Shared Worlds is the Kind of SFF Writing Camp You Wish Existed When You Were a Teenager

Happy ninth birthday to Shared Worlds! For almost a decade, the SFF writing camp located at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has brought aspiring young writers together to build an entire world. Under the tutelage of guest writers, students learn the basics of worldbuilding by actually doing it: They spend one week brainstorming a speculative-fiction world together, from vast geography down to the nitty-gritty of its citizens’ philosophy. Then the second week is spent writing stories all set in the same world, honing their unique voices while working in tandem. There are also prizes, field trips, an alien baby mascot, and wacky stunts from the staff, because after all, this is summer camp.

In last year’s recap, camp co-director Jeff VanderMeer wrote that the paramount goal of Shared Worlds, more than writing output, is tapping into creativity in the first place:

The broader goal with Shared Words is to provide a place where creative types can use their imagination and can engage in imaginative play in a structured environment that also includes art and sometimes gaming. Yes, the creative writing component is important—and for many students having a professional consult with an award-winning writer is a huge plus at the camp. But we’re not as concerned with helping teach future writers as we are with allowing for a wider range of creativity. In the camp, students have to work in groups and negotiate as they create their worlds. They have to analyze and synthesize information provided to them about politics, biology, philosophy, and more. They also have to work on their own, self-motivated, and meet deadlines. Really, they’re asked to do so many things, and it works because they love the fantastical, they love the freedom to run wild with their imaginations. The structure gives them that freedom.

Registration for 2016 is now open! In the first week, VanderMeer and Nnedi Okorafor will lead the young writers (ages 13-17) in creating their shared world. For the second half of the program, instructors Tobias Buckell, Julia Liz Elliot, Nathan Ballingrud, Terra Elan McVoy, and Leah Thomas will help the students craft their individual pieces of fiction within that universe. Ann VanderMeer will be on hand as editor-in-residence. In addition, each student receives a copy of Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. The first fully illustrated writing book, it includes advice from Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and other greats.

This year’s Shared Worlds brings several bonuses that go beyond just the craft of writing, to multimedia adaptations. VanderMeer will discuss the process of adapting his novel Annihilation (and the rest of the Southern Reach Trilogy) for film, as well as his work writing original fiction within established universes like Halo and Predator. Daniel Abraham and Lev Grossman will run similar discussions via Skype, about Syfy’s television adaptations of (respectively) The Expanse and The Magicians.

This year’s camp runs July 17-30; find more information here. A shared world is just waiting for you to help bring it to life…


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