Writing a Short Story
Writing your first short story can be overwhelming, especially if you don't know where to start. In this guide, I will teach you the fundamentals of writing a short story, and, hopefully, by the end, you will be able to write your own!
The Golden Rule of Writing
Before you can start your story, you need to know the number one rule of any type of writing: READ!
Successful writers read 1-3 books a week, so follow in their footsteps. Since this guide is focusing on the short story, I recommend reading a lot of short stories. You can read anything, from classic works to stories by other Neopians. Pay attention to the way these stories are formulated. You will find that they all have a similar format. In my experience, I have found that stories typically follow, what I call, the SCP format. This stands for setting, characterization and plot:
Setting: Where and when your story takes place. Does your story take place in a city like Meridell or perhaps in the middle of the forest, like Haunted Woods? Placing this at the beginning of your story helps the readers to recreate your world in their minds.
Setting can also hint at what is to come in your story. If your story takes place in a desert, without plentiful water, this could be a challenge for your protagonist later on.
Characterization: Your character's personality and how they act in certain situations. Is your character brave or a bit of a wimp? Subtly is your best friend here. It is better to show the readers, rather than tell them whom your character is. Rather than saying: "Jake is the bravest Kougra in all of Neopia," it is better to say: "Jake confidently stepped between his partner and The Snowager." We get the same idea in both quotes, but the second one is much more interesting, and moves the plot along.
Plot: The events that happen in your story. Plot and characterization typically occur together throughout the remainder of the story. In most stories (and in all of mine) the plot occurs over a span of a few minutes to a few days. Some stories successfully take place over longer periods of times, but for beginners, I recommend sticking to one event.
Reading shows you what works in literature, but it also shows you what doesn't work. Pay attention to things that you don't like in stories, and don't accidently replicate them!
When thinking of ideas, being original is key. No one wants to read the same story over and over again. If you are stuck, try searching the deepest corners of Neopia. Explore the lands (maybe a shopkeeper will trigger your interest) or try reading some of the plots or comics for inspiration. Maybe base your story on a game; why does Dieter eat all that snow? There is much more to Neopets than meets the eye, so look high and low.
When you think of an idea, write it down. It may not work for you right now, but in a month, or a year or ten years, it could be just what you need.
Most short stories stick to one or two characters, and, maybe, a third, secondary character. This keeps the reader focused, and unconfused about who is who. Once you move to longer stories, more characters can be added.
What I have learned through my experiences, is to not talk about my ideas with people who are not writers. Writers understand ideas, but other people, for the most part, don't and could put your idea down, even though it would have made a great story. By all means, let them read your finished work, but don't ask their opinions on your ideas!
So, you're ready to write? Normally when I start stories, I have a pretty solid idea of the characters, setting, beginning and end, but I have friends who have no idea who their character is or what their setting is. Sometimes they don't know how their story will end! It depends on the person, so it is up to you when you are ready to start your story.
If you are writing a story in the world of Neopia, keep in mind that it is not Earth! Here in Neopia, there are not the same laws, rules and things that there are on Earth. Keep in mind that, to stay in character, you must stick to the laws of Neopia. For example, there are no cars in Neopia, so if you have Jake the Explorer drive from Neopia Central to Faerieland, it will be a lot less realistic.
Most of my stories are fairly short (between 2,000 and 4,000 words), and I devote 300-600 words on what is an introduction to the entire story. When I was first learning to write, this confused me the most. I kept thinking of introductions from essays, and I didn't get how I could work this into my story organically, so I just decided not to do it. When my teacher read my story, he said I had a great introduction. I had written the introduction without even noticing, so I would say that it comes fairly naturally.
The Introduction is, primarily, characterization and setting. This is where you introduce your character and talk about his or her background. You also introduce the main struggle in the introduction, because, since it is a short story, it should be revealed early on (remember, you are focusing on one event).
If your story is about Jake the Explorer trying to climb Techo Mountain to get a view of Mystery Island, your introduction could include: "Jake stood at the base, gazing up at the clouds that surrounded the peak of the mountain. He smiled and placed his boot on the closest rock and began to climb." In these two lines, we know what the entire story will be about. We also learn a bit about Jake, by the way he confidently begins his climb.
Write the Climax, Don't Write Around it
This may not be a problem for you, but when I first began writing, I was afraid of the climax of my stories, so I would write past it. I would have a good story leading up to it, then something lukewarm happens and then it's over. The character learned a lesson, but it was obvious or something he should have already known. Take a chance, and make the worst happen to him, so he can learn something huge!
In case you are wondering, most of my climaxes happen in the last 400 or so words of my story, so don't worry if you think yours is too late in the text.
Save the Fluff for the Big Stories
Remember, this is a SHORT story, so keep it short and sweet. Your goal is to keep the word count as low as possible, because people want a story that they can read in one sitting. Avoid flowery language, when a more common word is just as good (unless, of course, this is part of your character's dialog, which reveals character traits.)
Adjectives and adverbs are words that can be deleted to lower your word count. Pay attention to your conversations with friends and you will notice how many unneeded words you stick in (we all do it, especially me). In writing, adjectives and adverbs do nothing but weaken your nouns and verbs. Try reading your sentences without the adjectives and adverbs, and you will find that it sounds just as good, if not better. If you feel like your noun or verb needs more, try to choose a stronger one, instead of sticking it next to an adjective or adverb.
Here is the boiling point of your story. You can write the best story ever, but with bad grammar, no one will slog through it. Sorry, but it is true. Grammar is important because it allows you to clearly express your ideas.
To make sure your story is the best it can be, I recommend reading it multiple times and having friends read it. Reading it out loud is great too, because you can hear your mistakes. Some of my friends like to record themselves reading so they can listen to it after! Whatever you do, make sure your grammar is great.
If you are unsure about certain rules of grammar, ask your teacher, if you are in school, or check the Internet.
- Look at other writers' works, and do what they do.
- Make it original.
- Choose a point of view, and stick to it (switching between tenses and points of view can hurt your story).
- Avoid confusing language.
- Keep it concise.
- Read and reread
- Enjoy yourself and don't work too hard!
Now that you have read my guide, I hope that you feel like you have gained some skills to aid you in your writing. I believe that, with patience, anyone can write, so don't be discouraged. Even if you never share your work with anyone, just getting your ideas down on paper can give you the chance to express yourself. Who knows, maybe you will love something you have written and be able to share it!
Following this guide does not guarantee publication into the Neopian Times or any other short story contest (on Neopets, or off). This is simply a guide to get you started! Good luck with your writing!
Jake the Explorer belongs to Neopets.com (definitely not my original character!)