Top tips for writing a great story

9th December 2022

Short Story Writing Competition

If you’re aged 8 – 14 years old and are interested in entering our short story writing competition, we’ve put together a guide to help you get started.

The Christmas holidays could just be the perfect time to write your story, but don’t leave it too late, entries close on 8 January 2023!

And with the chance to have your story performed by a professional storyteller during our events for National Story Telling Week, we’ve included some tips for writing a story to be told to an audience as well.

  1. Get started

Getting started is often the trickiest bit. We’ve put together some themes to inspire you, all based at Westenhanger Castle – a fantastic medieval castle on the Otterpool Park site. Our plan is for this piece of important heritageto become part of a whole new garden town over the next 30 years, allowing everyone to enjoy the stunning castle and its grounds. You can find the themes and download an entry form here.

If you’re inspired by our themes and want to enter our Otterpool Park story writing competition, start by putting your ideas down somewhere – anywhere. In a notebook, on the notes section of your mum’s phone – or even by recording a voice memo if you find the ideas flow better that way.

  1. Create a setting and characters

Once you have your basic story idea, it’s time to start adding in the details.

Some writers find that thinking about the world the story is set in helps to create ideas for characters and the plot.

This is known as world-building and it’s as fun as it sounds! You’re in good company here, J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings is set in a fascinating world totally made up by the great author himself.

Thinking about Westenhanger Castle, does your story take place there now, in the past or in the future? What will your main character be like – could it be someone who lives or works in the castle, a child, an adult, a ghost, an animal? Think about what they look like and their age, are they rich or poor, will they be a villain or a hero?

An interesting main character is vital to a good story and so are well-rounded supporting characters.

  1. Design your story

Design your story by planning out what happens when. Good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Start putting some words down on the page, whether you are writing it on a computer or by hand. Our tip is to make sure your story includes a strong opening scene to really excite the person reading or listening and make them want to know more! Introduce your characters and why they are in the story.

The middle of most stories involves what’s known as a ‘conflict’ followed by a ‘turning point’. This is the exciting bit that makes readers want to keep turning those pages!

‘Conflict’ can be an event that happens, a challenge that a character in your story needs to overcome or a mystery to work out. It’s usually followed by a ‘turning point’ – a surprise or moment where everything changes – this is the time to really let your imagination flow!

Writers can get really clever and take their readers through incredible journeys in fun, exciting ways. If you get stuck at this stage, don’t panic! Simply think back on some stories you’ve enjoyed and be inspired by them.

Give your story a great ending – be led by the story you have written to decide how the story pans out. Do you want to finish with a happy ending, or make readers feel sad, surprised or wanting more? Did any of your characters learn a lesson in the story?

  1. Make it the best it can be

After you’ve written your story and you’re happy with what you have done so far, you’re ready for the final stage.

This is where you will check your story is the best it can be.  Think about the words you have used and change them for better ones if you want to – exciting vocabulary and descriptions will really bring your story to life – and this will make it inviting to read and listen to. You can cut out whatever doesn’t add to your overall story.

It’s important to check your spelling and grammar and ask someone else to read through your story and check for mistakes.

Reading your story aloud is another good thing to do at this stage and can help to work out areas of the story that don’t quite sound right or make sense. You can always keep adding to your story right up until you send it to us. Try it out on someone, a friend, your mum and dad, your granny…the dog!

Follow these steps and you’re bound to create an unforgettable story. We can wait to read yours – let your imagination flow and don’t forget that entry deadline of 8 January. All the competition details can be found here.