MARSHALL - One never knows what will happen when you give an imaginative student a blank piece of paper, though many of those students who attended the 20th annual Conference for Young Writers Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University were on their way to constructing unique and entertaining creations.
For two decades, the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative has sponsored the writing conference, but this year marked the largest attendance of all.
"We had just under a thousand attending," event organizer Andrea Anderson said. "We had 30 school districts represented."
Photos by Jenny Kirk
Canby students Skye Christian and Cami Baumann take some direction in regards to possible topics to write about from the mother of presenter Ben Heckmann, a 14-year-old published author, at the 20th annual Young Writers Conference Thursday.
Anderson, who is a student activities assistant at the Service Cooperative, has helped organize the event for the past eight years, but had to jump some additional hurdles this year.
"The biggest challenge was making sure the kids are getting as many of the sessions they signed up for as possible," Anderson said. "With 220 students over our total last year, we had to do some scrambling to get additional presenters. But it worked out. We've got some really good ones."
Each student was allowed to attend three of 24 total sessions, which included a variety of genres.
"I like 'It's in the Bag' presented by Deb Mercier," Lakeview student Erin Stevens said. "It's good. It's probably the best one so far."
Other area students, including Tracy Area Public School's Spencer Gravely and Emily Munson, Marshall Public School's Rae Critchley and Marshall Area Christian School's Olivia Knochenmus and Johanna Christensen, were also in the same session with Stevens, and appeared to enjoy the stringing-along story they all helped to create as Mercier asked them to come up one at a time, pull out a random object from inside a colorful bag and add onto the story using the new item.
"I really liked that it teaches us to be creative," Stevens said. "I like writing. I like realistic fiction the best."
Presenter Rebecca Fjelland Davis, who was also the keynote speaker this year, had her students watch a two-minute trailer for one of her newest books - "Chasing AllieCat" - before asking a series of questions involving characters, problems and twists. Then the students selected random slips of paper - one each from four buckets - and used the ideas to begin their own story on a blank sheet of paper.
"Some people have commented that they've just been having a blast in the sessions," Anderson said. "So that's awesome."
Across the hall, students acted out "sky surfing" techniques on chairs while in presenter Patrick Ryan's "Extreme Sports" session. Student judges then awarded scores for the acting efforts.
Fourth-grader Macy Posthuma, who attends Murray County Central, was returning to the conference for her second straight year.
"I really liked it," she said. "I wanted to come back."
Posthuma said she thoroughly enjoyed "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" presented by Melanie Schmidt and "In Praise of a...Pineapple?" presented by Laura Purdie Salas.
"The best part was doing the poetry and the scripts," Posthuma said. "I liked all of my sessions. I'd give them a 10 on a scale of 1-10."
In the acting session, Posthuma was chosen to perform in "The Magic Carpet Ride."
"Like we say in the theater, 'there are no small roles,'" Schmidt said. "You can steal the show with any role."
In another session, Posthuma created an animal cartoon.
"I made a regular snake, but it kind of had a gorilla head and a snake body," she said.
Minneota student Alex Saltzer, who said activating is his favorite creative activity, got the opportunity to portray "Jack" of the famed "Jack and Jill" during the "Hints and Tricks to Make Your Writing Come Alive" presented by Mike Blumer. In one scene, Blumer had an actor slam a book down to let everyone know she was angry.
"It's showing versus telling," Blumer said.
In another scene, Saltzer had to pretend to fall into the water and start choking before he managed to climb out of the pool and head over to find "Jill."
"It was cool," Saltzer said. "The best part was when I got to act."
Canby students Skye Christian and Cami Baumann were excited for their third session, which was 14-year-old Ben Heckmann's "Rockin' Out with Writing and Illustrating."
"I love playing guitar and writing," Heckmann said. "When I was 11, I published my first book. And, I'm going to tell you how to get your own book published."
Baumann had never been to the conference before, but was having fun.
"I like to write," she said. "I did come to the Young Artists Conference though."
Baumann's favorite session was the cartoon animals one.
"I really like to draw," she said. "I drew a wolf, a really mad wolf."
Christian's favorite was different than her schoolmate's.
"My favorite was the scary, bone-rattling one," she said referring to presenter Terri DeGezelle's "Beware! Scary, Bone Rattling Stories Written Here!" session. "It was fun. I liked hearing the stories."
Amidst teaching the students about writing solid hook and clincher sentences at the beginning and end of columns, presenter Carole Achterhof let the kids go wild with story ideas in her "Get Paid to Make People Laugh!" session. Some creative ideas included "why Superman is a villain" and "why watching television is good for you." But the audience quickly decided that Marshall student Kevin Berg had the best idea.
"How about 'why school is bad for you,'" Berg said.
Berg said that one session really struck a chord with his interests.
"I really enjoyed making a fantasy world," he said. "The hardest part is making sure to include details, so you have to think and focus. I like writing. I probably finish the story I started."