The art of writing

MARSHALL – Everyone knows how fairy tales go, but very few are likely familiar with ones like “Cinder Relish,” “Creeping Beauty” or “The Emperors New iPad,” which were just a few of the fractured fairy tales that were created during the 22nd Annual Conference for Young Writers Wednesday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

The youth conference, which is presented by Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative, celebrates imagination and creativity by bringing together a variety of knowledgeable presenters and enthusiastic students. Each third- through eighth-grade student was able to select three of the 23 available sessions.

Nearly 900 participated in this year’s event, including first-year presenter Mary Bleckwehl, who led three very interactive “Fractured Fairy Tale Fun” sessions.

“It’s my first time presenting at this conference, but I’ve presented at the Mankato, Rochester and Farmington ones,” Bleckwehl said. “I love these conferences because kids are the most creative creatures.”

Bleckwehl joked about wanting the kids’ creativity to rub off on her, but she also knows it is her responsibility to teach the students. She prefers to give a little bit of direction and then let the students take over.

“I like giving a little bit of information and then have them be actively doing things rather than passively sitting there, listening to me lecture,” she said. “There are so many times these days, with our technology and being ‘hooked in’ all the time, including myself, where we’re just sitting and reading or listening and we’re not having our imagination be challenged.”

Bleckwehl explained that fractured fairy tales were created by taking a couple of elements from a common fairy tale and changing them.

“Fractured fairy tales are usually funnier than the original versions,” she said. “Some authors, depending on where they live or the country they come from, use the fractured fairy tale as an excuse to share a little bit of their culture with readers. Others might tell a more modernized version.”

After students gathered in groups of three, four or five, Bleckwehl suggested they select a common fairy tale and then change character names, the actual characters themselves, the setting, the point of view or any of the plot elements.

“You can think silly, or if your imagination gets stuck, you can try thinking in opposites,” Bleckwehl said. “You all know the story of Carly and Megan, right? It’s like Hansel and Gretel but instead of being pool little kids, Carly and Megan are rich little kids who go looking for diamonds in the forest.”

Bleckwehl also noted the story of “The Princess and the Onion,” which an earlier group had created.

“The princess couldn’t sleep because she kept smelling these onions,” she said. “It was great. Some of these ideas are every bit as good as the ones published.”

During other sessions, students came up with unique titles and tales like “Moldy Locks and the Three Bears,” “Lack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Hiding Wolf” and the “Little Green Hen,” which Lakeview sixth-grader Trinity Kirckof helped to create. Then the groups transferred the ideas onto a large posterboard or acted the story out.

“It’s going good,” Kirckof said. “I’m enjoying the conference.”

Jackson County Central’s Isaac Johnson agreed.

“I think it’s been really fun,” he said.

Johnson partnered with Luverne’s Mackenzie Petersen in a group and came up with “Little R Hood.”

“Little R and the wolf fall in love and thought they escaped,” Petersen said. “But Granny G, the Wolf Slayer, got them. So there was no happy ending for anyone.”

Holy Redeemer sixth-grader Anna Timmerman was in a group that modernized a fairy tale with the creation of “The Emperors New iPad.” Along with the fractured fairy tale session, Timmerman also enjoyed two others.

“I’m having fun,” she said. “It’s really cool. It got to go to ‘Learn to Lie and Not Get Grounded,’ session (presented by Lisa Bolt Simons). They taught us to do lies in your stories, to make them believable.”

Timmerman’s third session was “The Power of the Hook,” which was presented by Rebecca Fjlland Davis.

“She taught us to get good hooks in your story when you write and to notice them in books,” Timmerman said. “I’ve been to the art and science conference before, but this is my first time at the writer’s conference. I’m enjoying it.”

Davis, who was the keynote speaker a few years back, graciously agreed to fill in for a presenter who was unable to attend at the last minute.

“I was a last-minute addition,” she said. “I said I’d come as long as I could bring my ‘hook’ with me.”

The hook Davis was referring to was her 5-year-old, 160-pound Newfoundland named Freya. The gentle giant, a registered therapy dog, provided good visual and sensory stimulation, Davis said.

Kirckof said she also attended John Lauritsen’s “New News is Good News” and “Reporter for a Day” sessions.

“I like writing,” she said. “I’m going to try and be a great writer and when I interview people, like for a school project, (having attended those sessions) will help.”

There were many other opportunities for student engagement as well. Long-time presenter Gary Harbo, a Lynd native, taught students how to develop cartoon characters, while this year’s keynote speaker, Debra Frasier, an author and illustrator from Minneapolis, presented “Learn to Speak Like a Dog,” which highlighted the importance of establishing the storyteller’s voice when constructing a story. Joel Arnold coaxed students into writing scary stories, while Mike Wohnoutka helped the participants create their own super hero.