Margaret Bateson-Hill, author of the Dragon Racer series, has ten top tips to help children write a story. It’s the perfect way to encourage using imagination from a very early age…
Tip number 1: Feed your imagination
by reading anything and everything – facts and fiction, picture books, comics, poetry, song lyrics, new books and old favourites, magazines. Read every day - and share what you like with your family and friends. Plus, don’t forget to join the library! It’s free.
Tip number 2: Keep a notebook for ideas (and anything else that might interest you)!
Choose to write about what you are passionate about – maybe something you love, hate or maybe just something you know really well. Either way, you’ll have plenty to say. I think that a story should have a sense of purpose, whether it is a message to change the world or a story that makes you fall over laughing, or hide behind the sofa in terror.
Tip 3: This is was I call 'The Thought Shower'
You’ve got an idea but you’re not sure what to do with it? Here’s what I do - I get a large sheet of paper and write a key word or stick a picture in the middle. What other ideas does this make you think of? Characters? Places? Action? Adventures? Get a coloured crayon and link ideas together. You don’t need to use all of them, but surely you’ll find some that can get your story started.
Tip number 4. Plan.
Think about how you want your story to start and end. What does your main character want? Are they struggling against something? Will they succeed or fail? Who or what wants to stop them? And why? (Choose three things and make each one decidedly worse!)
Storyboards are very helpful. Fold A4 in half, then into quarters. Now you have four rectangles on the front and four on the back. Draw stick figures or a write a simple sentence to describe each main scene in the story.
Tip 5: Get to know the details.
I like to make fact files of everything I need to know about my characters. I even draw a picture and label it with lots of extra details such as age, favourite foods, likes and hates, who their family are, where they live, their friends and enemies. But most importantly I try to understand what’s going on inside them emotionally - are they happy, sad, or maybe angry? And why?
It might also be useful to draw maps of the most important places in the story. In Dragon Racer: The Silver Flame, when I wanted my protagonist Joanna to explore the air vents of the dragon caves I ended up drawing a map to work out which turnings she needed to take to reach Vincent’s study.
Tip 6: Create your world by exploring your character’s senses
– what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Discover what this reveals about them and how this can help your plot. A child once told me that all her character could see were her own blue shoes as she was too frightened to look up – perfect!
Tip 7: You are not expected to get it perfect the first time.
Authors very rarely do. Make changes, cross bits out, write bits over the top, and use asterisks.
Tip 8: Don’t worry too much about spelling, punctuation and handwriting.
Of course they are important, but they can also easily be corrected afterwards. If you have trouble with writing by hand or on a computer, record it or persuade an adult to scribe for you!
Tip 9: When the story is finished, read it OUT LOUD!
This is the most efficient way to find obvious mistakes like a missing word, or the need to insert punctuation. You’ll also get a sense of the rhythm of the piece. Plus, you’ll be able to recognise whether what you have written is exciting – or not.
Tip 10: Start another story. Keep writing.
It’s like everything else; to be good at something you need to practise!