Make problems for your characters
Which of these storylines is the better story?
A. Person 1 and Person 2 drive off into the sunset
B. Person 1 and Person 2 are driving off into the sunset when a masked man suddenly appears…
Which story would you rather read? Most likely, you will want to read Story B. Why is that? Because Story B has a problem – something that may stop the characters achieving what they want. Can they overcome it? How? What happens in the end? This is the basis of the plot. And if the characters and the plot are interesting, the reader will want to know how it ends.
All stories must have a problem or conflict. Check it out – take any story or film or TV series you already know and find the problem. (Longer stories may have several problems to be solved.)
Ideas for stories are always about asking questions …
‘Time’ is this year’s theme so, the questions you must ask are varied.
- What is Time in the context of your story?
- How does Time affect the outcome of your story?
- Is there a specific Time limit/ constraint that affects your plot?
- What would you use as a metaphor for Time?
… and finding answers
In a short story, it is sensible to only have one problem and a maximum of 3 characters.
This will make asking and answering your questions more straightforward.
What actually happens in the end?
It is always good to know how the story ends when you start writing. Don’t be afraid to write more than one draft or to discard bad ideas (or even good ideas, if they don’t fit – they might end up fitting another story!)
‘He woke up and it was all a dream’ is NOT a good ending!
Think about what the ending means – is it satisfying for the characters, and for the reader? Is the ending earned, or have you taken the easy way out? If you can’t think of a good ending, go back to your plan and find out what’s missing – or sometimes, what is complicating things and can be removed.
Keep the story line simple.
The smaller the word limit, the simpler it must be. However ambitious you want to be, making the story over-complicated and rushed is never a good answer.
Plan. Write a brief 5-point outline for your story.
The better the planning, the easier the writing. A plan also helps with paragraphing.
Here is a very simple example of an outline:
Section 1. In their new home, unhappy Jane explores the attic & finds a parcel with a baby’s tiny gown and shoes.
Section 2. Jane is curious. Why is that the only thing left in the house? Who was the baby? Where is the family now?
Section 3. Asks the neighbours and gets a negative reaction from everyone. Why? What is the secret? She is even more determined now.
Section 4. Goes to the library. Gets the same reaction. Jane is frustrated. An old man in the library overhears, ‘accidentally’ bumps into her and whispers the name of the local newspaper and a date. Jane checks it out and learns the truth. Finds the name and address in the online phone directory.
Section 5. Jane takes the parcel to the owner, hears the full story. Both are now happy and Jane makes her first friend.
Now write your story
Let your reader imagine making that journey with your character.
Use a mixture of good description, action and dialogue so they can feel, see and hear, even maybe smell and taste what your character can. Let the reader know what the character is feeling.
Show, don’t tell.
Which one of these makes you feel the fear: “He was afraid” or “He could not speak, his heart was beating wildly in his chest and his feet felt glued to the floor”?
This is a particularly important issue with this theme, as ‘time’ can be interpreted in so many different ways. It would be too easy to say ‘and then she knew it was the right time’ or ‘this story is set in the past’. Don’t spell it out for the reader, instead let your characters’ words and actions describe whether they are happy or not with life and the way things turn out.
Ok. Well done, you’ve written your story. Now you have one more very important thing to do.
You must read and edit!
It helps if you wait some time before you read your story. That way you will read it more like a reader than a writer.
Read your story carefully.
Read what you actually wrote – not what you think you wrote. Find and correct the mistakes (the red and green underlines on your word processor can help, so don’t ignore them, but also don’t accept bad advice from a computer!)
Read your story aloud.
Hear where the pauses are. Have you used correct punctuation? Have you used speech marks and new paragraphs so your reader knows who is speaking now? Does it sound like real speech? If you are unable to say it, your reader will not be able to read it.
As you read, look out for the following:
• Have you used a good variety of sentence structure and the best words to do the job?
• Are there sections you should cut or places where you need more detail?
• How did you want your reader to feel or think? Have you achieved your aim?
• follow the rules about word count, Times New Roman, point 12.
Respect yourself and your readers and you will please the judges. Enjoy! Submit! Good luck!