How to Write a Story

We are all storytellers. And story is all around us. After all, what is a TV show or a movie? What is a book? And what do you tell your parents when they ask, “Why’d you come home so late?” You guessed it: a story.

You can write a story about anything you want — and it helps to pick something you’re passionate about. All you need to know are the basics. You wouldn’t bake a cake without knowing the ingredients, right? So before you write, it helps to know the ingredients of a story.

There are three great secrets to creating a story… unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. Just kidding.

Actually, these are the secrets:

1. PRACTICE
2. PRACTICE
3. PRACTICE

Practice turned me from a story-loving kid into an adult who’s published lots of books. And writing is one of those things you can’t master unless you practice — a lot! Would you like to write stories too? I’ll show you how.

Story Structure

Illustration of a snake grabbing it's own tailA story is like a snake with its tail in its mouth. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some stories even end up in the same place they started.

For example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy starts out in Kansas, travels to Oz in a cyclone for her adventures, and ends up back in Kansas. You can also do this with emotions. In my book, Surf Gecko to the Rescue, Moki the Gecko starts out happy, gets mad about pollution at his beach, and ends up happy at the end when he solves the problem. You get the idea.

Ready to start your story? Then grab a pencil and paper, or open up a new file on your computer, and away we go!

Main Character — The person, animal, or thing your story is about

Illustration of Moki the GeckoEvery story starts with a main character. It can be an animal, human, alien, or even a toaster — whatever you want it to be. One suggestion: If you plan to illustrate your story, pick a main character you’d like to draw.

Start by asking yourself some questions:

  • Who is your main character?
  • What does he, she, or it like/dislike?
  • What is your character’s personality?
  • What does your hero look like?
  • What is their goal — what do they want above everything?

Diagram of Character WebWhen you start getting answers, you can draw a character web, like this example. Put your hero’s name in the circle, and all of his or her characteristics along the lines coming out of the circle. You don’t need to use everything you come up with. This is still your brainstorming stage, after all. You just want to get the ideas flowing.

Hint: If you’re having trouble picturing your character, try drawing him or her. That might help you visualize.

Setting — Where your story takes place

Illustration of a character standing in a giant nose nostrilEvery story needs to take place somewhere. Well, duh, you might say. But your story’s setting can have a lot of impact on the shape of your story. Just like a cup or glass defines the shape of the water it holds, your setting defines the shape of your story. Choose it with care. After all, what would the story of The Wizard of Oz be without the setting of Oz? Just a story of a girl and her dog in dusty old Kansas, that’s what.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does your story take place — on the moon, in Hawaii, inside your dad’s nose, or someplace completely different?
  • When does your story take place: past, present, or future?
  • How much will your setting affect the action?

Problem — the challenge your hero must overcome

Illustration of Moki the Gecko falling from a tree limbWithout a problem, your story would be as boring as watching paint dry. Snooze city. But when you give your main character a problem to solve — something that he or she cares about solving — your story comes to life. Be sure to make your problem a big one. Remember, having a hangnail isn’t much of a problem, but hanging off a cliff is.

TIP: Use the magic of conflict. Anytime something can get in your hero’s way, that adds to conflict and makes your story more fun. It should be hard for your main character to solve the problem. The more times your hero tries and fails, the better.

Ask yourself four questions:

  • What is your hero’s goal or problem?
  • Why does he or she care about solving it?
  • Is the problem big enough and difficult enough that it will take the whole story to solve it?
  • How does your main character try and fail to solve the problem?

Resolution — How the hero solves the problem

Moki the Gecko with suction cups on feet to keep him on the tree limbThe most satisfying resolutions come when you think your hero is about to give up. When they’ve tried everything else, and it’s all failed, they finally solve the problem, often by making a difficult choice. It’s always best if it’s a do-it-yourself solution — that is, the main character solves the problem by himself. If the hero’s mom comes in and saves the day at the end, your readers will feel cheated.

HINT: Look back at your character web, and see if one of your hero’s characteristics can help him or her solve the problem. It’s even better if one of their faults turns out to be a strength.

Ask yourself:

  • How does your hero finally solve the problem?
  • If possible, can they solve it using their own strength or wits?
  • Does the story end up back where it started, with the hero changed in some way?

Reminders:

  • Have fun! Let your artistic side go, and be creative. Finish your first draft before you even think about editing the story. Only let your Inner Editor get to work after your Inner Artist has finished a first pass.
    Think about stories you enjoy. What makes them good? Can you identify main character, setting, problem, and resolution?
  • Writing is rewriting. Write and revise until you’re satisfied that your story is the best it can be.
  • Are you having fun yet? If so, great. If not, make it fun!

That’s all for now. Go out and write a story!

Want even more tips on story writing? Visit www.brucehalewritingtips.com.