Writing tips for budding authors

Ideas - where do they come from?

  • Ideas are all around you, if only you look for them. Things that happen at school, or in your family, may form the basis of a story (especially if what happened made you feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, jealous or excited.)
  • Try asking some whacky 'what if ...?' questions. What if I was invisible, what if I could fly, what if I was abducted by aliens? Or some 'real life questions: what if my best friend was picked for the footie team/school play and I was left out, what if I was accused of something I didn't do?
  • Pick a 'magical object' - it could be anything. Ask what magical powers it has, and how it might help you if you were in danger, frightened, needed to go somewhere in a hurry, needed to defeat your enemies …Write a story about it.
  • It's very rude to listen in to other people's conversations, but writers do it all the time! A snatch of conversation overheard at the bus stop can trigger a really interesting/exciting/funny story.

To bring your story to life, remember to 'show' not 'tell'. I got up, I went to school, I had a fight with my best friend, I got in trouble with the teacher, my mother told me to tidy my messy room or I wouldn't be allowed out of the house for a year... You are TELLING the story. To SHOW a story, put in some action, dialogue, thoughts (and a bit of description is okay too.) 'Okay, that's it! I've had enough! You will either tidy this room right now or you will not be allowed to go out with your friends for the rest of the year!' Mum's face was red and angry her voice was as shrill as a dentist's drill.

'Mmph.' I didn't want to wake up and deal with mum's anger, so I kept my eyes closed.
'Bethany Williams, get up this instant!' She leaned over and ripped off the bedclothes. 'Now!'

Plot: in a story, something must happen, something must CHANGE. It could be the situation that changes, or the character, but every story is a journey of some sort. There's a goal to achieve, whether it's making up a fight with your sister or your best friend, getting together with the guy/girl of your choice, finding a cure for a deadly virus or saving the world. There should always be obstacles to overcome, to test your character in some way. (Make your characters SUFFER!) By the end of the story, something will have been achieved, or the character might have learned something about the situation or about himself/herself. If nothing happens, and nothing changes, you have a very boring story!

Setting: A great way to describe a scene is to include elements of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Think of describing the beach to a Martian: what would you see, what might you hear, etc. If your story is set in a familiar scene (eg the classroom) you don't need much description, but if it's set on the planet Zog, then you'll need to give your readers some idea of where the spaceship has touched down and what the planet looks like.

KISS (keep it simple, stupid) You don't need fancy language to tell a story, but do try not to use clichés, they're boring! You don't need long, convoluted sentences either. If your reader has to keep trying to guess what you're trying to say, chances are they'll give up on your story. The best way to tell if your story is working, is to read it aloud. Your ear will pick up what your eye doesn't: the repetitions, the typos, the long, saggy, boring bits, the convoluted, confusing bits.

If you have friends who are interested in writing, and whose opinion you trust, try forming a writing group that meets regularly. (Your teacher or librarian might help with this.) It's a great chance to get feedback on your writing, and a great incentive to keep on writing.