Writing tips

Top 20 tips for budding writers

Keen to write a story but stuck for ideas?

These top tips from our literary editor and children's author Meredith Costain will help get you going!


Where to write...

  • Find a quiet place to write. It might be in your room, in your cubby, a favourite spot in the garden – anywhere that makes you feel comfortable.

What to write about...

  • Start with a true experience: something funny, sad or embarrassing that happened to you. Now add in extra details: some new characters, a different setting, dramatic events, an outrageous conclusion. Now your story has become fiction where the sky’s the limit!
  • Think of an ordinary object: a dog, a pumpkin, a blender. Now add the question: ‘What if?’ What if the dog ran away to join the circus? Or the pumpkin grew so big it blotted out the sun from the sky? Or the lid of the blender came off while its contents were whizzing around, blasting boiling hot pumpkin soup all over the freshly cleaned kitchen, and now your mum is going ballistic...
  • Use an interesting newspaper headline or photo as a starting point for your own (original) story.
  • Think of different forms your story might take. Rather than a straight narrative (telling a story), what about writing your story in diary form, as a letter or series of letters or emails, or a newspaper report? Or you might play around with the structure so that two different characters are telling the story, paragraph by paragraph. You might even write a narrative poem, or series of poems. Your story might be an adventure, a thriller, a mystery, a comedy, science fiction, fantasy or romance. There are endless possibilities!

What to think about before you begin...

  • The opening should grab the attention of the reader and lead them into the story. Stories have a strict word limit, so don’t spend too much time waffling on. Set the scene, and introduce the main character(s). Using dialogue (two or more characters conversing) is often a good way to achieve these aims.
  • Strong, well-rounded characters will write the story for you if you know them well enough before you begin writing. Don’t try to introduce too many characters – the reader will lose track of them. Stick to two or three.
  • The plot or the main events in the story should pull the reader along and make them want to find out what happens at the end. Try building up suspense by holding back some details and revealing them slowly as the story unfolds.
  • A strong finish provides a satisfying conclusion to your story. Don’t wimp out by using tired old phrases such as, 'I woke up. It was all a dream' or 'Then we all went home' or 'And then I died. The end.' Try for a twist or unexpected ending, or leave it open-ended, where the reader is encouraged to come to their own conclusion about what actually happened.
  • Use vivid language to create pictures in the mind of the reader. Try to make your images fresh and original, rather than tired worn-out phrases such as 'cold as ice' or 'mad as a hatter'.
  • Try to make use of the five senses when you’re writing. What do things look like, smell like, taste like, feel like, sound like?
  • Use strong verbs to make your writing more economical – using fewer, more effective words to make a point or create an image. For example, 'A line of fence posts staggered down the hill.' Interesting verbs work much better than adjectives, which are often overused in stories making them flowery and floppy.
  • Try to make your dialogue sound realistic. Listen to how your friends and family speak. People don't always speak in complete sentences, and often talk over the top of each other. They usually contract words such as 'I am' or 'do not' into 'I'm' or 'don't'. Use dialogue to tell part of your story. What characters say often gives the reader a clue to how they’re feeling.
  • Okay, so you've charged ahead and written your story. Ask any author about how they write their stories or books and they'll tell you they never only write one draft. They go over and over their work, polishing it until it is the best they can make it.

Before you finish your story...

  • Read your story out loud to yourself or to a friend, checking to see that it makes sense, and that the words work well together.
  • Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Try moving parts of the story around, or take out the whole beginning and start in a more interesting place.
  • Take out any boring or uninteresting words that fill up space rather than move the story along.

And, finally, a couple of extra tips for the keenest scribes...

  • Start a journal. It gets you into the habit of writing every day and is great writing practice.
  • Read everything – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, books, magazines, adverts – to get a feel for different writing styles and genres.

Good luck!

Meredith Costain
Literary Editor
Challenge, Explore and Comet magazines

Besides being our literary editor, Meredith has written over a hundred books for kids. You can find out more about Meredith and her books at http://www.meredithcostain.com