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Skilled authors make it look easy but there's a lot to learn, and the learning never stops. Get a head start by reading everything you can, to absorb the art of words and storytelling. What stories do you like best? Who are your favourite characters? Play around with ideas, experiment—splatter words like paint—and have some fun. And when you are ready to tell a story of your own, here's a guide to walk you through the process.
© IDEA: Raw wood to vague shape
To help explain the main story-writing steps, we are going to sculpt a puppet head from wood. We start with a plain block of wood (or a blank piece of paper). It's raw. It's basic. It doesn't look like anything yet. What it needs is a little imagination.
Main Character
Let's imagine your main character... What do they look like? What kind of personality do they have? Do they have a family, friends, a home? Pets or hobbies? You don't have to include all this in your story, but thinking about it will help your idea grow.

Now, what does this character care about most? What do they want more than anything else in the world?

Imagine the backdrop for your main character... Where in the world will your adventure take place? Is it a city, a farm, the desert, somewhere freezing cold? Is it even on Earth? Maybe it's in outer space, or somewhere completely made-up.

Also think about when in time your story is happening. Have you gone Jurassic (back to a period in history), present day (with all the technology you currently enjoy), or jumped into the future? Set the scene like a stage designer.

Problems and Plot
Now we have to give your main character a problem, since stories need to be about something happening. This is what we call the story plot.

Problems can be external (outside of ourselves) like a thief or a pirate, a hungry sabre-toothed tiger, an alien spaceship, or even the weather: stormy seas, tornadoes, a flood.

Or problems can be internal (inside ourselves: our faulty belief systems or naughty behaviours) like always giving up too easy, thinking we're not smart or strong or brave or needed, or maybe we can't stop lying.

The best stories include external and internal: for example, struggling against a stormy sea, your character discovers just how brave they really are. (Something to aim for as you gain experience.) What is it that stands in your character's way?

Point of View
This might be a good time to think and play about with the point of view you want to write from. A lot of modern fiction uses I, as in: I hopped on my bike, so you are right in the main character's head, hearing all their thoughts.

The traditional way is to go by he/she and your character's name, so say: Peter hopped on his bike. You can still get inside the character's head a little bit.

The final way, which you don't generally see (outside of Choose Your Own Adventure books) is you, as in: You hop on your bike.

It's also a good time to think about tense: past or present? For example: Peter hopped on his bike. Or: Peter hops on his bike. Past is considered traditional, more proper. Present is the newer, faster-moving style. Which do you think works best for your story?

Scribble and Sketch
Scribble down notes and sketches if you need to. Give it a working title. Once you have an idea of your main character and their biggest problem, and have decided on your point of view and tense, you are ready for the next step.
© STORY: Basic carved shape
For this step, you are really going to let your imagination and personality shine. Get that idea down on paper (or screen), into a basic story shape, in a burst of creativity. It doesn't need to be perfect. You don't need to agonize over every word. Just see what pops out of your head and where your imagination takes you. But first, some things to consider about story.
Growth and Change
So, stories are about something happening, and it's the problem itself that drives the story by forcing the main character to take action. Of course, not all characters will react the same way. Some will fight. Some will run away. Some will do nothing at all.

Whatever they choose to do (or not do), the problem generally gets worse. And this is what makes your reader stick around—they need to know how your character will finally solve that problem. Will they come out the other side a stronger, wiser person? (If it's a horror story, will they even survive?) What will they learn?

Beginning to End
All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. With short stories, beginnings need to introduce the main character and jump into their problem as quickly as possible.

Then comes the middle which takes up most of the story. This is where the adventure kicks off, where your character makes a choice, takes action, and generally messes up as they struggle with their problem.

Then, the end. Here your character finally figures things out, gets it right, and overcomes that problem. Yay!

Emotions and Senses
Don't forget to sprinkle emotions (fear, excitement, joy, sadness, anger...) and senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) throughout your first draft, to bring your story to life. And use similes and metaphors to help paint a picture for the reader.

Similes use as or like with something specific to compare to:

hairy as a Mammoth
bald as a baboon's butt
smelled like a loaded diaper
ran like a clown on stilts

Roald Dahl uses a hilarious simile in James and the Giant Peach, when describing Aunt Sponge:

She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage.

Metaphors use something completely different to paint a picture, like how I've taken the carving of a wooden puppet head to help explain how to write and edit a story! (Metaphors are a little bit trickier to work with, so stick to similes until you feel ready.)

Here's a great metaphor by David Walliams, from The Boy in the Dress:

The pain ebbed and flowed inside him like the sea,
crashing down on him, almost drowning him in tears.

Don't worry if you don't capture all these details in your first draft. You can always add them later when you edit.

When it comes to stories, clearly communicating what's in your head is probably the most difficult part of writing. It can be so hard to see your own mistakes, to see where you're missing details, or not explaining things well enough for the reader to "see" your story. It's so clear in your head, you just can't understand why they don't get it. (Why can't you read my mind?!)

This is where a second pair of eyes comes in handy. A writing partner can be a real story-saver. But if that's not possible, don't despair, since it's best to set your first draft aside for a while anyway, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then you will be ready to edit. But for now, it's time to get creative.

So, with all this in mind...ready, set, WRITE!

This is the more technical part of the story writing process. Here the sculptor pulls out all the tools in their woodcarving toolbox: chisels, knives, gougers. They scrape and chip and shape the wood into a finished product. Something that others can then recognize and enjoy.

Editing is so important that people make a career out of doing just that, especially when it comes to books. An author or publisher pays the editor money to spot plot holes or things that don't make sense, to make sure there's no boring bits, that the pacing is right, and that everything is in the right order. Then there are editors who check every single sentence for grammar and punctuation mistakes. Since we're not rich or famous (yet), we'll have to do all the editing ourselves.

It's much easier to edit on a computer. You can edit and save as many versions as you like, until you are happy with it. But since you might have to write this out by hand, on paper, I have broken the editing down into two main steps.

© EDIT 1: Overall story edit
Organize your story
Here you are going to turn your first draft into a better copy. You don't need to worry about grammar and punctuation yet. For the first edit you will be looking at the story as a whole, making sure it's a clear and complete tale from beginning to end.
Some things to look for:
  • If you are working to a specific word count, have you counted all the words, and are you on target?
  • Does your story jump into the action fast enough? Does it end where it should? (Once they have solved their problem you don't want to babble on too long.)
  • Are any of the scenes too short, or too long? Is there just enough detail?
  • Do you need to add, delete, replace, or move any sentences or scenes?
  • Are there enough obstacles/things happening?
  • Does everything make sense? Is it clearly communicated, with emotion and senses, similes and (if you are feeling brave) metaphors?
  • Have you rambled or wandered off from the main storyline? (Only include exactly what you need to tell this story.)
  • Have you mixed up any details? (For example, your character jumped into a rowboat that accidentally morphed into a rubber dinghy later in the story.)
If you are working on a computer, save a new version of your story (keep the original for backup, just in case). Then set to work hacking up your first draft. Add, delete, rearrange, play around until it feels right.

If you are working on paper, you might want to make a photocopy of your original and use that for editing. Scribble in new words and sentences, cross things out, chop things up, write on scraps of paper, and stitch it back together like Frankenstein's monster—whatever you need to do. It doesn't have to be pretty. It only needs to make sense to you. (My edits are full of circles and arrows and lines and strange symbols. It's my own secret language!) Now you can write it up a little bit neater.

By this point it's looking mighty close to the finished product. It's a good time to share your story with a writing partner, if possible. Otherwise, just let it rest again, and return to it later for a final edit.
© EDIT 2: Line by line edit
Finishing touches
Now you are going to turn your better copy into a final copy. Using your smallest chisels and finest sandpaper, you're going to give your story its finishing touches. Go through word by word, sentence by sentence, as if you're examining it all under a microscope. Don't forget, if you're using a computer, save a new version to work from. Or, even better, print it out. Sometimes it's easier to see these smaller edits on paper, rather than on your screen.
If you have been getting that head start and reading all kinds of adventures, you've probably soaked up some grammar and punctuation rules along the way—without even realizing it! Like, did you notice how they broke up paragraphs and added dialogue? Pull out a book and have a look. Refer back to it as you work through your own story, trying to copy what they've done.

More things to look for:

Double-check tricky words in a dictionary (or Don't repeat words like walk or look over and over. Use just the right word to describe something—use a thesaurus (or

Instead of walk, try:

saunter, shuffle, strut

Instead of look, try:
glance, peek, study

I got on my bike, doesn't make me picture how they got on the bike.
I hopped on my bike, now that is more lively. I can really imagine it.

Make sure there are no long, run-on sentences.

Instead of:
I hopped on my bike and pedaled through town as fast as a race horse so I could make it home before my parents discovered that I wasn't sick in bed after all.
Crikey, that's wordy.

Try instead:
I hopped on my bike and pedaled through town as fast as a racehorse. I had to make it home before my parents discovered that I wasn't sick in bed after all.
Punchier. Much better.

Make sure your paragraphs are grouped logically, and broken up as much as possible to help the story flow. Give dialogue its own paragraph too, so that it's clear who is speaking.

Instead of:
I opened the front door, cringing. Dad stomped down the stairs at me. "Where have you been?" I needed to invent a new lie, and fast!

Try instead:
I opened the front door, cringing.

Dad stomped down the stairs at me. "Where have you been?"

I needed to invent a new lie, and fast!

Final Grammar and Punctuation Check
Watch out for those homophones, words that sound the same but mean something different, especially:

your, you're
there, their, they're
its, it's

The English language is full of them:

right, write
break, brake
hair, hare

On and on they go (and you can't rely on a spell-checker to spot them for you).

And, finally, a last minute punctuation mark check:
  • Are your dialogue quotation marks in the right place?
  • Are your commas and full-stops/periods where they should be throughout?
  • Do all your questions end with a question mark?
  • Is your story littered with too many exclamation marks? (Use them sparingly, or else they'll lose their effect!)
  • Did you make sure that all your sentences and names start with a capital?
Have a break and when you're ready, write up a neat and tidy final copy. Or make sure you've saved your final story and print it off. Now give yourself a pat on the back—that is one spiffy-looking puppet head!

No one writes a story that comes out brilliant and perfect right away. That only happens in movies... An author sits alone in an isolated cabin, with tussled hair and facial stubble (and that's just the women), pounding furiously at a typewriter and then weeping for joy at the finished masterpiece. The truth is: the more versions you do, the harder you work at it, the better your story will be.

Photos courtesy of Mirek Trejtnar at KIDPRAHA.

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