My top 5 tips for storywriting
I didn’t overly enjoy English class at school. Instead, I trudged my way through comprehensions, various books I’d never have chosen to read and everything else in the syllabus that I’ve long since forgotten. But when it came to creative writing, I was in my element. From a story at primary school about riding with Santa in his sleigh, to my all-time favourite piece of GCSE coursework – a story about an Irish girl named Bridget who emigrated to America during the potato famine – writing stories was something I always loved to do, both inside and outside of school.
I’m no expert. The more I write, the more I’m painfully aware of how much improvement there could be. I have, however, learned a few things from experience over the past few years, which I’m happy to share.
1 – Read, read, read. You might think that by reading, you are filling your head with others’ stories instead of concentrating on your own. The truth is that the more you read, the more the creative juices flow. Read a variety of literature – fiction, biographies and autobiographies, devotional, factual. By reading, you will understand what makes a story grab your attention and demand you keep reading. You will learn what good writing is, and this will help you to figure out how to write well yourself.
2 – Have a purpose. Why are you writing? (Because your teacher told you to is not a valid answer!) What is the goal of your story? Are there moral lessons you are hoping to illustrate and convey? Is it simply to entertain? That’s a goal too, although most stories also have underlying themes of good vs evil, redemption, reconciliation etc. If you know why you are writing, then you will have a focus and find the story easier to write.
3 – Observe. Earlier this year I visited a school to talk about my books and creative writing. The most popular questions were about building characters. One character may be relatively easy to create, but to construct a cast of very different characters isn’t just so easy, which is why I recommend observing people around you. God has created every single one of us so differently – different looks, mannerisms, speech, personalities. Don’t base everyone on your best friend or have them all looking and behaving the same way. That little habit your French teacher has of excessive hand movements? Why not use that? Merge it with the physical build of the McDonalds cashier, and maybe the dress sense of the lady in the park with the little yappy dog. Take note of interesting quirks and throw those in. But whatever you do, don’t just lift someone from real life, change their name, and place them in your story! Putting real, identifiable people in stories is a huge no-no.
4 – Use life experiences. The best writing you’ll ever do is when you write about something you have gone through yourself. I’m not talking only about difficult emotional situations, but about places you’ve been. For example, in Trial, Madge tells Seb and the McRoss family about her holiday to the South of Ireland with her friend Betty. Remember the B&B where they stayed? It’s a merger of two or three places I stayed at a number of years ago. I know how it feels to have the pictures of creepy children looking at me, and to discover that the baked beans were reheated the next morning. I may not have been as dramatic about it as Madge, but it was fun sending her to stay somewhere like that. In each situation a character is facing, take a moment to close your eyes and walk through it with them – the sights, smells, and sounds. Experience their emotions. Feel the nerves, sadness or excitement.
5 – Write what you enjoy. It’s a fact that if you enjoy what you’re writing, people will very likely enjoy reading it, and vice-versa. If, during my writing, I’m getting bored with the story, I need to stop and either cut the scene, or give it another dimension to make it more gripping. We often have to add elements involving things that aren’t our favourite topics, but the main story should be about something that we are personally interested in. There’s no point in writing a whole story about a helicopter pilot if you have zero interest in helicopters, or about someone who is a fashion aficionado if you couldn’t care less about the latest trends!
I hope this has been useful. I find writing extremely rewarding. Not only is it something that I enjoy doing, and which can entertain others, but words can be very powerful, changing lives, teaching truth, or even helping you get that good grade in your GCSE English!
If you’d like to ask me any further questions, I’d be happy to try to help. You can contact me here.