Complete Guide to Writing Neopet Short Stories
Hello, everyone, and welcome to my guide to writing Neopet stories. I created this guide because I truly enjoy writing stories, and I like helping others to do so as well. While my other guides (NT Guide, Storytelling Guide) also deal with writing on Neopets, I designed this guide to focus more on the actual aspects and act of writing. Plus, while there will be a certain amount of overlap with my NT Guide, the information here will be able to be used for petpage stories as well the NT. Please enjoy the guide, and never hesitate to neomail me if you have any comments, suggestions, or feedback.
It can be frustrating when you know you want to write a story, but can't seem to figure out what would make a good subject. You're sitting there staring at a depressingly blank page or computer screen just waiting for something, anything, to come into your mind. When you are searching for it, inspiration can be quite elusive. Thankfully, there are many things on Neo that can inspire you - if you know how to look.
One thing you can use for inspiration is a Random Event (RE). Let's say you have a pet that is painted royal when an RE comes along and makes your poor pet invisible. While this is frustrating, it could be an idea for a story. You could write about a beautifully painted pet who attracted attention and envy everywhere she went, until she suddenly became invisible. How would she feel and what would she do? Would she learn anything about herself and how others really feel about her? What would she do to be seen again? That's only a minor example, but that could easily turn into a story, and that's only one RE. You could consider other color changing REs, the Pant Devil, Jacko, Tooth Faerie, etc.
Of course, your inspiration isn't limited to REs. You can take the books you read to your pets to come up with story ideas. These books already have small summaries and can be excellent springboards for stories. Some people keep 'lab journals' for their lab rats, which can easily be turned into short fiction pieces. You can also look at specific items such as clothing, toys, or weapons in search for inspiration. If you are planning to write about a specific pet, then really take a good look at him or her. Is the pet customized? How are they dressed? What's the pet name and what are the stats? If that pet talked to you, then what would the voice sound like? While these questions may say strange, it can really be helpful in preparing to write.
Real life events can be turned into good Neopian stories if you are careful. You have to keep in mind that not all things that happen in real life are appropriate to write about here - such as stories that focus on sickness, death, or violence. Still, there are good ideas to be found if you just look. The best idea is to keep a notebook with you and really take the time to observe the people around you.
There are two important things to understand about inspiration. First, never immediately discard an idea just because it seems silly or something you'd never write. Just write down the idea and perhaps you can use it later. Secondly, not every inspiration is going to lead to a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Often I just find myself thinking of a single scene or moment and then I can build the story around this single event.
Pre-writing is organizing your thoughts and ideas before you write a story, and it is very personal. Different people use entirely different methods, and you may not even use the same method twice. Some people skip pre-writing altogether and just start writing the story, which is okay. I actually do that quite often. However, if you find yourself struggling with organizing your thoughts, then it might be a good idea to try some pre-writing strategies.
Brainstorming: Brainstorming is simply writing down different words or phrases that come to mind when considering your story. You don't have to use everything you come up with in brainstorming, but it is good to help you decide things like character traits or some main part of the action.
Summaries, Outlines, and Lists: Summaries and outlines are both simply written overviews of a story. Writing a summary or outline is one way to detail the action in a story as to what happens and it what order it happens. I've done this before when writing series so I could figure out what I wanted to happen in each part. Lists can be done to detail characters, settings, and scenes. It can be helpful with neo stories so you can determine the color and species of each neopet, which is important (more discussion on that in Story Basics).
There are a few characteristics that any story must have in order to be a story. These parts of a story are: characters, setting, and plot. Stories also have a tone or mood, most have dialogue, and some have a theme or lesson.
Characters: In Neopian stories, characters will be the Neopets, Faeries, Petpets, and possibly owners that appear. The majority of the characters are typically neopets. When creating a neopet character, you have to think carefully about the personality (i.e. likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc), but also about species and color. Not mentioning the species/color of your main character will automatically cause your story or series to be rejected from the Neopian Times. While it's not as important to remember to mention this for every pet in a story for a petpage, it can actually really help in defining a character. For better or worse, pets have certain stereotypes, and you can use this to your advantage. For example, I had a story where a character was very vain and was always concerned with her clothing. I chose to make this character a Royal girl Kyrii because those traits seem to fit her appearance. You can also build a story around working against stereotype - like having a Grundo who's extremely smart but is treated as if he is dumb because that is the assumption.
It is important to note that there can be no relationships between characters beyond that of friends or family. Do not hint, suggest, or insinuate anything more.
Setting: The setting is where and when a story takes place. You can be exact and pick a particular location like Meridell, or you can choose to be nonspecific. To have your story just place in some unnamed town, village, or out in the country is perfectly acceptable. The date is usually ambiguous unless you want to mention a specific year. The only thing to remember is that Neopia is a bit behind the times in terms of technology. While it may be natural for us to come home and jump on the computer to talk with a friend, Neopets can't do that. Adding technology that doesn't exist in Neopia is one of the top reasons stories are rejected from the Neopian Times. The one exception to this is the Space Station, which does have more technology. Also, it's possible for characters to use a spaceship from this station to travel to other planets where technology may be different.
Plot: The plot is what happens in the story - or the problem that has to be resolved. A plot should move in three parts - introducing the problem, the problem at its worst, and solving the problem. The biggest thing to remember is that the solution should be satisfying. Having a character wake up at the end to announce it was all a dream is overdone and will actually annoy readers. I read an amazing story once that was so exciting. However, it didn't end well. The final words of the story were, "And I'm still running." I was so frustrated with this unsatisfying end to the plot, I literally threw the book across the room. Your story can be wonderfully written, but a poorly resolved plot can ruin it.
Dialogue: Dialogue is simply conversation between characters. If you have more than one character, it's very rare not to have conversation. The odd thing about dialogue is that it can be more difficult than it appears. Since dialogue is actually what a character says, then you need to think about how they speak and what word choices or phrases will be chosen because different characters should speak differently - just as different people don't all talk the same in real life. Also, dialogue is one of the few places where you don't have to be grammatically correct. If you think your character is going to use a double negative, ain't, or slang - then use it. Also, try using a variety of verbs rather than just saying he said, she said. Alternative verbs could be shouted, cried, whispered, announced, insisted, etc. Think about not only what is said, but how it is said.
Tone or Mood: The tone or mood is the feel of a story. Is the story supposed to be scary, funny, exciting, or what? By picking a theme and building upon it, you can make the mood more successful and your story more interesting. Careful word choices and using the setting to set up the mood will be helpful.
Theme or Lesson: The theme or the lesson is what can be learned from a story. Usually, we learn along with the characters. For example, you have a character who steals something and then has to face the consequence. The lesson is that stealing is wrong, and this would be shown by what the character has to face after doing the wrong. The only thing that you have to be careful of is not to come across as preachy - basically hitting your reader over the head with what you feel is right or wrong.
Point of View: The point of view can also be called the mode of narration, and it's 'who' is telling the story. There are three main points of view.
First person: In first person point of view the narrator is also a character. It is written in terms of 'I.' For example: I went to the store. I bought some milk. With this perception, you see the story through the eyes of this character.
Second Person: Second person point of view is where the narrator is a character that is referred to as 'you.' It's not commonly used, except in choose your own adventure stories.
Third Person: Third person is from either the point of view from one of the characters, referring to this character by name or pronoun (i.e. he, she, it), or is an all-knowing narrator that knows everything that is happening and what each character is thinking. This second is commonly done, but can be a bit of cheat since the writer can simply state how each character feels rather than describe the way the character is looking or acting.
There are some cases while a writer may use a variety of these types of narration. For example, one section could be written from first person while another may be third person. When writing third person narrative, I find it most helpful to pick one character through which to tell the story. If I want to switch perceptive, I separate sections using *** to show I'm writing something different.
Writing Your Story
Now that you've thought about your story, you're ready to start writing. Writing, like pre-writing, is personal. Some prefer to write on paper while others may prefer to type on a computer. Personally, I have to have complete silence to type well, but I have a friend that likes to listen to music. Most likely, you already know what works best for you.
Beginning: An argument can be made that the beginning is the most important part of the story. If you start to read a book and the first few pages don't grab your attention, chances are that you won't finish the book. The same is true with short stories, except that you have less time to hook your reader. So, how can you make the beginning interesting?
One method is to set the tone or mood for your story, and I usually do this by describing the setting. While the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" is overused, it really does set up tension for the rest of the story. Automatically the reader begins to envision the way he or she might feel on a dark, stormy night. Of course, you certainly aren't limited when it comes to weather or locations. You can even write a story where the character's mood is in direct contrast to their surroundings. This method is good for writers who are strong in description.
If you are good at writing dialogue, then you could start the story in the middle of a conversations between characters. If the conversation sounds interesting, the reader will continue on to learn what the characters are talking about and how that fits with the story. Starting with dialogue is fairly easy and a good way to introduce characters' personalities.
A story can also begin with an action sequence. Think about a good action movie that begins with a car chase. You find yourself wondering who these characters are and they got in this situation, so you keep watching. You can do the same with stories (except there couldn't be a car chase in a Neopet story as there are no cars). Because I am not as strong in writing action, I don't use this method as often, but I have seen it used very well by others.
Introducing Characters: In the beginning of the story is where you'll be introducing your main character(s). With Neopet stories, like other fan fiction, you have a bit of a cheat since your readers will have a general idea how most of the characters look by simply mentioning color/species. For example, if I said a character was a Christmas Zafara, most people are immediately going to think of white fur, wings, halo, etc. While you may mention other things about the appearance, such as height or whether or not they are unusual in some way, physical appearance is almost done for you. The same is true for the most part with faeries since the type of faerie give a general idea of about how they look. The only characters which do not have this luxury are owners.
However, introducing characters isn't just about physical appearance, as you also have to think of their personalities. An old piece of writing advice is to show rather than tell, which is really helpful with characters. Instead of just telling us a character is vain, show it by their actions, words, thoughts, and opinions. Don't just tell the reader everything, but allow them to see for themselves by creating a full portrait of a character. While you should start this in the beginning, this part of the character is often revealed throughout the story.
Middle of the Story: From my own experience, the middle of the story can be the most difficult to write. You've written the beginning, and you know how the story ends, but that middle is something else entirely. You don't want to skip over the middle and have the story end too quickly, nor do you want to drag out the middle to bore readers before the ending.
The best way is to strive for the most natural flow of the story. Don't try to force the middle, and never add more than is necessary just because you think the story should be longer. If you find yourself stuck, then just keep writing. Skip things and go on to the end, because you can always go back when editing and add more to the middle. Your biggest goal is that the middle of the story should be the rising action of your plot. In the beginning you introduced the problem, and in the end you will solve it. The middle part of the story should be working towards solving it.
Conclusion: The conclusion is the ending of the story. While I argued that the beginning is the most important part, the ending can really make or break a story. The ending should be a satisfying answer to the problem and bring resolution to the plot. Make sure you didn't leave loose ends and have problems that weren't solved. Not all conclusions are perfectly happy, and it's fine to have a story end sadly - but it has to end. Leaving an open ending is frustrating, but also be wary of an ending that is just a bit too convenient. All your stories shouldn't be, "...And Queen Fyora made everything the way it was before and everyone lived happily ever after." You can leave an opening for a sequel, but make sure you've provided a proper ending for the first story.
That's the first part of my guide to writing Neopet short stories. Look for the next part coming soon!