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Frequently Asked Questions for Young Writers

Where can I find story ideas?

Ideas for stories are all around you, all the time. What story writers do is to look around us and use our imagination.

All you have to do is to say "What if..."

Examples:

What if my sister could fly...?
What if I found a million dollar note...?
What if my dog started talking to me...?
What if my best friend moved to Alaska...?
What if the sun went out...?

 

How do I write a story?

Put really simply, a story is usually about someone (a character) who is trying to do something (their goal). But something is stopping them from doing it (an obstacle).

So to write a story, all you have to do is invent a character, and give them an exciting goal, usually one that's really difficult to achieve. Put some big obstacles in their way, to stop them from reaching their goal.

Then all you have to do is to come up with an exciting way for them to overcome the obstacles.

Often the obstacles will be other characters, which we call "villains".

Example: Finding Nemo

Nemo

A clown fish called Marlin (the character) is trying to find his son (his goal). But sharks, jellyfish, aquariums and obnoxious little girls are just some of the obstacles stopping him. He manages to outwit or overcome all the obstacles and is eventually reunited with his son.

What is Story Structure?

Story structure is the shape of a story.

At the Beginning you introduce your character(s), and the setting (the place the story will happen).

Then something happens (the Starter) that makes your character go to do something.

You reveal the complication (the problem) at Turning Point 1.

Things build up to the big Disaster (Turning Point 2) but eventually get sorted out at the Climax.

You finish off your story in the Resolution by telling a bit about what happened to the characters afterwards.

Story Structure
Click to enlarge

Example: Little Red Riding Hood

The Beginning: "Once upon a time there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood who lived in a cottage by a forest"

The Starter: "One day her her mother asked her to take a basket of goodies to her grandmother, who was ill."

The Complication (Turning Pt 1): "While walking through the forest she met a wolf."

The Disaster (Turning Pt 2): "The wolf ate the grandmother!"

The Climax: "The wolf was just about to eat LRRH when a woodcutter, who had been chopping wood nearby, heard her screams, and rushed to her rescue."

The Resolution: "And they all lived happily ever after."

How do I create Interesting Characters?

For starters you need to look at the people around you. What makes them tick? What makes one person different from another?

What makes your best friend at school different from your worst enemy? What things do you like about your teacher? What things do you hate about your brother or sister?

These things are character traits. The things that make each person unique.

Now think up some traits for the characters in your story. It may help to borrow some traits from people in your life.

You often need to exaggerate these traits when writing about your characters to make them more obvious to the reader.

It is also important to think about how the reader will feel about each character you create. If you want them to like a character, give them nice traits, or even better, make them funny. Then readers will like them. If they are a villain, they need some bad traits.

You should also think about what your story is about when dreaming up your characters. Usually your characters, and their traits, will reflect the story in some way. You don't want to just think up a character with a bunch of funny quirks which have no relevance to the story you are writing!

Remember that even people you don't like have some good points, and the same should be true of your characters. If your hero character has a couple of bad traits, or your villain has some good traits, this will make them seem more realistic. These are "contradictions" in your characters. Often you will hear the word "rounded" to describe realistic characters, and "one-dimensional" or "cardboard" used to describe unrealistic characters.

Example: Shrek

Shrek

Here are some words to describe the character of Shrek. Shrek is a really interesting character because many of these traits seem to contradict each other.

Funny
Gross
Disgusting
Scary
Lovable
Lonely
Large
Sensitive
Green

How do I show the reader what my characters are like?

There are thee D's that we use to show the reader what a character is like.

Description
Dialogue
Doing Stuff

(Actually the last one is really called "Actions" but I find it easier to remember this way.)

What you need to remember is that each D is much more powerful than the one before. You can "describe" a character by saying stuff about them. But it's much more powerful to show what that character is like by having them say something (dialogue), which reveals what they are really like.

And it is much more powerful again, to have them "Do" something which often reveals their true character, even if they were not telling the truth when they were talking.

Example: John

(I just made up this character to show you how it's done.)

Description:
    John came from a small town, and found it awkward talking to city girls. They always thought he was shy, or a snob, or just stupid.

Dialogue:
    “Hi,” the taller girl said with a bright smile, “What’s your name?”
    “Um, nothing,” John mumbled nervously.
    “Nothing!” She turned to her friend and they giggled.

Doing Stuff:
    The taller girl half turned and caught his eye. There was an inviting sparkle in her smile.
    John dropped his eyes, avoiding her gaze, and headed for the dunny.

John's actions say it much more powerfully than the dialogue or description!

Why is it important to have "Suspense"?

Suspense is what makes the reader want to read more of your story.

Put simply, it means to keep the reader "in suspense". To make them wonder about something, but not to give them the answer... yet!

The great film director Alfred Hitchcock, who was a master of suspense, said "Suspense is the state of waiting for something to happen."

When the reader is wondering something, they will keep reading to find out the answer to the question that is in their mind. And that will keep the pages turning!

There are lots of techniques you can use to create suspense including: secrets, foreshadowing, cliffhangers and dramatic irony. You can research these words to find out more about them.

 

Example One:
Mrs Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops, and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place.

Example Two:
My life might have been so different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.

Which of these books would you rather read, based on the opening line?

The first example is from a classic book called "Anne of Green Gables" by L. Montgomery.

The second example is from a wonderful novel called "The Vanishing of Katharina Linden" by Helen Grant.

I know which book I'd rather read, if all I had to go on was the opening line.

What are secrets?

Secrets are another cool thing you can do to create suspense. Have a secret, preferably a really big secret.

Early in your story you tell the reader that there is a secret, but don't tell them what the secret is.

Much later in the story you finally reveal what the secret is.

Example: The Matrix

The Matrix

In the move The Matrix, the main character Neo is told that there is a big secret about the world he lives in. Much later, he discovers the truth, that it is all a computer generated fantasy!

Example Two: Holes, by Louis Sachar

Holes

Why are the kids being forced to dig all those holes? You have to keep reading to find out the secret!

What is Foreshadowing?

This is a very simple technique where you give a hint to the reader about something that is yet to come.

You "tease" the reader, by giving them a little snippet of information so they have to keep reading to find out more.

Example:

Without foreshadowing:

Jenny flashed that electrifying smile as she flipped one leg over her new bicycle and stood up on the pedals to get going. "See you tomorrow," she said.
I waved, but she didn't see.

With a little foreshadowing added:

Jenny flashed that electrifying smile as she flipped one leg over her new bicycle and stood up on the pedals to get going. "See you tomorrow," she said.
I waved, but she didn't see.
In months to come I often thought back to that moment - to that last smile - and thought about how much I missed it. How much I missed her.

What is a cliffhanger?

These are also pretty simple. Just get your character(s) into an exciting, dangerous, or dramatic situation, then suddenly end the chapter.

It leaves the reader hanging on, wanting to find out the outcome.

I think the name comes from old movies that would end with the hero literally hanging off the edge of a cliff by his fingernails, and you would have to go back to the cinema the next week to see the next installment.

These old movies were called "Saturday Morning Serials" and they were a long time ago!

In The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, just about every chapter had a cliffhanger ending, and look how successful that book was!

Example: The Real Thing

The Real Thing

The cold circle of the muzzle of the pistol pressed against the back of his neck.
‘Good bye,’ Candy smirked from up on the deck, and Fizzer closed his eyes.
And so he didn’t see the huge black arm that reached up out of the depths of the dark water and gripped Joe’s ankle in a vice before pulling him, pistol and all, into the welcoming embrace of the sea.

With a cliffhanger ending:

The cold circle of the muzzle of the pistol pressed against the back of his neck.
‘Good bye,’ Candy smirked from up on the deck, and Fizzer closed his eyes.

 

What is dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony is really cool stuff, and it's not hard to do.

All it means is that the reader knows more about what's going on than the character does.

This example on the right explains it beautifully.

Example: Morgan

(I just made this up)

Without dramatic irony:

    Morgan opened the door quietly and stopped, searching the long dusty hallway for any sign of movement, or trouble. There was none. The metal-framed doorway at the far end of the corridor beckoned to him and he took one careful footstep towards it.

With dramatic irony:

    The creature waited in silence behind the rusting metal frame of the door. Waited in silence. Waited in ever-increasing hunger. Now it smelled blood. It smelled human. Slime seeped from its fangs, and silently, impatiently, it waited.
    Morgan opened the door quietly and stopped, searching the long dusty hallway for any sign of movement, or trouble. There was none. The metal-framed doorway at the far end of the corridor beckoned to him and he took one careful footstep towards it.

We know more than Morgan and the suspense builds with every step he takes down that long hallway!

What about "Emotions"?

Stories are emotions. That's all there is to it. A story that doesn't make you feel something, is not really a story at all. It is just a collection of words on a bit of paper.

So before you start writing, know what kind of emotion your story is all about. Is it a sad story? A happy story? An exciting story? A scary story?

Write about things that make you feel these emotions, then the reader will feel them too.

Setting the Tone
Sometimes, to help you capture the emotion, you could try listening to music. A lot of music is full of emotions, so find some music that makes you feel something, and listen to that music while you are writing. This is a technique called "Setting the Tone" and I find it really helpful.

Some Emotions:

Happiness
Sadness
Excitement
Fear
Love
Embarrassment
Nervousness
Confusion
Pride
Guilt
Frustration
Anger
Hate
Joy



Brian Falkner Books