Tips for young writers: How to make your story more exciting

Update, May 2015:

Margaret Pearce’s creepy new science fiction/fantasy novel, The Year of our Invasion, was recently published by Ravenswood. Cath Isakson – blogger here at Great (book) expectations – was the editor.

In this guest post, Margaret demonstrates ways to make your creative stories more exciting.

Tip #1

Book cover for The Year of our Invasion by Margaret Pearce

Cover for Margaret’s new book, The Year of our Invasion. Cath was the editor!

For a story to be exciting it has to show not tell what is happening. You want your reader to feel that he or she is there experiencing what is going on.

For example, being told that ‘the dog bit the man, and the man bit back’ is telling and not showing.

Instead of telling, try Tip #2.

Tip #2

It’s always good to start your story with something happening. A story that begins with action is more likely to be gripping for the reader than, say, description.

‘Ouch!’ the man yelled when the dog bit him.

Tip #3

We live in a technicolour world. Bring attention to the vivid colours around us.

The man’s blood dripped down into the hole the dog had dug. The ripe tomatoes on the dug-up tomato plants exactly matched the colour of the bright red blood dripping from the man’s hand.

Tip #4

Try a different perspective or point of view. Another way to think of point of view is to imagine the story as it is seen through another character’s eyes. Sometimes writing your story from a different point of view can change the effect completely.

In the following section, the focus shifts from the man’s point of view to the dog’s.

The dog snarled, baring his white sharp teeth. He’d thought burying his bone would keep it safe, but this intruder had found it anyway.

Tip #5

Add dialogue. Too much narrative (telling) can bog a story down. Adding dialogue can make it more exciting for your reader.

‘Digging holes in my garden!’ the man yelled. He wound his white handkerchief around his hand, and it quickly grew spotted with red. ‘Look what you’ve done to my prize tomatoes!’

Tip #6

Show emotions through action. If I write that the man was so upset at the dog burying a bone in his tomato patch that he got angry, I would be telling, not showing. In the next passage, the man’s loss of control and temper are shown by his shouting, high face colour, heavy breathing and irrational behaviour.

The dog didn’t care about the prize tomatoes. He dragged his large bone further into the shelter of the tomatoes, destroying more of the plants.

The man’s face was now as red as his spotted handkerchief.  He was breathing heavily. If he had been a steam engine there would have been steam coming from his nose.

‘My tomatoes. My prize tomatoes!’ he howled.

He ran after the dog through the tomato plants. He swung his heavy, mud-laden garden boot forward into a kick. But the dog ducked low to the ground. The man missed the dog and overbalanced.  He fell down, flattening even more of his precious tomato plants.

Even on the ground, the man flailed about, trying to grab the dog. The dog dropped his bone and turned to have another go at the man. But the man managed to clamp the dog’s muzzle shut. He pulled the dog’s head closer.

Tip #7

Think of an original ending. For a short story that is funny, an unusual finish can be exciting.

‘Bite me, would you?’ the man shouted. ‘How do you like being bitten?’

The man chomped his large teeth on the floppy dog’s ear. He bit down, hard. The dog howled in pain and tried to pull away, but the man’s teeth were too firmly attached.

The dog whined and stopped struggling. He was beaten. He had never heard of humans biting dogs before. The man let go. He spat out dog hair and blood and stood up.

‘Now get out of my garden and stay out,’ he screamed. ‘And take your bone with you!’ he yelled and hurled the bone after the fleeing dog.

Margaret Pearce, author of children's fiction

The elusive Margaret Pearce.

Margaret Pearce has had around 28 books published, mostly for children and teenagers. She can be found lurking in an underground house in the hills near Melbourne, writing.

Margaret uses many of the techniques described in this article in her writing. Find out more about her very creepy new science fiction/fantasy novel for young adults on the Ravenswood website. There are tentacled aliens that communicate telepathically! (Told you it was creepy!)

Hazel Edwards’ Hints for Emerging Writers

This morning well-known Australian author Hazel Edwards guest blogs. She shares her hints for emerging writers keen to develop their careers.

How To Self-Promote Without Sounding Egotistical

1. As the ‘brand’ you are promoting the ‘work’ by sharing ideas with potential audiences, not necessarily being egotistical about yourself as the creator.

2. If you haven’t had anything published yet, list your WIP (Work in Progress) e.g. ‘Making a Killing at the Pokies: 30 minute audio script satirising gambling addiction. (Workshopped mid 2010)

3. Experiment in different formats or lengths e.g. a script from a short story.  

4. Have available a 50 word bio (written in the third person ‘s/he’ not ‘I’). List your skills if you don’t have publications yet.

5. Consider yourself a professional. Have a business card with contact details in a colour & font that’s readable. No tiny, curly, pale green font on unreadable pale blue.

6. Add an e-signature to all your emails with your website address and/or image of your latest book cover. (But NOT a hi-resolution cover, which will annoy recipients.)

7. Who are you writing for, apart from yourself? Craft it with apt vocabulary for THAT audience.

8. Titles are vital. Match the tone to the content. A funny article needs a witty title as the first clue.

9. Use the same book title for any talk or workshop title. E.g. I offer ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’ talks as well as having written the book.

10. Be brief. If you ramble when you talk, listeners’ll fear you are the same in your writing and refuse to read it.   In one sentence, what’s your work about? (Use the title here too, not ‘my book…) e.g. Internationally  ‘f2m: the boy within’ is the first YA novel about transitioning gender & punk music, with a co-author who has transitioned.’ 

11. Prepare, so that generic things can be used more than once. (Like this list of hints.) 

12. Always include Title, ISBN and where the book can be bought online.

13. Give added value. Have ready on your computer, or web site well labelled activities which relate to that book title which can be sent to schools, libraries or bookshops which have newsletters or events to which you are invited. E.g. I have free downloadable scripts, finger puppets and posters, all related to specific titles.

14. Book trailers publicise your book via new media, and force you to convey the essence of that story, briefly. Even if you don’t create your own, having to storyboard the ideas for the designer is a discipline.

15. Network by joining professional writers’ organisations (like the Australian Society of Authors) and keep up to date on electronic markets by attending seminars. Invest in your writing career. The Australian Society of Authors provides contract advice, mentorships and advice on responsible self-publication.

16. Make sure your website address is on your business card, as long as the site is updated monthly. Time spent on this is saved from answering other requests for bios and photos etc. for school projects. 

17. Be wary of what you put on social media sites, as this may later reflect on your finished work and can be lifted and copied out of context.

18. If you provide publicity in a format that others can use easily, they are more likely to use it, tomorrow. Make sure it reflects positively on your work.

And finally, a well-thought-out web site is your the best investment in PR. It is your shopfront. 

Hazel Edwards and Ryan Scott Kennedy

Hazel Edwards & Ryan Scott Kennedy at the launch of f2m: the boy within

Author Hazel Edward writes for adults and children and has several ‘How to Write … articles available for free download on her website.  Hazel’s latest book is f2m;the boy within with co-author Ryan Kennedy for whom it is his debut YA novel. Hazel’s a panellist at the Emerging Writers festival in Melbourne.