How to Write A Good Story
|So, you like writing stories?
And you'd like to write better ones? Then you've come to the right page.
Anyone can write a story, but writing a good one is not so easy. Writing my novel, The King Herself, is
the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Mind you, I've never climbed
Mount Everest. Or had kids. But writing that book gave me immense
satisfaction, and along the way I learnt a lot about the writing craft. And that's what this page
is all about.
When I was in primary school, like you, I wrote my first stories. One I wrote in year 4 (then called 2nd year Juniors) was in three chapters. It was called Fun in Moominland, and it was all about the Moomins, who are characters created by Tove Jannson, featured in 8 books. The teacher read my story to the class, and that was my proudest moment as an author so far. Perhaps it was also the seed which led me to start writing The King Herself 25 years later.
So it's good to start young. Now's the time to get a taste for writing - to fall in love with it, learn some tips from your teachers, and from my web page, and write your own great tales. Who knows, maybe one day you'll be penning your own novel, and watching people grab it off the shelves of your local bookshop.
The Golden Rules of Story Writing
The worst thing a book can do is bore you. It's okay if it terrifies you, or even makes you depressed (some people like that), but if it bores you, you'll chuck it away. Unless your teacher is making you read it. So whatever you do, when you write a story, make sure it isn't boring! Easy to say, but how do you make a story non-boring? Here's the essence of it: create a main character the reader will care about, and give them a problem or mystery to solve.
If the characters are dull or annoying, without anything to like about them, the reader will get very fed up. Even your bad guys should have something interesting about them (Voldemort was at Hogwarts, for example)
If the character has a nice, easy life, everything is hunky dory, no problem, the reader will fall asleep. To spice things up for the reader there should be some some sort of conflict, a difficulty with someone (a bully, evil wizard, monster, annoying brother, parents) or something (the sea, a desert, loneliness, an approaching asteroid, time running out).
If there is no question the reader wants to know the answer to, he or she will die of boredom. You must keep your reader guessing - wanting to know what will happen next, what the answer to the big puzzle is. Whodunnit? Will the hero save the city? Find the treasure? Kill the monster? Win the girl's heart?
This is one reason why JK Rowling is richer than the Queen. She is brilliant at making sure the reader is always trying to work out what on earth is going on. You can't put her books down because there's always some mystery to be answered.
Clues and Red Herrings
But don't keep your readers totally in the dark - give them a few clues so they can make an intelligent guess. It's a delicate balance - the events and the characters in your story shouldn't be predictable, but what happens should make sense. A teacher may turn out to be a vampire, and this should be enough of a surprise to excite the reader, but there should have been the odd sign - a pupil with two little red marks on his neck, the teacher refusing to eat garlic in the school canteen, and so on.
You can also give red herrings. These are false clues, meant to lead the reader to a false conclusion, so it's not too easy to guess what's going on. Another teacher might be really mean and have big teeth, so the reader suspects it's he who is the vampire - but it's really the teacher who seems very nice and friendly (but doesn't like crosses...)
Your readers will have much more fun when they have a chance to guess what's going on - when it's not too easy, but not too hard, to tell what will happen.
This is one of the most important rules of any sort of writing. Say what you mean to say. Read over your writing and ask yourself, if someone else were reading this, would they understand what you're going on about? Is it clear?
Partly this is a matter of using good grammar - putting your sentences together in the right way - partly using the right words, and partly not using too many words.
'John saw the lion looking out of his car.' This sentence tells us that what John saw was a lion in a car, looking out. But perhaps what the writer really meant was that John was in his car, and looking out of it, he saw a lion. A better way to write the sentence would be: 'Looking out of his car, John saw a lion.'
A lot of people write sentences like that which confuse the reader, because it's not certain what they were meant to say. So you must read every sentence you have written, and make sure it says what you meant it to say. If not, rewrite it.
'John slipped down the icy hill on his sledge.' Is slipped the best word here? Slipped usually means something accidental - you might slip on ice. But John meant to go down the icy hill on his sledge, so a better word is slid.
'John saw some animals in the field.' The reader would really like to know what kind of animals John saw, so say 'John saw some cows in a field.' Or 'John saw some giraffes in a field' would be more interesting. Give specific details in your stories - don't just say 'they ate', say what they ate (but don't go on and on about it, unless it's really interesting).
Also, avoid abstract words - that is, words which don't have a very definite meaning, like 'beautiful' or 'ugly'. Instead give enough concrete description that the reader can see that the character is beautiful (see Show Don't Tell, later).
Not Too Many Words
Readers are easily bored, and one sure way to bore them is to write long sentences with too many words in. When you've written the first draft of your story, it's almost certain that you'll be able to shorten it a lot by taking out words you don't need. The first draft of my novel was 155,000 words - the second 122,000 - and the final draft is 92,000. So I cut out 63,000 words! And it's much better now because of that.
Here are a few ways to cut out words:
a. Boring dialogue. When people meet they say things like 'Hi', 'how are you?' and 'I'm fine, how are you?', but in a story we don't need to say all this. Get right to the important bits of the conversation - the bits which have something to do with your story, or the bits which tell us something interesting about the characters. Of course, if your characters say 'how are you' and 'I'm fine' in a nasty or sarcastic tone of voice, this might be important.
Said is another word which can sometimes be taken out. It needs to be clear who is speaking, however. Look at this:
'Why are you so late?' said John.
'I'm only fifteen minutes late,' said Jenny.
'Fifteen minutes is a lot.'
'Don't be daft.'
It's clear who said the third and fourth lines, so we can leave out the saids. But if this goes on for a long conversation, the reader might forget who's talking, so you may need to include a few more saids.
You can also use action to make it clear who's speaking, without using said. Look at these:
Jack opened the fridge door. 'There's no cheese left! Has that giant mouse been at it again?'
Katy turned away from him. 'Very funny.'
b. Boring descriptions. You don't need to describe everything - just the interesting and important stuff. We don't need to know the colour of everyone's hair, or the kind of curtains in every room, or the scent of every flower. Of course any of these details might be important, say in a murder mystery. But long descriptions usually bore readers.
If you do want to describe someone or something, try to think of something unusual. Don't just give the standard list of how tall they are, how pretty, and what colour their hair was. Give one or two details which are unusual, but which tell us a lot about someone. One of my characters has a 'mouth made for sneering.' And Harry Potter's lightning-shaped scar is certainly memorable.
A better way to give descriptions is to include them in an action. Instead of 'The church had a tall slate-covered spire,' say 'The rain slid down the grey slate of the spire.' See how I took the word 'tall' out? Was it really needed? (see later for more on describing places)
c. Long-winded sentences. Some sentences say in a lot of words what could be said in fewer. 'John sat down on the wooden chair and thought to himself what a lovely sunny day it was that particular day.' Phew! Why not just say 'John sat and smiled at the blue sky.'? It says more or less the same thing but in much fewer words.
How about this: 'Walking down the street towards him John saw a big ugly man with a mean expression. He looked like he meant business and might hurt John, maybe punch him or kick him or something.' Here's a shorter version: 'A big ugly man approached John, staring at him viciously.'
Look over all your sentences, and try to make then as short as possible, while keeping the same meaning. Your writing will become clearer and more powerful.
To show you how you can cut out boring bits, here's another example from my Moomin story:
One day Snufkin asked Snork if he would like to go to the zoo.
'I would like it. Ask Moomintroll if he would like to go.'
So Snufkin went and asked Moomintroll.
'I'll go and tell Moominmamma,' said Moomintroll, when Snufkin had finished talking to him. When Moomintroll came back he said: 'Moominmamma said that we could go and we could have a picnic as well.'
'Oh good,' said Snufkin.
So all the morning they arranged about going to the zoo. At last they had finished. They all went out and started their journey.
Most of this is not very interesting and could be cut out. Here's a shorter version:
One day Snufkin felt like going to the zoo. He asked everyone, and they all said yes. After preparing a picnic they set off.
See how much was cut out? Here's another example:
So they all went to the nocturnal house. They saw a bush baby, a fox bat, a fruit bat, a true vampire bat and a false vampire bat. Then the Snork said: 'there's my favourite animal,' and he pointed to the bat which was called the vampire bat (the 'true' vampire bat).
This could become:
In the nocturnal house they saw a bush baby, a fox bat, a fruit bat, a true vampire bat and a false vampire bat. 'There's my favourite animal,' said the Snork, pointing to the true vampire bat.
Get the idea? I hope so!
3. Show, Don't Tell
Readers enjoy working things out for themselves. As much as possible, you should write as if the reader were an observer, watching your characters, seeing and hearing (and smelling and touching) everything around them. If you depict these things in your writing, the reader will be able to work out things like - what sort of person is this? What is the meaning of what just happened? How does this person feel?
Some writers tell you these sorts of things. 'He was a friendly sort of dog.' 'Just then a terrible thing happened.' 'It was so unfair.' But it is not necessary to tell the reader these things. It is much more powerful to let readers judge things for themselves. Instead of telling, show.
Show us that he was a friendly dog by the way he behaves. What would you actually see the dog do, that would tell you he was friendly? What could have happened that would be so terrible? Readers are more intelligent than you might realise. In real life, when we meet someone who is selfish or rude or friendly or whatever, nobody needs to tell us this - we can work it out for ourselves, from the way they act, what they say, their expressions, and so on. This is what you have to do in writing - show us the character's actions, speech, and so on, and let the reader feel what sort of person they are.
Of course your characters might say something about another character - 'He's always moaning, that one.' But this is okay, because it's that character's opinion - not necessarily your own, or the reader's. The readers can still judge for themselves. After all, you don't like to be told what to think, do you? It's a bit insulting.
First Person Narratives
What about when the book is written in the first person? That means it's all written as if the writer is the main character - 'I did this' 'I thought that' - the way Jacqueline Wilson books are written. Then surely you have to say what you think all the time, right? 'He seemed a friendly dog.' 'It was so terrible, what Sally did to me.'
This is fine - because it's all from your character's point of view, not yours as the writer. You have to step inside the mind of Tracy Beaker, or Jane Eyre, or whoever, and tell us what her feelings are. The readers can still judge whether they agree or not. Tracy Beaker is always going on about how much she hates various grown ups and other children, but we can tell that they are not all bad people from what those characters do.
But even in the first person you should still reveal what sort of person the narrator is through his or her actions and speech. We learn more about Tracy Beaker from what she does and says, than from the thoughts she shares with us.
Dialogue and Adverbs
Often writers add adverbs to dialogue, when they don't need to. What the characters say makes it obvious how they feel - at least if the dialogue is written well. Look at this:
Michael had been down in the cave for hours.
'I hope he's okay,' said Sally worriedly.
'Of course he is,' said David firmly.
'I wish you wouldn't keep saying that,' said Sally in annoyance.
Do we really need all those adverbs? They are telling the readers what to feel instead of showing them. Look what happens if we take them out:
Michael had been in the cave for hours.
'I hope he's okay,' said Sally.
'Of course he is,' said David.
'I wish you wouldn't keep saying that.'
You may think, well, I want to show that Sally is anxious, or annoyed. Fair enough. But still, it's better to show us than to tell us. What would Sally do that would show us her feelings?
Sally bit her lip. 'I hope he's okay.'
'I hope he's okay,' said Sally, frowning.
'I wish you wouldn't keep saying that,' snapped Sally.
By the way, children are sometimes taught never to use the word 'said' for dialogue, and to use other words instead, like cried, snapped, shouted, whispered, stammered, growled, and asked. This is not true! If you use lots of these sorts of words it gets annoying. Said is a respectable word which is fairly invisible - it won't distract the reader. Of course if the character does shout, or whisper, then say so by all means. But for most purposes, said is fine. If you don't believe me, open a book and count how many times dialogue is 'said', versus all those other words.
|4. Be Original
Being original means not using ideas, characters, plots, or phrases that have been used before. It's very difficult to be completely original. Indeed, some people say there are only a small number of basic story types, and every story ever written is just a variation on those 7 (or however many) types. But you can still put a lot into your writing to make it original.
Every person on this planet is different - in obvious ways like age and race, and in subtle ways like what food they like, or how they feel about their family. Your job is to give each character some quality which sets them apart from every other character ever written. Not easy, I know.
Observe! Here's what to do: observe the real people in your life, and try to spot those quirks which are unique to them. Maybe they have a certain mannerism - a way of scratching themselves, or a certain word they like to use a lot (I remember one person I met who used the word 'actually' so often that I actually started to count them. She got to 36 in the space of ten minutes.) Or maybe they have an interesting personality trait - maybe they tend to criticise people too much and can't stand to be criticised themselves; or they are always late for things, but without a good reason, though they always make one up.
These sorts of qualities make a character come alive, because they seem real, and because they are unique to that person. They may also be interesting, funny, or annoying.
Most characters in books have the same sorts of obvious traits. The writer hasn't used his or her imagination to make them more original and real. How many honest, stout-hearted, plucky heroes or heroines are there? How many clever, witty, cruel, yet well-dressed villains? And yet in real life, how many people are really like either of these two types?
Please. Make your heroes and villains more interesting. Look at Tracy Beaker - she is aggressive, annoying and immature. But because of Jacqueline Wilson's brilliant writing, we understand her and sympathise with her.
Read Lots of Books!
A very common piece of advice for writers is to read lots of books. This way you can learn a lot about what good writing is - and what bad writing is. And you can learn about which ideas and characters and plots have already been used, so you can avoid copying them.
But there is a danger. A lot of books are written, I believe, by authors whose main ideas come from reading other books. Their characters feel like other story characters. Their worlds feel like other story worlds (for example, a lot of books have been inspired by Tolkien or Roald Dahl). The dialogue their characters use feels like stereotyped dialogue - it's based on what writers have been writing for years, rather than how people really speak.
Instead, I believe writers should be observing reality. The real world. How real people speak and act. Real people are far more complicated than most story characters. If you observe real people, and the kind of words they use, and the feelings they have, and how they show their feelings, and put all this into your own writing, it will be so much better.
Spend a lunch time in your playground listening to other people's conversations. How do they speak? How do they treat each other? Watch your parents talking to one another. How do they speak? When they're annoyed, what do they do? When they are affectionate to each other, what do they do? Do their expressions change? Do they act differently? Do they say exactly what's on their mind, or do they hide their true emotions a bit?
OBSERVE OBSERVE OBSERVE! And put this into your writing. Otherwise you will probably just copy other writer's styles.
If you do listen to how real people speak, you'll notice their speech is full of repeated words and sentences, unclear half-sentences and words (er, erm, hm, oh). People stumble over their words, and use lots of words and sentences which are not that interesting (like, you know, well). You don't need to include all of this in writing, as it is simply boring. You need to give the illusion of real speech. Leave out some of what people say, but include enough of it that it sounds real.
And think about this: do people always say what they really believe? If you think a teacher is stupid or boring, do you tell her? Certainly not! Only young children and very rude or naive people tell everyone exactly what they think of them. You may need your characters to express a feeling indirectly. Or even lie. For example:
Zoe's boss knocked red wine all over her white dress. 'I'm so sorry,' he said.
Her expression froze for a second, then she smiled. 'It's okay, it's an old dress.'
What a greedy pig thought Julie, as she watched her friend stuffing herself with chips. She laughed. 'Don't they feed you at home?'
What about fantasy worlds? Obviously you can't observe something like Middle Earth, or real dragons, or knights in battle. But you can still base the personality and behaviour of these fantasy characters on real people. How would your dad feel and act if he was a knight sent to kill a dragon?
You can also research these other worlds. I spent a year and a half reading about ancient Egypt, going to museums, and visiting Egypt, so that my novel would be as true to history as possible. Or you can study medieval weapons and armour, and learn about the behaviour of real dangerous beasts like lions and crocodiles, to write about your knight fighting the dragon. All these true to life details will make your story come alive, and make it more original.
A cliché is a word or phrase, or an idea, which has been used so often that it no longer has any power. The readers find it boring because they have read it before. Make sure you avoid clichés like the plague. (That's a cliché too.) Here's a few examples:
He ran like the wind.
White as snow.
Jet black, or pitch black.
Fat as a pig.
Cold as ice.
Sweet as honey.
Raining cats and dogs.
An iron grip/grip like a vice.
He fell madly in love.
She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
It was a dream come true.
Beyond his wildest dreams.
As I mentioned above, characters can be clichéd too. The beautiful, plucky heroine...yawn. Why does every heroine have to be pretty or beautiful? Can't we like someone who is plain-looking? Can't a plain-looking girl or boy be clever, brave, strong, etc.? Or even someone ugly? In real life, most people aren't beautiful, and that includes the ones who are brave, who are real heroes, or who live interesting lives worth writing about. Remember, Harry Potter is skinny, has messy hair, glasses, and a funny scar.
The same with villains. Do they have to have some ugly deformity? Do all the nasty people you have ever known have some physical ugliness? Weren't they mainly normal looking, or even attractive?
What makes a character great is what they do, not what they look like. Although if you want to be original you can certainly give your characters interesting appearances.
It's true, however, that a nasty person can appear ugly because of how you feel about them, or because of the expression on their faces. A charming smile can change dramatically into a wicked sneer.
Don't Repeat Yourself
Your own words can become clichés too. If you use a slightly unusual word - say, 'peaky', meaning ill, then don't keep using that word. Don't use it more than once per chapter, as a very rough rule. If you do, the reader will notice. You don't want your readers to notice the fact that they are reading a story. It may sound daft, but think about it - when you are really engaged in a story, you stop being aware of the room you are in, even of the fact that you are reading printed words in a book. You become absorbed in the world of the book. You feel you are there, watching what these characters do, feeling what they feel. And if your attention is drawn to the writing, you lose that.
It's like when you're watching a film and you suddenly look around and remember, hey, I'm in my living room (or cinema). Have you ever had that feeling? It's not what you want. Good writing should be invisible. The reader should be able to forget the real world for a while. And repeating words is one way of pulling them back to reality - of jarring them out of your fictional world. Other ways are not writing clear, easy to read sentences. Or having your characters not act in realistic ways (see the next tip).
There are exceptions to this rule - sometimes it is effective to repeat a word:
'Everything about him was grim. His shabby clothes were grim. His greasy black hair was grim. And above all his heavy-browed face was grim.'
But don't do this often - once per story, I'd say!
5. Get Into Your
To make characters come alive, to make your readers like them (or dislike them), and care what happens to them, you must get into their heads. You must imagine as powerfully as you can what it would be like to be your characters.
That means you have to stop being yourself for a while and become someone else. Maybe someone older or younger, someone of the opposite sex, someone with a different personality - maybe braver, or more loving, or nastier, or more clever, than you are. That is not an easy thing to do - especially when you have to do this for all your characters, in every scene. It's like being all the actors in a play, all at the same time. But only then will you be able to make them all speak and act in believable ways.
How Do You Do It?
You have to remember everything you decided (and wrote down, hopefully) about the character. What sort of person are they? What are their fears, their desires? How do they feel about the other characters? What is their life history? What are their quirks (their strange features)?
When you have all that in mind, then you have to think about the situation the character is in - what's going on around them. How would the character feel about it? And what would they say, or do?
Let's say the situation is a haunted house, and the character has heard weird noises coming from the room upstairs. If your main character is like James Bond, he will act in a different way from a character who is like the Cowardly Lion, or Sherlock Holmes.
Also, each situation might make your character react in different ways - and you have to imagine this. James Bond feels and acts differently when he is driving his car after the bad guys, compared to when he is being tortured by the bad guys, or smooching with his girl. It is up to you to imagine these things.
Unfortunately, a lot of writers make their characters say and do things which don't ring true. A lot of dialogue, to me, sounds false. It doesn't sound the way real children, or real teenagers, or real villains, might speak. Imagining your characters properly should help you write dialogue, and actions, that do feel realistic. It's not easy to do, so here's a tip:
Meditation means calming and focusing your mind so you can really think well. What I do sometimes when I'm trying to get into a character's head, is lie on my bed, close my eyes (not when I'm tired, as this will make me even more tired), and let my body and mind relax. When I'm relaxed I'll start thinking about my story, about what's going on in the scene I'm trying to write. I'll think about all the characters one by one, and try to imagine their feelings in the situation. What are they trying to do, and why? Given how they feel, what would they say and do? And how would the other characters react to this?
Meditating in this way, I find, really helps me focus my mind and vividly imagine the scenes and characters. But you need to make sure you can relax comfortably without any noise or other distractions.
And remember to observe how real people act, to make sure your characters act and speak in believable ways.
One way to bore your readers which I mentioned earlier, is to write long descriptive passages. You need to describe settings enough to make the readers feel they are there, but long paragraphs about the colour of the sky, and the kind of bricks the house was made of, and every object that was in the room, are snoozeworthy.
Instead of listing everything that's in the scene and what colour, size, and shape it is, imagine you are the character in that setting, and write down what would strike that character. What would he notice? What would stand out, and seem interesting, unusual, beautiful, or scary? You need to think of a few juicy details that will make the reader feel he or she is there alongside the character. Remember, the reader has a better imagination than you realise, and can fill in a lot of the details that you miss out.
Let's try a cathedral. Instead of describing the exact shape of the columns, the colour of the stone, how many pews there were, and so on, think about what would fill your senses, and how you would feel. I would write about the slanting shafts of red and green light from the stained glass windows, the vastness of the roof making you feel like an ant in the eyes of God, or the choir voices chanting in a mysterious language (Latin, if your character knows this), resonating in that vast space like a great bell... These are just my ideas, and to you they not be the most interesting ones.
So, make a setting come alive for the reader by picking out a few details that would stand out, and make the character feel something. Not only sights, but sounds, and smells, too. You may also want to mention details that will be important to the story later on - a door, for example, that the character can use to escape, or a painting that holds a clue to a mystery.
Action can be a good way to get details of a scene across. Saying your character looked through the stained glass windows, or banged her head against the low roof, or ran her finger along the dusty table, tells us about the setting, while keeping the action going.
Perhaps the best thing to do, actually, is go to the location if you can, and see what strikes you. When you've experienced something yourself, it's much easier to write about. As part of my research for The King Herself, I went to Egypt for two weeks, and saw nearly all the locations I was going to describe in the book. I wrote my impressions, drew pictures, and took photos, and it helped me enormously.
A satisfying story usually has a structure. This means there is a beginning, a middle (which might have many different parts to it), and an end. In the beginning, you introduce your main characters (although not always), and let us know what the story is mainly about (although again this may not come out at first). In the middle, most of the plot happens. Things get more and more exciting or interesting, and lead to the end. The end should wrap things up in a satisfying way. All those questions the reader wanted answering should be answered by the end. We should know where the treasure was buried, whether the hero or heroine got what they wanted, what all the clues to the mystery were, what all the red herrings were. Of course some books which have sequels (like Harry Potter) leave plenty of mysteries to be answered in future books.
Nowadays, many readers, especially children, are easily bored, and to get them interested in reading your whole story it has to grab them right from the first page. In fact the first sentence has to be pretty excellent or some readers won't even read past that. So what's a good way to get a story started?
It should be original (whatever you do don't say It was a dark and stormy night), and it should be intriguing. It should make the reader want to know more. The first line of my book is 'One summer's night when he was twelve, Danny Allen had a dream that would change his life forever.' Hopefully the reader will want to know what that dream was, and how it changed Danny's life.
One good way to start a story is with action - immediately something is happening which seizes the reader's attention. A lot of films start with an action sequence for the same reason. 'A little girl in a grubby dress crept up to a woman at the back of the market crowd and gingerly slipped her hand into the woman's handbag.' Don't you want to know what will happen next? Will the girl steal something? Will she get caught? And why is she a pickpocket? Is she starving? Or just very naughty?
Another good story-opener is a juicy bit of dialogue, that suggests a fascinating character, or some conflict or drama. 'Everyone in the class knows your dirty little secret,' my best friend Emma said to me one day. Don't you want to know that dirty little secret? Don't you want to know what the main character says to Emma? Do they have a falling out? Or how about this: 'Stop, or you're dead,' said a voice in the dark street. Or 'From now on, any child talking in my class will be severely beaten,' said the new teacher to a petrified class.
What you shouldn't do at the start of your story is give a huge amount of background, like the life history of the main character, or a long description of the main setting, like the character's house, unless you're sure it's really interesting. Beginnings like this are the kind that a lot of readers - like me - will be turned off by. You can get into life histories, or scene descriptions, later on. Or you can just give a few important details at the start - enough to hook the readers without boring them.
7. Rewrite, Rewrite,
Writing well is really hard. No one - not even a great author - is happy with the first draft of their work. They go over it again and again to improve the writing. I spent three years rewriting my book before I was happy with it. In fact I'm still not 100% happy with it, and probably never will be. No work of art is perfect, and you shouldn't worry about making it perfect - instead worry about making it good.
When you rewrite your story you should check lots of things, and change anything which stands out as less than great. You can make changes by writing things over the top of the original draft, or you can start from scratch on a new piece of paper (or a new computer file). Or both. The way I work is: I write the chapter in a notebook, usually in my local café, then type it onto the computer. As I'm typing I'll make a few improvements. Then I print out the new pages and go back to the café, where I write new words and sentences or cross things out as necessary. Then I type up the changes. I repeated this countless times for my novel. I also got a few people to read the book and give me suggestions for changes. Getting comments from others is a wonderful way to improve your work, but you need to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take criticism, and use it to improve your work. Even if that means making major changes. I once cut out 9 chapters from my book, and wrote 6 new ones!
Things to Check
So what are you looking for when you rewrite? Lots of stuff:
1. Is your story exciting or interesting enough? Will the reader be gripped, by the start especially, but also by the rest of it? Are there questions, puzzles, mysteries to keep the reader guessing? And are these puzzles answered by the end of the story?
2. Do your characters feel believable? Do we feel what they feel? How can you flesh them out more, make them more engaging and original? Do you show what they are like through actions, speech, and thoughts?
3. Do your characters always behave in ways that make sense, given the situation, and what sort of person they are?
4. Does every sentence (and paragraph) make sense? Is it clear what's going on, who's speaking, and what each sentence means?
5. Can you cut out any words, or even sentences? Or even chapters! Can you rewrite a sentence to use fewer words, while keeping the same meaning? Do you really need so many adjectives or adverbs? Are there any boring bits (like long descriptions or unnecessary dialogue) which can be cut out or shortened?
6. Can you use any more powerful words? Can you use stronger, less common verbs? Can you use nouns which are more precise? (like saying oak instead of tree)
7. Have you used any clichés? Can you think of more original ways of saying things?
8. There Are No Golden Rules
Despite all I've said, there are no absolute rules of writing (except perhaps rule number 1). You can follow these rules, but sometimes it's okay to break them. A sentence with a long string of adjectives can work really well - 'I hated that slimy, slippery, stinky swot'. Just don't do it often, or it will get annoying. In the end, you need to trust your own judgment. Does a sentence look better if you follow the rules, or worse?
Sadly, there is no guarantee you will write a great story even if you follow all these tips. It takes a lot of practise and persistence to learn to write well. But starting young is a really great idea. Let your imagination go free, work hard, and don't give up. And if you do write a story you're proud of, type it up, email it to me, and I'll post it on my website! I'll even give you feedback on it if you want.