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!)

Tech that keeps me writing

Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer. Like most writers, I feel the imperative to write prolifically and write material people actually want to read.

This year I’ve surprised myself about how I’ve changed the way I write. I’ve adopted technology that, to be honest, I’d never have considered previously.

Today I thought I’d take stock and share some of technology that keeps me writing. I should add that this is the tech I use regularly. It’s not tech I’ve bought or downloaded and rarely (or never) used again.

Hopefully you’ll feel inspired to recommend some of your favourite writing tech too!

I’ve divided up my tech tools into two categories: writing helpmates and research tools. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the research tools I use. So today it’s …

Writing helpmates

Two bits of technology that I use surprisingly often are both run-of-the-mill iPhone apps. The Notes app is great for jotting down ideas when I’m away from my desk. Admittedly, typing is slower on the touchscreen keypad. But I don’t always carry a pen and paper and always have the iPhone with me. I can email each note to myself so they’ll pop up on my desktop for later use.

The other iPhone app I use a lot is Voice Memos. I use it in a similar way to the Notes app. However Voice Memos is perfect for recording middle-of-the-night ideas. Speaking seems to require less thought than writing, and I only have to press a couple of buttons and voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Unfortunately I’m one of those people who, unless the written note is in front of me, I tend to forget about it. Stickies is an Apple desktop app that allows me to post my ideas up on my desktop like virtual post-it notes. I use it for my novel to-do lists and delete notes as I complete each task. Stickies works for me because I’m fairly visual. I can change the colour of each note, alter the font size and add in little headings.

Another Mac application I’ve been using a fair bit for writing is GarageBand. I use it as an editing tool. I read aloud my stories and record them. This alerts me to text fragments that don’t read well, as well as redundant bits and pieces. I have to say, I don’t find this method good for creating. It may be that my inner critic is stronger when I’ve reading aloud.

Of course the juggernaut of writing helpmates is MS Word. I’ve been using it for years and this year went and bought the latest version for Mac (2011). (I can only feel sympathy for those writers grappling with Word 2007 – possibly the worst incarnation ever.)

The features I use a lot include styles, readability (I’m writing for kids at the moment) and word count. I’ve switched off the grammar checker. Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

I also wanted to mention my most-used items of tech. They address an issue that hopefully you’ll never have to deal with: excessive noise.

Living in property-obsessed Melbourne, there are building construction sites on either side of my house. There’s continuous noise from 7am to 4pm every weekday and most weekends. Apart from fleeing to a friend’s place for a few hours, I’ve adopted two items of tech to keep me writing:

  • A set of quality headphones. These block out a little external noise as well as provide good sound reproduction of whatever music or audio I’m using to block out the rest of the noise (demolition dozers, dirt movers, assorted trucks, concrete mixers, etc). I tried noise-cancelling headphones but really hated them.
  • The best white noise app I’ve found is Relax Melodies. There’s a free version on the iTunes App Store, but the paid version (about $5 last check) was worth it for the extra sounds and music, as well as eliminating the constantly-streaming ads. I use this app every day. Best five dollars I’ve ever spent.

I guess this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the computer I use. This year I moved from a desktop machine to a laptop. While the smaller screen was a downside, being able to take the computer out of the house to write has been invaluable.

While I don’t like using the laptop in cafes, I’ve used it in parks, libraries, friends’ houses as well as holiday houses.

So that’s it for the tech I find useful for writing. If there are writers reading this who use Windows or Android who’d care to share their suggestions, I’d love to hear them.