Planning a Story

For those of you who love to write, do you ever remember sitting down by your pad of paper or at your computer and just starting to write a story out of the blue?

“It was a beautiful, sunny day. Little Mary Seuffert was skipping merrily down the sidewalk when suddenly . . .”
You had no idea what was going to happen next, or even how your story was going to end. You remember the kind, don’t you? 

Well, if you’re still writing those kinds of stories (which I admit are extremely fun to write, as you get to experience the story as you write it), I have some very helpful hints for you! For the past week in English/literature class I have been planning a story. Here is what I have learned in 10 easy steps:

Step 1: Describe your main character (MC) –
Your story really should include only one MC. Your readers should become very familiar with this person, and the story should follow him/her consistently. Your description should include the MC’s appearance (height, hair color, eye color, etc.) and inner traits (cheerful, tidy, studious, etc.). You most likely won’t state these descriptions in the story, but will rather tell them (“Caleb brushed his unruly hair out of his eyes, and ambled aimlessly down the hall.”). You may not even mention all of the descriptions you wrote, but your list will keep you from being untrue to you character (such as, “Michael hurried diligently to finish his chores . . .” and later, “He replied sullenly, ‘Do I have to mow the lawn Dad?'”).

Step 2: List other characters, giving brief descriptions of more important ones –
A few other characters should be given brief descriptions, such as your MC’s family, a friend that plays a role in the story, or the MC’s opponent. Everyone else, if they play no important role in the story, will only be mentioned with a name in the story, and not described (the next-door neighbor, the pastor, minor acquaintance, etc.).

Step 3: Define what age level the story is for – 
Make sure your story is comprehensible for the age level you are writing for. Children need lots of dialogue, lots of word “pictures,” lots of descriptions, and NO big words unless they are defined (this would not fit very well in a children’s book: “She elegantly descended the curving flight of stairs, and glared condescendingly at her unrefined visitor.”). Stories for youth still need adjective descriptions and some dialogue, but can use bigger words. Adults do not need dialogue to find stories interesting, but they usually still like adjective descriptions and big words. Also make sure the plot of your story will interest the age level you specify, and make your MC the same age as you are writing for.

Step 4: Write the theme of the story, and the lesson it will teach –
A good story should carry one theme and end with one lesson. Do not get sidetracked while writing. If you story is about treating parents with respect, do not include a side lesson on forming good habits.

Step 5: Write the setting of the opening scene, and the opening scene (OS) itself –
The setting should be something like, “A sunny afternoon in a small town.” Do not write word for word what the OS in the actual story will say, instead write what you want it to say (instead of It was a beautiful, sunny day. Little Mary Seuffert was . . .” write “Mary Seuffert skips down the sidewalk when she hears a forlorn meow coming from the bushes. She goes over to investigate . . .”). All the adjectives and style will come later when you actually write the story.

Step 6: Chronologically write the incidents of crisis that will lead to the ending of your story –
Again, don’t write these incidents word for word. Tell what will happen. These incidents are not written in stone. As you are actually writing your story, if you find that one incident doesn’t fit well, or needs to be changed in order to flow, change it or delete it by all means. This plan that you are writing is only to help you be consistent in your writing, and give you an idea of where you story is headed. 

Step 7: Write your story! –
Now comes the fun part! Try to keep your characters consistent! Don’t get off on tangents that have no bearing on the outcome of your story (for example, don’t write of an incident where Cassie borrows a book and accidentally ruins it, and then must replace it, when the moral of your story is about Cassie overcoming her habit of telling lies). Make sure your story flows, and don’t stick so rigidly to your plan that you can’t change it to help the story proceed smoothly. 

Step 8: Write a catching title –
The title of your story should not give away the outcome of you story (“Mary Rescues an Abandoned Cat”). It should also not be longer than 5 words (“Mary Hears a Meow and Investigates”). Make use of alliteration, rhyming words, or words whose rhythm flows (“Mary and the Meow” (alliteration); “That Cat!” (rhyme); “Investigating Pays” (flowing rhythm). 

Steps 9: Make sure your story has a moral –
Have fun, and use your imagination! But most of all, make sure that your story glorifies our heavenly Father. Don’t write about things that have no bearing on eternal salvation (such as, “The Trick I Played on Mother.”). Don’t write about disobedience or other wrong things unless they are corrected in the end. Make sure the reader of your story will come away changed!

Step 10: Be prayerful! –
Pray that God will use you to impact someone’s life!

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