Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens: Canadian Edition

Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens: Canadian Edition

by Heather Wright


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How do I begin my novel? How do I write convincing dialogue? Where can I get an idea for a story? How do I keep motivated?

If you're a young writer, answers to these questions and more can be found in Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens. Written by a writer for writers, this book was created just for you by someone who believes in young writers and who also likes to have some fun along the way. Here's a sample of what you'll find inside.

• Stuck for a Story Idea?

• Who, What, Where, When

- Who: Your Characters

- What: Your Plot

- Where and When: Your Setting

• Ways to Start a Story with Character, Action or Setting

• Writing Description That Even You Will Want to Read

• Connecting With Other Writers

And much more...

This book is a helpful and practical resource when you're stuck on an aspect of writing or when you want to start a new project.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450225427
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/25/2010
Pages: 56
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Heather Wright is a teacher and writer living in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Her work can be found in local and national publications and on the Web. She is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, CANSCAIP and SCBWI. Heather received a Writers' Reserve grant from the Ontario Arts Council in 2010 for her Young Adult novel-in-progress.

Read an Excerpt

Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens

Canadian Edition
By Heather Wright

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Heather Wright
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-2542-7

Chapter One

Setting Goals

What you choose to write is up to you, but setting goals is the best way to make sure that you get the story written. Experience also tells me that, even though I think I'm writing a short story, there's a really good chance that it will turn out to be a novel. So, keep in mind that goals can change.

I do know that the first thing that you need to write is the first draft, and setting the goal to write that is the first step. The first draft is the playground when you were five years old and the rules of the games changed whenever you wanted the game to work better-or to give yourself a better chance to win. Your characters and imagination can change the rules-they can even change the game-but the goal is the same: finish the first draft. Without it, there is no story, no book, no series, no movie rights, no film premiere, no red carpet, no Oscar ... wait, that's my fantasy. It doesn't count as a goal.

Here's a sample of things that count as goals:

I will write for 20 minutes every day. I will write 2 pages every day. I will finish my draft by my birthday. I will buy 30 copies of this book and give them to everyone in my class-oops-sorry! There goes my fantasy again.

If you like to write in your books, there's room on the next page to write your goals. I'm sure you have more than one story in you, so I've left lots of room for future goals, too.

My Goals _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________

Meeting Your Goals

Now that you've set your goals, what's next? Here are a few hints about how to achieve the goal of writing your first draft.

1. Never make the deadline the deadline

If you've decided you will finish your draft in five weeks, move your deadline up a week, and give yourself only four weeks to complete the work. Lots of things can go wrong (aside from your own procrastination) to interfere with getting the draft done on time-computer problems, catching the flu, a major sports playoff that you just have to watch, your director calling an extra rehearsal, or a party invitation. So give yourself some breathing time, and achieve success.

2. Set daily or weekly goals

If you've set a word-count or page-count goal, divide the total into manageable chunks, and the entire project will look a whole lot more attainable. I like to give myself weekly word-count goals and log my achievements on my calendar. If I exceed my goals, I definitely take a congratulatory trip to the coffee shop, but I don't use my success as an excuse to slack off on the next week's quota-besides, a café mocha is at stake!

3. Make sure to allow time for research

Even if you're writing a children's story, there's bound to be some piece of information that you need to look up. For example, when, exactly, do kittens open their eyes? How tall is the average seven-year-old? And sometimes questions crop up as you write, or interesting tangents that you need to explore present themselves. If it looks like extensive research is in order, leave lots of blanks, or highlight the bits you need to research further, and move on. Unless it's a critical detail that's necessary for the plot to work or to move forward, you can do the rest of the research when the draft is finished, or when you're having a non-creative moment but want to keep working on your manuscript.

4. Turn off the email and MSN

You're a writer and your job is to write. People can wait to hear from you for a few hours and, yes, even days. Saying no to distractions honours both you and the work you are doing. For too short a time each day, writing is the most important job you have.

5. Forgive yourself

If you don't make your quota, don't get frantic. Take a good look at your upcoming week and find the extra time you need to do the work. Then give yourself credit for being tough enough to get the job done.

Five Steps to Meeting Your Goals

1. Never make the deadline the deadline.

2. Set daily or weekly goals.

3. Make sure to allow time for research.

4. Turn off the email and MSN.

5. Forgive yourself.

Brain-Dump System

Now that you've set your goals, let's get on with the writing.

I'm going to assume that you have a story idea-in fact, you probably have more than one. With all the ideas churning in your brain, it's important to get them written down quickly before they get away.

Here's my "brain-dump" method of getting your ideas on paper and ending up with a story outline all at the same time.

Use the next page to write down all the events you picture happening in the story. You can start at the top and work your way down or turn the page and work side to side. It doesn't matter if the ideas come out in perfect order; we solve that problem later. It also doesn't matter whether the entire story is there or not. It's a good idea to leave one or two of the bubbles blank as you go along, too.

Maybe you only have a really clear picture of what happens in the first three chapters. Write those points down now. When you start writing your story, more of it will begin to unfold, and you can scribble those bits down as you start to see them, until you get to the conclusion-it's a sort of instalment plan.

Maybe, like J. K. Rowling, you know the end of the story before you begin. That's what the bigger spaces at the bottom of the page are for. Most stories end with a big moment of excitement, where everything could go wrong, but finally has to go right for your main character (MC)-unless you're writing a tragedy, in which case everything will go wrong, and your MC will die to make life better for someone else.

When you've finished writing all your event ideas in the bubbles, take a pencil and start lightly drawing a line from the first bubble to the one you think should be next, and then to the next one, and so on. I suggested a pencil and a light line, because, as you move along, you may decide to change the order of things. You also may think of an event that needs to come between two that you already have, and that's where you can fill in those odd blank bubbles that you left the first time through-or scribble in between them, if you come up with a lot of ideas. For a small short story, you might not even need the entire page. For something longer, you might need a few pages to start.

When you've got things organized the way you like them, take a coloured marker or pen and go over your pencil line. You now have the first plot plan for your story. I said "first" deliberately, because, if you're writing something long like a novel, you'll want to go back and repeat this exercise as you move through your story. Somewhere between bubble seven and eight, you might come up with a wonderful idea that takes your MC in a different direction for a while. Do a shorter version of the brain dump to get those ideas in order, and then carry on.

I've put a few copies of this page in the book to get you started. You can always download a copy to print from my website at: http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com

Stuck for a Story Idea?

Suggestion #1

You've heard the advice many times: "Write what you know." But, if you're like me, you're thinking, "Great, I can write about nothing-at least, nothing interesting." I mean, what kind of great novel was going to revolve around my ability at sixteen to pack a supermarket grocery bag, do homework, clean my room, listen to music with my friends, or sew my own clothes?

So, as I do with most advice that I don't like, I ignored it-sort of.

Then I sat down and wrote a list of what I did know. And it turned out to be a much longer list than I thought it would be. I knew what it was like to be the slowest runner in the class, to wear glasses to school for the first time, and to stand in front of a group and tremble my way through a speech. I also knew what it felt like to pass my driver's test, have my tonsils out, and cook an edible Christmas dinner when my mom was sick.

I suggest that you create a What-I-Know List, too. Write down even the most insignificant things, because you never know when they will come in handy in a story. Ever fallen off a bike? Sure. But have you done it while being chased by the police, or a monster, or an angry crowd? You know what it's like to get up off the pavement, shaky and bleeding, and try to get back on the bike and ride home. Add those sensations of pain and the uncontrollable shakiness to the fear of the chase, and you can write a great scene!

As you write your list, think about the places you have visited: your aunt's farm, your sister's dorm room, the park, or the mall. Think about the places that you know the sight, smell, and sound of. Have you been to camp? Do you ski, or paint, or fish, or play sports? Do you play an instrument, or chess, or card games? Can you cook a meal, pitch a tent, take great photos, or dance?

All of these places and experiences open doors to stories. Your list provides you with a series of settings in which to place characters and then give them lots of trouble. A city-bred teenager and his six-year-old country cousin have to deliver a calf, because the uncle's truck has broken down on the way back from town. A campsite is washed out during a thunderstorm, and the guide is knocked unconscious by a falling branch. Your character's best friend steals a sweater from the mall. You know all the details about these locations, and you know what it's like to want to look cool in a situation in which you feel totally lost, or to be frightened, or to have your friendship tested.

A better way to phrase those famous words of advice might be, "Write what you know, and then grow!" Take an experience you've had and play with it; stretch it into something fresh and exciting by combining memory and imagination.

Write about what you want to know, too. I love medieval history, so I set a mystery for middle readers in England in the year 1214. I had great fun doing the research, because I knew I could use it for my story. I'm sure Christopher Paolini has never flown or known a dragon, but he wrote Eragon anyway, because he understood friendship and accepting challenges and being scared, and he made his dragons and the world they lived in just as real as all those things.

"Write what you know" isn't bad advice, but it's only a part of the package. Making a list and finding out that you really do know about a lot of things is a great first step. Adding imagination, emotions, and characters in conflict is the final step to creating your next great story. So, go ahead, make your list, and then write what you know-sort of.

My What-I-Know List

_________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________

Suggestion #2

Use the following lists of words to create your own random writing prompts to help you come up with stories. From each 26-word list, pick a number between 1 and 26; that will be the number of the word that you will use from that column. When you've chosen four words, you'll have your writing challenge for the day. If there's someone around, ask him or her to pick the numbers for you.

airplane cup key silver airport danger knife sleep alien desk luck slide amulet dog match spell apple doll medal spider armour door minstral spring attack dragon monster stone bear dream mountain string blue DVD nail summer book fall needle sword boots fear paper team bracelet field peanut team brown fire pencil thread bulb flame phone throne bully fortress popcorn thunder camera game power unicorn cape ghost rain wart castle glass red watch cat glue ring water cave gold robe weapon chain green robin window chair hat sail winter charm hero scroll witch computer hilt ship worm copper horse shock yarn crystal hut shoe yellow

Here's an example: 1, 7, 26, and 15 = airplane, dragon, shoe, thunder. During a thunderstorm, a plane makes an emergency landing. The survivors find themselves in a horseshoe-shaped valley in a deserted mountain range, where they find a family of dragons. Now, see what you can do!

Who, What, Where, When

Who: Your Characters

A rule about characters is to know wa-a-a-a-y more about them than you tell your reader. You can find out about them in a few ways.

One way is to create the classic character sketch. Lots of writers (and teachers) have their own versions of these, but here is mine. I've put a few more at the end of this section for you to work with. You can download more at http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com. If your story has a villain, make sure to spend the same amount of time on him or her as on your main character (MC).

Character's Name: ___________________________________________

Physical Description: _______________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

Attitude: - Toward life ____________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

- Toward friends _________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ - Toward family __________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

- Toward school/work _____________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Two secrets that the character hasn't told anyone: __________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

One thing that frightens the character: _____________________ _____________________________________________________________

One internal conflict that the events or the emotions in the story make worse or force the character to overcome: _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

Other neat things about my character: _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

Here's a sample for a character you might know in the first book of this well-known series.

Character's Name: Harry Potter

Physical Description:


black hair

lightning-shaped scar on forehead

clothes too big


Excerpted from Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens by Heather Wright Copyright © 2010 by Heather Wright. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Setting Goals....................1
My Goals....................2
Meeting Your Goals....................3
Brain-Dump System....................5
Stuck for a Story Idea?....................12
Suggestion #1....................12
Suggestion #2....................15
Who, What, Where, When....................16
Who: Your Characters....................16
Character Sketch....................20
Seasons Change and So Should Your Characters....................22
What: Your Plot....................23
Hero's Journey in Transformers and Princess Diaries....................24
Where and When: Your Setting....................25
Ways to Start a Story....................27
With Character....................27
With Action....................27
With Setting....................28
Rule 1....................32
Rule 2....................33
Rule 3....................33
Point of View....................35
Writing Description That Even You Will Want to Read....................38
Watch the Was's and Is's....................40
Seven Editing Questions and Why You Need to Ask Them....................43
Connecting With Other Writers....................45
Inspiration: Be Ready For It!....................47
Beat Writer's Block by Playing Your Cards Right....................49
Keeping the Writer in You Motivated....................51
Last Words....................53

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