10 October 2020
Posted by Tabby Hayward
11-14 group - 16 attending
15-18 group - 8 attending
What makes a good story? How can you keep your reader hooked? From vivid characters, to well described settings, to a complex (but not too complex!) original premise, the thing which can make or break a story can be how convincing a world the writer creates.After discussing books which our young writers felt did this particularly well, from Harry Potter to Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking series, to The Mill on the Floss, to Hercule Poirot, and The President is Missing, and what made these worlds so effective, we looked at the opening of two different novels in each group, to look in more detail at techniques our young writers could use...
In the first group, we looked at the opening of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's Muddle Earth and the first pages of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights. We looked at how both writers plunged us straight into their world, from the three moons, batbirds and stiltmice of Muddle Earth, to Lyra's daemon, the Master and Lord Asriel in Northern Lights. In the second group, we looked at the opening of George Orwell's 1984 and of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Again, we explored how these writers, in very different ways, started straight in with the worlds they had created, not stopping to explain everything along the way, but dropping intriguing hints about what kind of world we are in, and trusting the reader to stay with them, because the set-up is so bold and exciting!
Inspired by this, the young writers in both groups then considered either a story they had started/written a part of already, either in a workshop or in their spare time, or perhaps even a story they had never actually started writing at all, but they had had an idea for. They were given 2 minutes to write down everything they could about the setting of this story. They were then given another 2 minutes to write down everything they could about the main character.
Then, they had to choose - looking at their lists, which things about their character and setting did the reader need to know straight away, in the very first lines of the story? And which things were important, but could be more exciting if revealed later on - or if hints were dropped, to keep the reader thinking, but not fully explained until further into the story?
Once the young writers had thought about this, they then got to work writing the opening of their stories - working at not stopping to explain things, but just getting straight into the world and the action, and being as bold as possible.
Here are some stories from our first group:
Amorae stared out across the harbour. The moon was a dazzling marigold tonight. It was her turn to cross the sea. She had waited for this night all her life but was suddenly nervous. Now she didn’t know if she wanted her fate to be laid out before her; it could be something dreadful. Her flint eyes scanned the view. A mountain range stared back at her, a moss blanket keeping it warm.
A creature ran past, startling Amorae back to the real world. The soft clicking of heels on the uneven cobbles approached her. Amorae turned around and smiled at her two sisters. Caelia, her twin, smiled at her. ‘I’m nervous too,’ she whispered squeezing Amorae’s hand. Kilani smiled. ‘I know how your feeling,’ she spoke suddenly, her hands placed on the rails. She continued, ‘You won’t believe how beautiful the palace is though.’ Kilani turned and passed her younger sisters two cloth-wrapped gifts. A string was holding the little parcels together. The twins looked up at their sister who raised an eyebrow and lifted her hand. A fillbert landed on her outstretched palm. They watched the moon pulse in the sky. The Marigold sisters were ready. - By Erin
"Again, really? Out. Now." I get kicked off the Grur stone and scramble to my feet. "At least I got back when the big hot thing went out.", I think, as I trudge over the scorching gravel. Now the glowy stones illuminate the brown musty air as I walk along and almost loose my feet again in another pit of burny rocks. Halfway down the feverish rock path and I can see the housing sector. "Hey guys, look! 24811's back." "She died again then?" "I was hoping she'd stay dead this time." Brilliant. Now they've seen me. I guess that's what I get for being born with white eyes. My mum used to say that they look like disgusting pools of chalky rubble, but she's gone now so it doesn't matter. At least Deviltown is quieter after dark. - By Sam
And here is Lily's story from our second group:
We look forward to hearing how these stories develop...
After an impressive range of stories shared in both groups, and some great supportive feedback and responses, the young writers then thought about how their stories might continue - some had whole plots mapped out, others were still hazy at this stage, but the young writers were all encouraged to draw a simple shape for how their story might progress - these ranged from a 'mountain range' shape from Erin, reflecting the mountains in the setting of her story, to a circle from Annie, to an impressive sounding figure of eight from George. While every step of the story might not be set in stone from the start, this overall shape can be helpful to give a general sense of where you're going and where you want to end up! Telling a story every night, Scheherazade can't have had every detail mapped out - but she must have had some sense of where she was going next...
We look forward to continuing these stories in future workshops, and seeing how far they have progressed in the meantime!