Whether you’re writing a story for children or adults, there are universal writing principles that will make your story stronger. These tips, originally created for beginning writers of middle grade fiction, can be applied to writers of any level, who write fiction for any audience.
Find Your Writing Voice
What exactly is voice? Writing voice is your unique personality that shines through in anything you write. It’s your own writing style that’s unique to you. When your readers hear it (if it’s strong), they will practically be able to tell you wrote the piece even if you’re name isn’t on it!
It takes a while to develop your own voice and the only way to develop it is to write. Most of the time, an author must write over a million words before he or she will find theirs. Much like it takes a person years to feel confident in who they are, it takes years for a writer to develop their own personal voice. Once they find it though, their story will be effortless to read. Readers won’t feel like an outsider reading a series of words, they’ll feel like they have traveled right into the pages of your book!
Create High Stakes
The stakes are what will happen to a character if he doesn’t get what he wants or needs. The higher the stakes are, the better for your story. For example: Van is a boy who loses his puppy. While he searches the neighborhood, he finds a magic marble with a clue attached to it. The answer to the clue will tell Van how to make a wish. If Van can’t figure out the clue though, he won’t be able to use the magic marble to wish for his lost puppy’s safe return.
The stakes for Van are very high. He may never see his puppy again.
Creating high stakes is important because if your readers care about your character, they’ll care about the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. In fact, the bigger the mess, the better. That’s what makes your story interesting. Your readers want to see if your main character will succeed. They know what’s at stake if they don’t. That’s what makes them turn the page and keep reading.
Make Your Characters Memorable
How can you turn your character into someone your reader will never forget? Take a look at your list of fifty facts from below. Pick one item from your list. Pick the one that’s the most unusual. Pick the one that will make your reader remember your character.
Think of your main character, Ben. He loves cars. Even though that’s an interesting fact, it’s even more interesting that he speaks in rhyme—all the time. He answers every question by rhyming. He tells his friends about his soccer games by rhyming. He invites his friends to his birthday party—also by rhyming!
See what I mean? By giving Ben a memorable characteristic, like rhyming all the time, you’ve created a character that your readers will never forget. I mean who can forget a character who can rhyme all the time?? 🙂
Get to Know Your Characters
How can you create characters that seem like real people? Try this. Make a list of fifty facts about your character. Start with basic things like hair color, birthday and name. Then add things to your list things that make your character unique. For example, Stella might walk on her toes all the time, or she might bite her nails when she’s nervous. She might love koala bears and hate chocolate ice cream. She might love performing in front of an audience but she might also be afraid of puppies. Keep listing details until you’ve thought of fifty facts that describe your character. That might take an hour. It might take two weeks. When you’ve finished though, you’ll have a pretty good description of a character that feels like a real person.
What can you do when you’re stuck for story ideas? Write what you know! For example, if you play softball, you could start there. But don’t write about a typical softball team. Be more creative! First, think up a great character that you want to write about, like a space girl named Mackenzie from the year 3000. Next, put her in a situation that’s familiar to you. In this case, she plays on a softball team. Then, give her a conflict. Maybe Mackenzie could be stuck in a hitting slump. All ball players get in a slump once in a while. Since you play softball, you would know what that feels like and how to describe it.
See what I mean? If you’re stuck for ideas, all you have to do is think about what you know. Think what if? What if I wrote about a cool character that played softball in the future? How would softball be different? How would the ball field be different? Writing what you know is one way to get those ideas swirling in your head-right where they should be!
Does that mean you should only write what you know? Of course not! Try something new…because while you’re out there learning to hang glide for the first time, you may just feel that spark. You know the one I mean. The one that comes when an amazing idea for a story pops into your head!
Many new writers begin their story with a wake up scene. You know the type I mean. The MC (main character) is just waking up from a bad dream, or the MC is waking up on the first day at a new school, or the MC is waking up on her birthday. You get the idea. So instead try something more creative. You don’t want your reader to yawn after just the first few paragraphs!
If your MC is about to have something extraordinary happen to her, you could start your story at that point. Here’s an example:
Danielle is your MC. She has been training for an important gymnastics meet for months. Don’t start your story when she wakes up the morning of the meet. Instead, start your story at the beginning of the meet. You could describe the sounds and the smells of the gym. You could describe the nervous feeling she has while she warms up, and include why doing well in the competition is so important to her.
By beginning your story at that point, your readers will be rooting for her as she hops up on the beam ready to compete in front of the judges. They’ll be eager to turn the page with her every flip, turn, leap and wobble. And that’s what you want.
This scene would be a great beginning to a story about Danielle, a young girl whose dream is threatened when something unexpected happens at her gymnastics competition. See what I mean? No need to begin your story with your MC brushing her teeth in the morning! Yawn. 🙂
Ground the reader
Did you know that many new writers begin their story in the wrong place? It’s important to hook your readers with action right away, but don’t confuse them. Here’s one way to fix that problem:
If you begin with an action scene, make sure your reader knows a little bit about your MC (main character) first. You’ll want your reader to care about him or her before they find out what happened. For example, if your MC, Adam is about to fall off his brand new bike and break the handle bars, that would be a great (and sad) way to start your story. But wouldn’t we sympathize with Adam even more if we knew he had just gotten the bike from his Grandpa that morning?
So…be sure to start your story in a place that gives your reader enough information about your character to make him really care about what happens to him! In this case, it would be better to start your story at the moment Adam first sees his bike with the silver bow on it, rather than the moment when he’s crashing it into a recycling bin full of milk cartons!