The World Is Our Research Lab

By Gina Catanzarite, Teen Writer! Director

I suppose kids who go to summer sleep-away camp – the kind with tents and hikes and campfires and cabin mates – come home exhausted, but in a good way. Fresh air, lively activity, a few new skills, a lot of new friends.

I like to think the kids who participate in Luminari’s Teen Writer! camp come home the same way. True, we don’t have the tents or the campfires but don’t think “writing camp” means kids spent days on end hunched over a desk in a dimly lit room, laboriously cranking out sentence after sentence.

Enthralling fiction requires enthralling details and the only way to do that is to get away from that desk!

For writers, the world is our research lab.

Career counselor and author Barbara Sher said, “When you start using senses you’ve neglected, your reward is to see the world with completely fresh eyes.”

That is the kind of camp our Teen Writers attended during the last week of June, traipsing around Oakland with tablets in hand, literally stopping to smell the flowers. . . and study the sculptures, and eavesdrop on the conversations, and observe the surroundings, and examine the exquisite little features and facets of the people and places around them. With a few tweaks, those details can artfully find their way into a piece of fiction and infuse it with authenticity.

Don’t believe it?

We passed a preschool girl in a princess costume walking past the Carnegie Library with her mom. She was licking a lollipop and when she noticed us looking at her she beamed back, waved the lollipop in the air, and cried out, “It tastes blue!”

I assure you, even the best writer in the world could not dream up such an exquisite line of dialogue.

We searched for inspiration for story ideas, too, on our daily walking tours of the city, asking the most useful question in a writer’s toolkit: What if. . .?

What if. . . that elderly man doing Tai Chi in Schenley Park was really a spy?

What if. . . that sculpture on the lawn of Carnegie Mellon University was really a portal to another dimension?

What if. . . the woman in that 18th century painting came to life and joined us for the day?

And here’s another one: What if . . . we all lived our lives this way every day?

Maybe you aren’t a teen writer but you are a person with an imagination and you, like we did, would probably smile for an hour after a little girl dressed like a princess told you her lollipop tasted blue.

You owe it to yourself to get away from your desk and see the world through completely fresh eyes.

Fresh air, lively activity, a few new skills, a lot of new friends.

For a writer—for anyone – that’s a pretty good way to spend a summer day.


Gina Catanzarite, owner/operator of Arania Productions, and an award-winning television producer, author, media consultant and teacher who has worked both nationally and locally in her fields since 1987.