Writing is a wonderful way to unleash the imagination, share ideas, develop your creativity and enrich your free time. But sometimes, the white glare of the blank page threatens the motivation of even the most seasoned authors. Coming up with a plot and characters can seem daunting - let alone getting to the end of a first draft! Not to worry, though: these top writing tips for young aspiring authors are sure to leave you feeling inspired and encouraged. See below for 15 things all young aspiring authors should know...
1. The opening line should capture your readers' attention and get them asking questions.
Depending on the genre, a good first line can be gripping, mysterious, thoughtful or funny, but it often makes the reader curious to find out more. Take the first line of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: 'Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.' Immediately, we want to know: what's a half-blood? Why wouldn't you want to be one? Who is this mysterious narrator? These questions excite us as readers and make us want to find out more! So include some mystery in your first line and hook your readers straight away. You don't have to write the first line first, though; it may be easier to go back once you've written the rest of the story.
2. Don't expect your first draft to be perfect.
Even the best authors admit that their first drafts are usually pretty bad compared to the finished product! The most important thing is to get to the end of that first draft - then you can go back and perfect your work.
3. Keep going.
Once you start, don't look back! It can be tempting to reread and change what you've done again and again, but soon, you may lose the motivation to get to the end of the story. When you finally look back at your first draft, you may cringe, but that's okay, because now you have a full draft to work with - and you should feel extremely proud!
4. You don't have to write about only what you know.
Your life experiences may be a useful starting point, but you shouldn't restrict yourself to them. A writer is an adventurer, a researcher and an inventor - someone who explores time and space as well as fantastical places, and all the ideas therein. You can go wherever you like to find the ideas and inspiration to drive your story, and don't be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone.
5. But use your own experiences to write convincingly and fuel emotion.
You can use your memories to drive the emotion in a story, to empathise with your characters and portray scenes and dialogue convincingly. When J. K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, she had recently lost her mother, and used her strong feelings of loss and grief to fuel Harry's own feelings about his parents.
6. Get to know your characters as if they were real people.
One way to do this is to plan the basics of a character's personality and appearance, and then find creative ways to fill in the rest. You could design a fun and detailed quiz for your characters to answer, or think of how they would react in a range of situations, including the challenging, the unusual and the everyday. Give them quirks, fears and phobias, dreams, aspirations, and favourites/least favourites (colours, foods, hobbies, school subjects, etc.). Give them a political viewpoint (whether they have an opinion or are indifferent), a life goal, a personal philosophy and a history, as well as lots of other little details. The motives and choices of your main characters drive the story, so make sure they're well-rounded with aims, desires and regrets. Plus, as Andy Stanton advises, your heroes shouldn't be flawless, and your villains should have some sympathetic qualities.
7. If you get stuck, take a break.
Go for a walk, take a bath, listen to music, whatever you like! Create a mental space so that ideas can flood back in, but be patient with it.
8. Start observing people.
Make a mental note of things like body language, facial expressions, voice intonation and language, tics and quirks - anything that might provide inspiration for your own characters and help them feel more real.
9. Make sure your language sings.
A good plot is, of course, very important to a story, but it is language that brings that plot to life. Make sure your language evokes the feelings you want it to, creates atmosphere, reads well, and ignites the reader's imagination. Gain inspiration from your favourite books and poems to help you write effectively and engagingly.
10. Don't give your characters 'perfect' dialogue.
Often, people in conversation interrupt each other, hesitate, stutter or try to rephrase what they're saying. To create truly authentic-feeling dialogue, you can include some of these things and any other habits you notice people have when talking. Plus, your characters' personalities will influence the content of what they're saying. Have your characters exaggerate, overestimate and underestimate, joke and make light of things, backstab, share secrets... all the things that people do in real life, according to their personalities, aims and motives. This makes dialogue interesting, engaging, exciting and more authentic.
You should research any concepts you include in your story that you're not sure about, whether by looking in books, using the internet or by talking to others who might know more about them. For example, if your story is set in a different country, thoroughly research the culture there so that you can bring it to life with your story.
12. Don't fret about the end result; enjoy the process.
Many young writers become more and more concerned about what they can do with their finished story. Could it win any prizes? Could it be published or self-published? Will anyone like it? Set all of these questions firmly aside until the story is done and simply enjoy the writing process itself! It's fun and exciting to write a story and you should fully immerse yourself in the world that you're creating in the pages. That way, the story will naturally turn out the best it can be, filled with your unfettered ideas and creativity!
13. If you're unhappy with what you're writing, don't be afraid to wipe the slate clean.
If you really feel that your story could be transformed by wiping the slate clean, then go for it - but don't discard the writing you've done. Treat it as preparation for what you're about to write. Some authors spend months on a piece of writing, only to completely start again. If it keeps you motivated, then do it; it could be an exciting and refreshing change that enables you to write the story you really want to write.
14. Your final line should be something readers will remember.
Make it powerful, poignant or mysterious, something that leaves readers feeling fulfilled but intrigued, perhaps allowing them to imagine what happened next. If you're planning a sequel, you could even leave the story on a cliff-hanger, or something that just feels a little out of place...
15. Really, there are no rules to planning or writing a story.
You may find others' advice beneficial, but remember that any advice you receive is just a suggestion. The only real way to write a story is your way. However you prefer to plan and write, whether it's through meticulous preparation or simply letting your imagination run away with you, stick to it. Take inspiration from authors, but don't try to copy them. In the end, this is your story and it should be written with your unique voice.
Need creative writing inspiration? Check out the very best children's fiction books.