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Ah, youth!

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I did a talk at a local middle school last week. The students of year 8 (aged around 13) were just starting a few weeks of creative writing in English and I kicked it all off with a talk about how to develop plot.

I’m pretty comfortable with presenting but young people are a tough house! Unlike older audiences they won’t politely laugh at bad jokes or stay attentive if you drone on for hours, so you really have to be interesting for every second. Nor will they politely ignore the fact that you laddered your tights 5 minutes before you started – no one actually pointed and laughed but I’ll take a spare pair another time!

There were a few technical hitches at the start – the hall where I was to present had a basketball class the lesson beforehand preventing us getting in, so we had to set up in record time. Then the projector and my PC proved to be incompatible so I had to make a quick sprint back to the car to get a data stick in order to transfer my files on to one of the school’s own machines.

After that it went okay, I think. A bit about me, a bit about my books, a quick flash of the new book cover (“No one has seen this yet – you are the first” – they were underwhelmed!!!) and then on to how fiction is constructed. We touched on the four basic elements (Plot, Character, Setting and Style) and then delved a bit more deeply into plot. A bit of a reading and then time for them to start planning out their own stories.

I gave them the concept of loglines (“your book in one sentence”), used them Jack and the Beanstalk as an example and then asked them to make up a logline for their own story. The imagination that they had was amazing. We had zombies, children finding themselves in the desert, girls passing through a tunnel and finding they were boys… really creative stuff! Far better than would have done if given the same challenge.
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With talks like these you often learn as much as you teach and, this time, what most interested me was how unfettered young people are from the things that limit the rest of us. Anything is possible in their fictional worlds and they don’t restrict themselves or worry if it has been ‘done’ before. It took me years to work out the basic premise and logline for Line of Duty – they were coming up with things in ten minutes.

It’s very invigorating to see such creativity in this world where the doom-and-gloom merchants constantly berate the young. It bodes well for the next generation of fiction writers – but the ease with which they composed upwards of 100 different concepts for stories does give rise to a stab of envy in the more seasoned writer. I must have had the same nimbleness of mind at the same age – though I am sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time – but it seems to have drifted away with life and with living. Now it takes thinking about and working at to come up with something new and different and the writing cogs of my brain creak along fairly slowly. All this youth and easy creativity is making me feel old!!!

Cate Caruth is the author of the Bremmand Chronicles. To buy her books or learn more about them, go to www.bremmandchronicles.co.uk

You can follow Cate on Twitter at www.twitter.com/catec23

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