Writing a Fabulous Story
I'm a story-lover. Reading and writing are two of my biggest pleasures. My earlier career as an actress was all about telling stories. My husband just launched a publishing company and his novel is coming out later in the year. My 3 month old daughter gets several stories per day despite the fact she has no idea what I'm waffling on about.
Having to write a story, though, can be a really daunting task. Especially if you have to write one 'on demand' and at speed - perhaps in an exam. That's not how the creative process works, right?
For kids, story-writing assignments might seem especially intimidating because there's no clear sense of what the teacher or examiner is looking for. It all seems rather mysterious. What makes an A+ story?
Well, here are my 10 top tips for scoring highly in creative writing. They should lay out some criteria and a framework that will help children and teenagers get started. I usually encourage my students to make it their business to tick off each and every one of these suggestions as they write.
- DESCRIPTION: Any new character or setting in the story should be described with 3 key details. Make these interesting, revealing details. 'She had blonde hair, blue eyes and a yellow jumper' doesn't tell me much about the character. 'She had a wicked grin, a loud laugh and always wore brightly coloured clothes' gives me some real indicators about the character.
- INCLUDE THE CHARACTER’S EMOTIONS. The way your main character feels should change through the story. Perhaps they are nervous at the beginning, but proud and confident by the end. Perhaps they are lonely at the start, but full of joy and positivity at the end. This is the character's story-arc.
- SHOW DON’T TELL. You don’t need to tell us ‘Sam was happy’. It is better to write ‘Sam beamed and lifted the trophy high above his head’. This shows us that Sam is happy.
- USE THE SENSES - and not just sight! Smell, sound and texture are often overlooked in stories.
- INCLUDE LITERARY DEVICES - MAPS stands for Metaphor, Alliteration, Personification, Simile. Aim for one of each in the story. Make them original - not cliches!
- USE THE WEATHER TO REFLECT OR CONTRAST YOUR CHARACTER’S EMOTIONS. Example: 'As the thunder rumbled outside, an argument was also raging in the Smith household' OR 'Despite the bright sunlight outside, Jonny's head was full of dark thoughts.'
- DON’T USE BORING VERBS OF MOVEMENT such as ‘went’, ‘walked’, ‘ran’. Think about more interesting alternatives: ’stumbled’, ‘glided’, ‘wandered’, ‘crept’, ‘marched’ etc.
- DON’T USE BORING VERBS OF SPEECH such as ‘said’. Think about ‘explained’, ‘squealed’, ‘demanded’, ‘exclaimed’, ‘chuckled’ etc.
- THERE SHOULD BE ONE CLEAR PROBLEM / DILEMMA in your story, which should be resolved by the ending. Don’t overcomplicate a short story plot with too many twists and turns.
- VARY YOUR SENTENCES. Try to include a mixture of short and long sentences. Try to include one that starts with an -ly word and one that starts with an -ing word. Try to include at least one sentence which uses a semi-colon.
Here's a final tip (and one that I've found unbelievably helpful when free-styling bedtime stories for my baby girl). It's not always easy to come up with a decent plot on the hoof - so why not try altering an existing story? This is a key feature of the Pie Corbett story-writing technique. You can make changes to a familiar story until it's almost beyond recognition. For instance, take 'Cinderella'. I could work through the plot and shift all the significant details in my head until it becomes the following story:
- Olly is invited to trial for Manchester United but his Dad won't let him go.
- His local football coach arrives early in the morning and secretly offers to drive Olly up to Manchester. He brings a football kit for Olly.
- Olly plays brilliantly at the trial, but just before the end his Dad turns up and insists on taking him home.
- In their hurried departure, Olly leaves his bag in the locker room.
- The Manchester United Scout finds Olly's contact details in his bag, comes to Olly's home and eventually persuades Olly's dad to let him join the team. Olly achieves his dream of becoming a club footballer.
It's very different to Cinderella isn't it? But you can see how I've used the same basic plot journey to inspire my story.
There is a whole tutorial on story-structure, and another on how to create suspense, on Griffin + Bell TV. Please do join up to enjoy my video lessons and those of our other top English tutors! I also recommend submitting stories to the BBC 500 words competition.