One of the fun challenges about writing is that there is always room for growth and improvement. It is an on-going process that can benefit from the passage of time and practice. Here are ten tips that might help improve your creative writing skills.
Tip #1: Make certain your story has a basic plot
Every story needs a basic plot. It is the main idea that your story is about.
For example, the plot of the Grimm’s Fairytale called “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is the following:
While three bears go for a walk, a little girl enters their house uninvited. She uses their belongings. She tampers with and breaks a few things. There is some kind of consequence when the bears return home to discover the girl and the damage that she has done.
It is the author’s choice of how he or she decides to flesh out the story beyond the basic plot. In the case of this particular tale, most versions of this story include the following details:
The bears leave the house to take a walk to give their too-hot breakfast porridge a chance to cool.
A little girl named Goldilocks enters their vacant house invited. She tries all three bowls of porridge. Based on her preferred temperature, she ends up eating every bite of the smallest bowl. Next, she tries sitting in all three chairs in the living room. Based on her preferred level of comfort, she decides she likes the smallest chair best. Unfortunately, her combined weight and size is too much for the chair. It breaks into a bunch of pieces. She next enters their bedroom and tests the level of comfort in all three beds. She decides she likes the smallest bed the best. She lies down and falls asleep.
The bears return home to discover the damage done to their food, their chairs, and their beds. In the smallest bed, they discover a human girl fast asleep. There are varying consequential endings to the story based on the preferences of the particular author.
Consider the story you wish to write and create a basic plot. In other words, in as few words as possible, decide what you want your story to be about. Determine the main idea that you want your reader to hear, to read, and to understand.
Tip #2: Choose your characters
Once you have your plot, what characters will help populate your story? Stories come to life when you have some kind of conflict or problem that needs to be solved. So, determine which character or characters you wish to be the ‘good guy’ characters and which character or characters you wish to be the ‘bad guy’ characters. Since no one is all good or all bad, designate some positive characteristics for your ‘bad’ characters to display. Designate some negative characteristics or personality traits for your ‘good’ characters to display.
Quite often, the characters that we, as the readers, feel are the villains of the story, do not view themselves that way. They feel like they are the hero of their own story. So, how do your characters justify their actions?
Who are the major characters essential to your tale? Who are the minor characters that help move the story along?
In the case of the fairy tale called “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” a minor character might be Goldilocks’ mother who sends her on an errand. This errand might cause Goldilocks to get lost in the woods. Another minor character(s) might be the police who chase Goldilocks after she commits her crimes of ‘breaking and entering’, minor vandalism, and stealing food.
Obviously, the major characters are Goldilocks and the three Bears.
As for the bears, they appear to be good characters whose only mistake was leaving their door unlocked when they went to take a walk.
As for Goldilocks, do you find her to be good or bad or in between? You can certainly demonstrate your opinion of her by the details you choose to add or delete in your story. How will you portray her? Will she purposely try to break baby bear’s chair or accidentally break it? Will she spit in their food or make a real mess of their kitchen table? Or has she been lost in the woods for several hours or days and is starving yet still rather picky about the temperature of the food she eats?
What do your characters look like? How do they walk? How do they talk? How tall or short are they? What size family do they come from? What are their hobbies, their interests, their likes, and dislikes? Do they have any phobias? Even if you never mention any of these details in your story, it is helpful to really know your characters so that they don’t end up sounding two-dimensional and like cardboard cut-outs. The more you know your characters, the more real you can make them for your readers and listeners.
Tip #3: Make certain your story has a definite beginning, middle, and ending
Once you have your plot, decide how your story will begin, how it will end, and what happens in between the beginning and the ending of your tale.
For example, in the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” when the Bears discover their breakfast porridge is too hot to eat, they decide to take a morning walk while they wait for it to cool. Obviously, if they had decided to watch TV or read a book or the paper instead, Goldilocks would never have been able to enter their house. Also, if the bears had locked their house, Goldilocks probably would not have been able to enter in the first place unless she knew how to break a lock.
Near the conclusion of the tale, the bears discover Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed. Some books end with Goldilocks running out the door. Some books end with her jumping out the window. There is a book where the bears and Goldilocks become friends. In the original version of the tale, the bears eat Goldilocks. Depending on the age group of your audience, you would obviously choose the ending that would be most appropriate for your intended listeners or readers. For example, middle school and high school kids would probably like the more gruesome ending. Little kids don’t like you to mess with their main characters; therefore, you would either have Goldilocks make a safe getaway or make friends with the bears and perhaps make retribution for the food she ate and the chair she broke.
Now that you know how your story begins and how it will end, what details will you include in between that would make for an interesting story line?
Tip #4: Make an outline
Make an outline of basic details you can use to flesh out your tale. This outline will help you organize your ideas. Later on, you can decide on what dialogue you use and other details to further enhance your story.
Here is a sample outline for “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
The original story is divided into the following sections:
I. Beginning of story
- A. Porridge is too hot.
- B. Bears leave the house to take a walk while the porridge cools.
- C. Goldilocks finds the house, enters uninvited, and makes herself at home.
II. Middle of story
- A. Porridge scene with Goldilocks:
- Papa Bear’s porridge is too hot.
- Mama Bear’s porridge is too cold.
- Baby Bear’s porridge is just right.
- Consequences of her actions or a detail that pushes the plot forward: She eats that Baby Bear’s porridge.
- B. Chair scene with Goldilocks:
- Papa Bear’s chair is too hard.
- Mama Bear’s chair is too soft.
- Baby Bear’s chair is just right.
- Consequences of her actions or a detail that pushes the plot forward: She sits in the little chair and accidentally breaks it.
- C. Bed scene with Goldilocks:
- Papa Bear’s bed is too hard.
- Mama Bear’s bed is too soft.
- Baby Bear’s bed is just right.
- Consequences of her actions or a detail that pushes the plot forward: She lies down on the bed and falls fast asleep.
- D. Bears come home and enter the kitchen.
- Papa Bear discovers that someone has eaten some of his porridge.
- Mama Bear discovers that someone has eaten some of her porridge.
- Baby Bear discovers that someone has eaten his porridge.
- Consequences of this discovery or a detail that pushes the plot forward: Baby Bear sees that this someone has eaten his entire bowl of porridge. He bursts into tears.
- E. Bears enter living room and discovers status of chairs.
- Papa Bear realizes that someone has been sitting in his chair.
- Mama Bear realizes that someone has been sitting in her chair.
- Baby Bear realizes that someone has been sitting in his chair.
- Consequences of this discovery or a detail that pushes the plot forward: Baby Bear sees that this someone has not only sat in his chair but has broken it all to pieces. He bursts into tears and cries some more.
- F. Bears enter bedroom and discover status of beds.
- Papa Bear realizes that someone has been lying on his bed.
- Mama Bear realizes that someone has been lying on her bed.
- Baby Bear realizes that someone has been lying on his bed.
- Consequences of this discovery or a detail that pushes the plot forward: Baby Bear sees that this someone is still lying on his bed. It is a little girl who is fast asleep.
III. How the story ends
- A. Bears stand over Goldilocks as she lies sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed.
- B. Goldilocks wakes up and sees three bears standing over her.
- C. Goldilocks makes her escape unhindered by the bears.
- D. Consequences of this event or a detail that helps bring the story to a satisfying or believable conclusion: Goldilocks runs home as fast as she can and never re-enters the forest again.
Tip #5: Setting
You need to decide where you wish your story to take place. What location makes the most sense given your plot? Obviously, in the case of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the forest makes the most sense as that is the typical place where bears can be found.
Of course, you could add spice to this plot by having the story take place on another planet, in a zoo, on a wildlife reserve, in a suburban neighborhood populated by bears instead of humans, on a mountaintop where strip-mining is taking place, or in some other location that strikes the fancy of your imagination.
You need to decide when you wish your story to take place. Does it happen in this current time period and make the papers? Does it take place back in the pioneer time period? Does it take place sometime in the far-off future?
Also, decide what time of the year does this story take place. Does it happen in the winter, in the fall, in the spring, or the summer? Does it happen in a place where there are no seasons, or does it happen in a time period when crunching fall leaves could give her away should the bears decide to follow her home? Does it happen in the winter when there are little or no leaves to help shield her from the bear’s view? Does it happen in the spring or summer when there is plenty of foliage to hide her?
Stay tuned for part 2 of:
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