Creating a World
We’re not doctors, who save lives with needles and medicine. We heal the soul with words. We’re not police officers, who risk their lives to defend public peace. We show the difference between good and evil, and how to handle the gray areas. We are world creators, immortalizing actions in words that outlast the test of time. We are writer–artists, those with the power to invent reality. Yet, just like any other profession, we must hone our craft. Recently, I had the chance to enable others to do some of that creative work at the Cherry Tree Young Writers’ Conference held at the Rose O’Neill Literary House. While the 16 high school students held the most focus, the other interns and I were also able to learn more about creating our own literary and physical worlds.
Step one of world-creating involves planning, down to the smallest detail. My fellow summer intern and I assembled a welcome board, stuffed folders with information, inspected dorms, and set up Cherry Tree merchandise. Were these the biggest plot points filled with action, danger, or horror? No, but altering reality constitutes knowing and occasionally acknowledging what lies inside it. Setting, as any teacher will tell you, imparts the essence of a story.
Step two introduces the characters. As students arrived on their first day, interns stood at attention awaiting them. Lanyards? Check. Folders? Check. The smallest detail, remember? High school sophomores, juniors, seniors, and even recent graduates arrived one by one and walked up the intern-lined sidewalk to their dorm. While some students bonded immediately with others, interns attempted to mingle between groups and the rare loners. But slowly and surely, the characters found their place.
Now for the plot! Luckily for you, this world does not embrace any RomCom-turned- depressing-fatalistic drama. The environment remained happy as T-poses were asserted, Vines quoted, and memes referenced. Students printed broadsides, enjoyed good food, and laughed. Activity was especially treasured during the evenings, where students engaged in safe fun with a viewing of Moulin Rouge, an intense game of Paper Cuts, and a fervent battle of literary trivia. Was it a bloodbath of epic proportions? No, but each victor walked away with one piece of free Cherry Tree swag. Huzzah!
As in any great story, characters developed attachments and communities with one another. As each student blossomed during Cherry Tree, many decided to read their original work during the open mics. Poems, improv, and short pieces of fiction and creative nonfiction were shared in this place of positive encouragement. The faculty members, interns, and I all read our work as well. When I began, my hands trembled, and my eyes flitted between the page and the audience before me. Yet, once the reading concluded, I felt proud of sharing my work.
Any playwright or storyteller would love this conference as each plot point contains healthy dialogue. Craft panels allowed the faculty—the marvelous Drs. Jehanne Dubrow, H.G. Carrillo, Julie Marie Wade, and James Allen Hall—to discuss writing, editing and publishing experiences with hungry minds, while talks by Drs. Andrews and Rydel taught students how to dissect texts. For me, I enjoyed my time in the nonfiction workshop with Dr. Julie Marie Wade, which highlighted how creative nonfiction gives life to your own story. I have always favored fiction—forgive me, Dr. Wade!—since I could use my imagination to develop any situation. However, I have learned to appreciate and love nonfiction’s artform. Middle and high school gave the impression that nonfiction meant academic essays and college spun nonfiction as only applying to major life-changing events. Cherry Tree allowed me to realize that nonfiction can involve any event you desire to put into words, even if only for yourself. Not only can nonfiction place importance on your own life, but it also causes you to reevaluate every instance for a deeper meaning. An instance that, once recorded, could go on to signify importance for someone else.
Sadly, the denouement arrived as Dr. Hall voiced his farewell speech and final group pictures were taken. The resolution finished as cars driven by happy parents left the dorms empty. The skills acquired as a summer intern—program assistance, social professionalism, and more—were helpful and made me glad that I chose to storm the castle. While I remain a slightly timid person, the Conference has also enabled me to grow. I enjoyed speaking with the writers, as all the faculty were respectful yet open. Also, speaking with the students led to colorful discussions and interesting writing topics. I am extremely thankful to Dr. Wade, who planted a new appreciation of creative nonfiction inside me as I endeavor forward as an English major who can now create worlds that are both true and make-believe.