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Writing Skills


Writing Tips

  1. It is a good idea to have a few really good stories that you tell well. Adapt these to the task you have been given.
  2. Plan a SHORT beginning and a SHORT ending – most of the story should be the middle where things happen and characters think and feel. 
  3. Plan a resolution in your ending (e.g. solving a problem) and refer to it in the beginning – a good short story has the reader wondering how a problem is going to be resolved - and then it is. 
  4. Plan you last sentence – ending with a punch leaves your reader smiling. This is the time to be original. 
  5. Keep your reader informed of what is happening, and what characters are thinking and feeling – we cannot read your mind. If it isn’t written in the story it doesn’t happen
  6. DON’T start lots of sentences with the same word –read it over to check and cross out or substitute words to avoid this.
  7. Include some direct speech in your story ( with correct punctuation) AND AT LEAST ONE piece of indirect speech –avoid using “said” (something like “the doctor replied that he had seen spots like this before but only on a ladybird.” Or “Katy thought to herself that she had never seen such a strange sight in all her life.”) 
  8. Leave at least five minutes to check your story for all of your target points – a finished and corrected story is 100 times better than an unfinished and hurried one – whatever the style and standard. 
  9. Whenever you are stuck, or taking a break, read the story over to yourself under your breath but mouthing the words – if it sounds right when you read it out it is probably OK. If you pause when you are reading then check there is a pause marker (like a comma or fullstop). 
  10. Avoid telling the reader what to feel, e.g. it was scary. Make them feel it through your descriptions. 
  11. Avoid telling the reader what a character feels, e.g. she was sad. Show how they feel through what they say or do, e.g. her lip trembled. 
  12. Keep thinking ‘what would this person do/say?’ 
  13. Develop the setting. 
  14. To create suspense, lull the reader into a false sense of security – get characters doing something pleasant and introduce an unexpected dilemma. 
  15. Know your ending so you don’t include irrelevant details. 
  16. Limit dialogue to four exchanges per paragraph. 
  17. Develop setting and characters through descriptive sentences. 
  18. Keep a brisk pace. Short and interesting is great! 
  19. Plan your story on paper. Think who is it about? What is going to happen in the end? What exciting and interesting things will happen along the way? 
  20. A ‘punchy’ start that ‘grabs’ the readers attention, such as speech, onomatopoeia or a piece of great description. 
  21. Three well described characters (looks, experiences and personality) 
  22. A conversation to show direct speech and new speech, new line. 
  23. A well structured story, having a beginning, middle and an appropriate end. 
  24. When you have finished. Read your story VERY carefully, asking yourself, ‘Does this make sense?’ If it doesn't, change it!'

Ways to start a story

There are many different ways to start a story. Here are a few of them:

Description of a character:

Eg Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. - The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Description of setting:

Eg The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive. - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

Description of setting and character:

Eg A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a Firework-Maker called Lalchand and his daughter Lila. - The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Phillip Pullman

Action:


Eg Peter crouched over the fire, stirring the embers so that the sparks swarmed up like imps on the rocky walls of hell. - Count Karlstein by Phillip Pullman

Dialogue:

Eg I’m going shopping in the village,” George’s mother said to George on Saturday morning. “So be a good boy and don’t get up to mischief.” - George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

A question:

Eg Ever had the feeling your life’s been flushed down the toilet? - The Toilet of Doom by Michael Lawrence

A statement:


Eg It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful. - Matilda by Roald Dahl

More story-opening examples

  • We were alone in the house one morning when…
  • It all started when…
  • The autumn mists were gathering early and the night was growing dark when…
  • It was a dark and dismal night…
  • It had all happened so quickly…
  • There was nothing I could do to stop it happening…
  • Don’t move! It’s right behind you.” The boy slowly turned and gasped in horror!
    • This opening puts us right into the action. This is a good strategy for action stories.
  • The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it and rushes and water lilies grew at the deep end. 
    • This opening begins by describing the scene.
    • Your descriptions have to paint a vivid picture for your readers.
  • Granny Smith, an ordinary, little, old white-haired lady, resting on a seat in a public park, began to feel decidedly peculiar…
  • Granny Smith was old and her eyesight and hearing were not as good as they used to be.
  • Suddenly a beam of blue light shot out of nowhere, it seemed, and struck the little old lady...
    • This story begins with a description of the main character. 
  • The iron man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knew. Where had he come from? Nobody knew. How was he made? Nobody knew.
  • Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.
    • This story starts mysteriously with a simple sentence followed by questions.

More ways to start a composition

In the middle of action
  • Suddenly the scream pierced the night. I leapt to my feet. I stood totally motionless. All was silent . . . and then it came again, only this time closer to us.
  • Then the explosion ended the life I had once held with such little regard. I felt soil and mud raining down on me and when the noise stopped and movement ceased I found that I was partly buried and could barely move myself. 
  • I dropped the container marked “Dangerous. Handle with care,” and the world seemed to slow down. I could swear that minutes passed between it leaving my fingers and crashing to the ground with such terrible consequences. 
  • I tripped and found myself rolling towards the cliff edge. 
  • I drank the contents of the bottle and then realised what a dreadful mistake I had made.
Contradiction
  • Some days I loved Anne, but on others I hated her.
  • I felt as cold as ice but then my skin felt as hot as fire.
Unexpected or strange happenings
  • I dragged myself up the face of the clock and then sat on the second hand wondering what to do
  • I didn’t know that I could breathe underwater until I fell into the deep end and found myself sitting happily on the bottom!
Asking the reader a question
  • Have you ever wondered why things happen the way they do? Is there something or someone manipulating us like we’re little toy figures? Well, let me tell how I know what really happens and why.
Describe the setting:
  • Describe where the story is taking place.
Describe a character:
  • Describe the main person in the story, remember how you describe them must have an impact on the story.
  • E.g. “Jim was an unlucky boy…” Jim being unlucky must have an impact on the story line, e.g. Jim loses his wallet etc…
Action:
  • Straight into the excitement, characters are doing something
Dialogue:
  • The characters are speaking to each other.

Main Characters

Try to have no more than two main characters. Other characters can of course be mentioned in your story, but you must concentrate on developing your main characters. To bring your characters to life, you must describe them: their appearance; their personalities; their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, your characters must interact! They must talk to each other just like people do in real life.

Writing the Middle of the Story

This is where something has to happen. This is the problem in your story that has to be solved. Think of some stories you know and say what the problem was.For eg: In Magnus Powermouse the problem is how to feed Magnus and all the adventures are connected to this problem.

You can only have one problem! In a book there are lots of pages and chapters to write about lots of problems. You haven’t got the time for more than one. The middle of the story must keep the reader’s attention that you caught with the beginning. Keep the action going, develop the characters and story line. Remember that you need to start a new paragraph when something changes.

How to start a new paragraph

  • Change of setting: The action in the story happens in another place.
  • Change of time: The story moves on to another time that day or the next day etc… 
  • Change of person: A new character is introduced, they may say something or just be described. 
  • Change of event: Something new happens in the plot.

How to end the story

You have begun it, created and developed your characters, had a problem that has been solved, now it’s time to bring all your loose ends together and finish your story. The conclusion of a story is really important, you don’t want to disappoint the reader by giving them a weak ending, it can spoil the whole thing!

Resolution!!!


This is where the problem is solved.  There are different ways of doing this, just as there are different ways of beginning your story. You can have a happy or sad solution or you can leave the problem unresolved as a cliff hanger. A lot depends upon the type of story or genre you have chosen.


  • Is your ending going to point to the future: the girls wondered if life would ever be the same?
  • Are you going to make a moral point: the boys knew that they had had a lucky escape and would never meddle in other people’s problems again! 
  • Just as you have done (hopefully) throughout your story. Include detail, description and build up an atmosphere. How do your characters feel for example.

Ways to end a story

1. Conclusive: Draw to an end all the events that have happened in the story.

2. Cliff – hanger: Leave the reader in suspense, wondering what will happen next.

3. Reflective:
Narrator or a character, thinks about something that has happened in the story, this can be done with direct speech.

Endings examples

1. …I never want to stay alone in the house again!

2. …and that was the end of that.

3. …and so we’ll never know what really happened.

4. …it had finished, at last.

5. …and so it was over.

6. …and now we could all have a well-earned rest.

7. …we had supper and went to bed, tired but happy.

8. …the horror was over and we were all safe.

9. …there was home at last. We had made it!

10. …so it had turned out alright in the end.

11. …and it was a wonderful way to end things.

12. …and I can’t wait to do it again!

13. …and as the night drew in, I was glad it was all over.

In a Nutshell

  • The opening must grab your readers’ attention
  • Your characters must be interesting and fairly realistic. They must interact with each other like people do in real life.
  • The main part of the story is the problem. What is actually going to happen in your story?
  • You have to resolve the problem. How will you choose to do this?
  • Finally, you end your story. Just like you did in the beginning, keep your readers attention by having an interesting ending.
  • A good plan is vital!
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