . . they turned out really well!

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The Alien Baby

For this activity, students created their own alien “pom-pom” babies and then wrote a series of diary entries in which they imagined finding the intergalactic visitor. The fun part here, of course, was coming up with all the problems along the way!

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Alien Evidence

As you can see, we tried to weave in different styles of writing throughout the camp. We brought in newspaper writing by having the students creating a non-fiction style article about the discovery of aliens on Earth. To go along with this activity, the students drew “photos” of the evidence . . .

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Space Food

Even aliens need to eat! This activity helped us introduce the five senses to the students. Marcie prepared a box of “alien food” then had the kids sit in a circle while she handed out samples, one at a time. Along the way, the students had to record their responses according to taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch.

Afterwards, they drew on their experiences to imagine their own intergalactic space restaurant. Many of them drew menus to go along with this activity!

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Planet Obliteration, and other fun stuff . . .

Throughout the week, we had the chance to introduce many other activities, such as the visualization of a spaceship crashing, a Space News article, and a whole slew of games connected to our theme. My favorite game was one Marcie came up with: Planet Obliteration. In this game, the students had to use water guns to “destroy” a planet (a bath bomb).

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The camp was a huge success and was capped by a fun ceremony in which we shared our thoughts with the parents of our kids and showed a trailer of the space movie we made. More on that later . . .