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An update from our forty-fourth Writing Workshop

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday June 12, plus some of the output published below

This week, since William is on vacation, we had two special guests leading the workshop. Maddie, who is a part of William's workshop, and Liam, who now attends Conner's workshop, led the workshop on the topic of dystopian stories. The two young writers delved into a thorough definition of Dystopian Fiction, plus several recent popular examples of the genre. Many people reading contemporary fiction are likely familiar with this genre, as high-profile series like The Hunger Games and Divergent are bestselling examples. Maddie and Liam went through several examples, and challenged the writers present at this workshop to create their own story in the same vein.

The Challenge: Write a story set in a dystopian world or modify an existing story of yours to include dystopian elements.

The Participants: Sage, Chelsea, Lena A, Madeline, Helen, Margaret, Peri, Julia, Pranjoli, Nami, Angela, Jonathan, Audrey, Gia, Jaya, Peter, Sierra, Arishka, Grace, Tilly, Mahika, Mia, Iago, Charlotte, Rachael, Lina.

Peri Gordon
Peri Gordon, 11
Sherman Oaks, CA

Picture Day

Peri Gordon, 11

“I don’t think you understand,” sighed the principal. “If a child misses Picture Day, there will be no makeup date. And Picture Day is not optional.”

The principal shook his head at the parent’s ignorance, although he knew that there was no way that she could be better informed. He himself did not know exactly why Picture Day was so essential, but he knew that it must happen every year and could only happen on one day of the year.

The mother protested. “If I drive Robbie to Picture Day, then neither of us will be home to take care of his little sister, and the daycare is not open on Picture Day, as you know.”

“That’s alright, the little girl can come along, too,” the principal said. “The younger a child gets their first picture taken, the better.” His own words intrigued and somewhat confused him, but that was alright; he was not in the government, so he had no right to know why these things were, just to know these things. The principal could tell that the little girl, lingering behind her mother’s back with the slightly older boy, was not yet in school. But her picture would be taken nevertheless.


On Picture Day, the brother and sister, Robbie and Sophie, after some protest, put on their finest clothing for their pictures and headed off to the Picture Dome, a black building with a curved roof that let in no sunlight, which would interfere with the process. Instead, the cool building was awash with electric light.

Sophie, new to Picture Day, bit her fingernails, ruining the fancy, polished look they had been forced to take on for this day. The girl declared, “I’m nervous.” Her mother scolded her, pulling Sophie’s nails out of her mouth and hissing, “There is no time for nervousness.” But the woman herself was wondering why Sophie’s picture should be taken already.

Not many people knew the answer to the woman’s question. But the president, huddled in the corner with his fellow government members, knew everything. He watched as a fellow leader of his, slightly less important but still in the know, used the machine everyone thought was a camera to scan each child’s mind. Of course, it served as a camera, too, so that people would see the pictures and suspect nothing. But the school’s yearbook was a frivolous thing, a distraction.

The president himself had not invented mind scanning, but he had figured out why and how it must be used. Each child’s intellectual ability affected how they must be taught to interact with others and how others must be taught to interact with them. It was all carefully planned by top scientists and politicians, so that no one would know of the well-off government members’ secret. As long as the citizens were not in charge, the president would feel pleasure. As long as the people did not control a thing, the government would control everything. And when, in a few weeks, they performed the experiment the government had planned for centuries—the one involving cloning and killing off the original, cloning the clone and killing off the original, so that scientists could make huge advancements—no one would even be aware until it happened.

It was all for the best.

Lina Kim, 11
Weston, FL

Memories in Ruins

Lina Kim, 11

I pushed the charred curtain out of the way as I stepped outside. The ground was blackened with the ash of everything that was destroyed. Bones littered the ground. Smoke filled the air. My parents and I were one of the only few lucky families. We had somehow survived.

I scanned the barren wasteland for a sign. Maybe there was someone alive out there, stumbling through the rubble for shelter. I went about my usual route. I went sixty steps forward, then went to the right thirty steps. I turned right again and went sixty steps. I repeated that until I got back to where I started. I kept searching along the way. I never allowed myself to go even an inch more than sixty steps away from my home. It was the same thing every day. As mom and dad scoured the earth for food, I looked for people to help. It had only been two weeks since the attack, but I had already fallen into a routine.

That took up the entire morning. After that, I would go inside the small hut. It had been hastily rebuilt, but was only a very small fraction of the house it once was. It only had two rooms. I would help my parents serve lunch and we would eat. Halfway through the meal, my parents would go to find more food and search for people twice as far away from the house as I would in the morning. I was supposed to stay inside until the sun had covered two-thirds of the sky. Since I usually had a while before then, I would go to the other room, where the bed was, and think about my sister. She had been killed in the attack.

I had managed to salvage a small notebook I had. It was mostly empty, so I had been filling it with sketches and thoughts. I flipped through some memories, sighed, and put the book under my pillow again. I peeked out of the hole in the wall (I like to think of it as a window) and saw that the sun had made it two thirds across the sky. I exited the house to search some more.

Usually, we didn’t find anyone. Today, though, I thought I saw a silhouette. I squinted. It was just smoke. I sighed. Every single day was always boring. Nothing would happen, yet we were still battling to stay alive.

By the time my parents came inside, it was almost dark. We rested a little. We were grateful that we were alive. We just sat together on the bed, drinking in the fact that we were all together. For now.

After a little while, we went to sleep. I was tired of walking outside in the sweltering heat, trying to find someone.

The next day, everything was the same as usual. But I kept feeling like I saw the same silhouette. The same happened the day after that. And the next.

Finally, on the seventh day, I approached the figure. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. It surely wasn’t just smoke. I slowly started to make out the details.

The figure was floating, but it looked just like my sister. Though it was coated in ash and shrouded in the smoke, it had the same dark skin, the same curly, chocolate-colored hair. The same soft eyes. The same warm smile. When it— she— talked, she had the same voice.

“Ella,” said the figure. I knew it was my sister. Somehow. But I knew she was gone. I saw her with my own eyes. So how could she be here?

“I’m not really here. Just an illusion,” whispered my sister. Nelly. It had only been three weeks, but it felt like such a long time. It felt as if we had been apart for eternity.

“Then . . . What are you?”

“A memory,” said Nelly. “Nothing more. Just a memory.”

“But—” my voice broke. “Why are you here, then, if you’re only going to leave me again?”

“I never got to say goodbye,” Nelly whispered. She sounded heartbroken. “So I came to do so.”

“But . . . What about our parents?”

Nelly’s eyes widened. “No.” Her voice became hoarse. “You can’t tell anyone. I’ve broken the laws of life and death itself.”“I— I miss you,” I said, tears slipping out of my eyes.

“I miss you too. Goodbye,” said Nelly softly. She slowly disappeared.

I suddenly realized that it was dark. I was late. I had wandered away from the sixty step limit. I started to panic. I whipped my head around in search of my house. Luckily I saw it in the distance. I ran towards it as if nothing else mattered.

When I finally entered the house out of breath, my parents were inside. They looked worried out of their minds. They were clearly about to go look for me.

“Oh, Ella!” cried Mom. “I was so worried!” She swept me into a hug. Dad squeezed me until I could barely breathe.

“Where were you?”

“I— uh, I guess I didn't notice the time,” I lied. I remembered how Nelly had said that no one could know. I hugged my parents tightly and didn’t let go.

Mia Money, 8
Mableton, GA

Changing or Breaking the Rules

Mia Money, 8

In my town, there seems to be freedom, but if you are like me, you see none. And if you are like me, not all of the rules even seem necessary. If you are like me, often caught breaking the rules, you will get in massive trouble.

Everyone else feels safe because the way the laws are said seems beneficial. I don’t believe it though. So today is the day that I break as many rules as I can, even if it gets me hurt because I want to show everyone what I would do for just a bit of freedom. If you are like me, you would get it. I thought for a bit. I took a deep breath. 3... 2... 1... Go! And surprisingly, in the end, I found out that I was the only one stopping me from being free. I suddenly woke up, and when I asked, it seemed as if none of that existed, but the newspaper had posted something about a major rule-breaker...

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