imageAustin Bat Cave is a nonprofit organization that creates free writing programs for Austin-area kids. During the academic year they work inside schools, and put on a series of writing camps during the summer. A few months ago the program director, Ali Haider, approached me about the latter. He wanted to do a summer camp for 9- to 11-year-olds on writing science fiction, and wanted me to design and teach it. The curriculum development seemed like a fun challenge, and I thought I might enjoy the novelty of teaching a much younger age group than when I was at Iowa (fun largely because I didn’t have to do it alone; three volunteers were signed up to help run the class.) So I said yes, and this summer spent a week with twelve mostly eager young writers.

It was a Monday through Friday camp in the conference room of a branch library, three hours a session, with a public reading of student work at the end. The goal of the camp was for students to produce, workshop, and revise a complete science fiction short story of ~1000 words. Day 1 was all about getting the kids used to the camp and each other, discussing what a science fiction story is, and having them choose the settings they’d be working with the rest of the week. We talked about all the different kinds of places science fiction stories could take place, watched Powers of Ten, and read Ken Liu’s “Celestial Bodies.”

Day 2 was about character and characterization, with a guest speaker from a local tech design firm to talk to the kids about the interface between life and technology. We read “Project Daffodil” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley and discussed unreliable narrators, then developed characters as a class and discussed how their natures and histories suggested possible plots.

Day 3 was full of exercises on plot and detail language. We discussed the chains of causality that link one event in a story to another, and read Beth Cato’s “Post-Apocalyptic Conversations with a Sidewalk.” Then we did an exercise recommended by Kendra Fortmeyer, in which the class collaboratively wrote a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story in Twine, splitting as the branches diverged, until every student wrote their own ending.

Days 4 and 5 were all about finishing and revising the stories the students were writing, doing peer workshops in pairs one day and then rewriting on the basis of that feedback the next. They also read “Misprint” by Vonda McIntyre and had another guest speaker, Martina Belozerco, who discussed medicine and its role in people’s lives. Thursday evening was a reading for parents and guest, some of the students’ first time reciting their own work into a microphone. And of course, when everything was finished, we had a party. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, the parents were pleased, and I got to scratch the teaching itch that’d been growing since I moved to Texas. So thanks to Austin Bat Cave for the opportunity. If you live here and have school-aged children, you should look into their programs.