(Art by Jeremy Zerfoss)
Ann and I just finished our ninth year of teaching at and helping run the Shared Worlds teen SF/fantasy writing camp, based at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. You can get a sense for all of the amazing things the students got to do at this link, including bookstore readings, critiques from professional writers, building their own worlds, and much more.
But another activity we have the students do is create a flash fiction based around a “found object,” which is an actual “artifact” Ann and I pass out at the beginning of camp. The students are asked to transform what is often a very mundane object and repurpose it in the world they’re creating.
Something about having a physical thing in their hands that they have to write about helps make what they’re doing more real. These short fictions comprise the main part of the annual Shared Worlds student writing book (see cover above).
In keeping with the theme of transformation, we also have them write author bios where they reimagine themselves as fantastical creatures—to create a Shared Worlds bestiary with themselves as the subjects. This exercise is based on Max Brod creating a bestiary for Kafka’s writing group, in which he described Kafka as a “little seen, moon-blue mouse” with a taste for “bitter herbs.”
To give you a taste of just how great the students’ creativity was, I’ve posted this year’s bestiary entries below, from all 59 students (from 5 countries and 20 U.S. states). The entries include a little bit of everything—jokes about their own names (see: Kat or the Mamilton), references to the worlds they created, reveals of their personalities, creation of new personas, and creations that seem born whole from their imaginations. Since we try to protect the students’ privacy, I haven’t revealed their full names below.
(Apparently, there were already some fantastical creatures at Shared Worlds besides the students.)