Episode 4 – The Story Thief Challenges – How to start a story

Written by Liam  (okay, with some help from Aoife)

Featuring top author Caroline Busher!

Note: You can start the Story Challenges Series from this episode or go back and read the previous episodes! Oh and if you’re a teacher or librarian or work with kids check out at all the guidance for educators including advice on how to do this month’s Story Challenge with kids!

Everything you need to know if you have read the other episodes:

I’m Liam. I’m 11. My noisy sister Aoife is seven. This is episode four of our 12 episode blog series about everything that happened to us last year. 

Last year we found out that the magical mysterious Story Thief exists and that it does steal writers’ stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quick enough.

We found out that our writer Dad had summoned the Story Thief and agreed to do its three challenges in exchange for a really good story idea. Except Dad failed one of those challenges and now the Story Thief wasn’t just taking Dad’s stories from him. He taking Dad’s memories and personality too. Soon everything that we loved about Dad  would be gone.

Last night we stood in our garden in the shadow of the Story Thief.  We agreed to do its challenges in order to win Dad’s memories and stories back, knowing that if we failed even one of the three challenges, the Story Thief would take all  our stories and memories too.

And now back to our story –

I bet you would have been scared. I think I should have been scared.

Instead I woke early. I hopped cheerfully out of bed, confident that together with the advice from top Irish kids book authors, we would easily be able to do the three challenges. We’d get our dad’s stories and memories back. We’d save our Dad.

Still I did shiver a teensy weensy bit when I found a note in some old world handwriting sitting on top of a book on the kitchen table. I held the note up and read our first challenge from the Story Thief.


close upI checked the clock. It was almost 7am. We had 14 hours to write the perfect start to a story or else. Loads of time.

I ambled up the stairs and knocked on Aoife’s door.


She burst out of her room into the hall like a pocket rocket.

‘Story challenge?’


As I did the search on Dad’s computer, she tried to decipher the note.

‘Why doesn’t it just use normal words?’

I found what I was looking for. Author Caroline Busher’s website. I clicked into the ‘Contact Caroline’ page.

Aoife looked at the photo on the website. ‘Ah she looks really nice.

I typed while Aoife read over my shoulder.

Caroline, we need your help! What’s your advice for writing a really good start for a story? Thanks, Liam & Aoife

‘I knew that’s what it meant.’

I clicked submit and turned to her. ‘Let’s get started.’

She found some scrap paper. ‘Yeah, maybe we don’t even need her help.’ She found a pen then held it over the paper, her face scrunched up with concentration, ‘We should have a monkey, right? In the start of the story? That’ll make it good, won’t it?’

‘A monkey?’ For the first time that morning I felt a little worried. Maybe this wouldn’t be as easy as I thought.

Then I heard Dad’s grumpy voice. ‘Aoife! Liam! School!’

Aoife slapped her hand against her open mouth.

I slapped my forehead with my hand.

We’d forgotten about school!

Oh no.

It was awful. At school I was distracted all day.  I was sent to the office for writing stories during maths. At breaktime and lunch I spoke with Aoife. All her ideas involved monkeys. Mine were even worse. We were getting nowhere and time was running out.

I couldn’t wait for Dad to collect us so I could ask him if he’d received an email from Caroline Busher with her answer, but he was late to collect us. All the other parents and kids came and went and it was just us waiting at school, watching the time to complete our challenge drain away.

Our teacher wasn’t impressed. Kept looking at his watch and grumbling, ‘I do have a life, you know?’ He got the secretary to phone our Dad. When she came back out from talking to Dad, she wasn’t impressed either.

‘I think he just forgot about them.’

I looked over at Aoife. She shrugged. ‘Maybe he did just forget or…’

She didn’t finish her sentence, but I knew what she meant. Maybe the Story Thief had stolen another memory from him.

We lost another half hour waiting for Dad to arrive. When he finally got here he was grumpy and distracted and not nearly as apologetic as our teacher wanted him to be.

We hurried him off the school grounds and Aoife grabbed his phone off him. ‘Did you get any emails today Dad?’

‘Yeah. Some writer.’

I took the phone from Aoife and scrolled through his messages. We walked ahead of him away from school and I read out the Writing Advice from Caroline Busher, author of “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” and “The Girl Who Ate The Stars”


Dear Liam and Aoife,

I got your message just as I started to write the opening lines to my brand new novel and I knew I had to help you.

Think of the start of your story as a movie trailer. If you can hook the reader straight away then they will place their trust in you. A great start to a story is a pathway into a reader’s heart.

By the time I sit down to write a book, I am bursting with ideas. (Figuratively speaking of course.) I’ve spent months researching history and scribbling down notes in my favourite notebook. It’s when I know my characters as well as I know the real people in my life that I know that I am ready. Then I allow my characters to tell their stories through me. That’s when the magic happens.

A really good start to a story will grip the reader by the arm and pull them into your imaginary world. The best place to start is as close to the action as possible. Start your story at the point where your characters are experiencing some kind of crisis! No, I am not being mean, it’s just then your characters can spend the rest of the novel figuring out how to survive.

It’s much more interesting for a reader if you write a really exciting start to your story. For example (spoiler alert for my book “The Girl Who Ate The Stars”) your characters could be trying to avoid getting hit by a bomb in the Second World War? Or they could be about to change into a werewolf for the first time?

Dialogue can also be a great, unexpected way to open a story. You don’t see it too often, but when it works it is brilliant. As a reader you feel that you are listening in to a conversation and you can learn so much about characters by the things that they say. Why not give that a go?

Here are some of my favourite opening lines in Children’s books:

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.  (A series of unfortunate events by Lemony Snickett)

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (The Chronicles of Narnia – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis)

Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast  (Charlotte’s Web by E.B White)

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.  (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)

The best advice of all that I can give to you about writing a really good to start to a story is to start. I can almost hear you gasp. Yes, it really is that simple. Unless you start to write those first few words you will never know where the story will take you. You simply have to let go and allow the story to happen. Think of it as slicing into a giant chocolate cake (yes it’s nearly dinner time.)

I wish you both the very best of luck with everything!

Now where was I? Oh yes right back at the start.

Good luck!


PS: I have a Story Challenge to help you write a great start to your story.

First get one or two of your favorite books. If you don’t have a favorite book then pick some kids books from a library.

Next read the first page or two of each book. Think about it. Do you like how the book starts? Does it make you want to read more or does it make you want to stop reading? Why?

Now use all my tips above and write the first 100 words of a story so exciting, mysterious and wonderful that it’ll hook the reader and leave them begging you to finish the story!

Dad was completely perplexed when the moment we got home, we ran up into his office and slammed the door shut on him. Using Caroline’s advice, we got working and soon discovered writing is a messy business.


IMG_20180402_111937441We chopped and changed words all evening. Argued over ideas. It took a lot of work to convince Aoife that her plan to include a monkey just wasn’t working. We went through a lot of scrap paper. But eventually we got there and just as the sun started to set, we placed the opening paragraphs of our story on our trampoline in the garden, shivered and rushed back inside.

Now we had to wait.

A little frazzled we sat on the floor in my bedroom.

I said, ‘It’s good, isn’t it?’

‘It’s great! It’s the best start to a story ever.’

‘Maybe not the best ever, but… Do you think the Thief will be happy with it?’

She looked out the window at the darkness outside. ‘I.. I hope so.’

That night I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking all night long and, yes, I kept rushing to the loo. I wondered if what we’d written was good enough. Would we’d wake up with a new Story Thief Challenge waiting for us on a book somewhere or would I wake up unable to tell a story and watch all my memories slip away?

All night long as I waited for dawn, I feel fear’s little fists tighten on me, its nails cutting into me;  and I hoped and prayed the start to our story was good enough and that I still had a bright future ahead of me.


future bleak

Read Episode 5 of The Story Thief Challenges featuring Kieran Crowley (author of ‘The Mighty Dynamo’ and ‘The Misfits’) now!

Here’s the stuff Dad told me I had to tell everyone…

The Story Thief Challenges is a twelve part series published on the first Monday of each month. Each episode includes writing advice from an Irish children’s fiction author and a Story Challenge activity.

To subscribe to The Story Thief Challenges to ensure you don’t miss an episode please click here.

If you would like more information on Caroline Busher and her books and how to contact her, including for school and library and other visits click here.

If you’re a teacher / librarian / educator or parent and you would like advice on how use The Story Thief Challenges and each month’s Story Challenges with children to promote reading, writing, story telling and creativity please click here.

If you want to get your kids work on this series featured on this website then click here. 


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