It’s hot out there. Too hot. Birds falling out of the sky hot. A magnifying glass equals weapon of mass destruction hot. Anything better than being cooped up at your computer trying to write hot.
Still, here you are, you hero. Sitting at your computer. Waiting for inspiration, but nothing coming. No stories. No choice words. No indefinite articles. Nothing.
And it’s hot. So hot. Hemingway would have turned to whiskey on the rocks by now. You’re considering the ice bucket challenge.
Before you give up, strip down and clamber into your chest freezer to hibernate till the heat wave passes, I have a literary ice pop right here for you.
Culled from the archives of The Story Thief Challenges, here’s an ice cold six pack of top writing tips from Nigel Quinlan, Sinéad O’Hart, ER Murray, Caroline Busher, Kieran Crowley and Pádraig Kenny.
These top Irish kidslit authors will help you get your writing going and get it working right. They’ll cool you down the Story Thief way!
How to find your story!
Featuring Nigel Quinlan!
Find something, no matter how small, that catches your attention. An image. A notion. A person. A sensation. An emotion. Pick something at random. Think about it. What is this thing? Where did it come from? Why is it? What happens next? Think think think.
It’s a bit like mindfulness meditation, if you’ve heard of that. Your mind will wander. It will try to focus on other stuff. Don’t get mad or annoyed. Just notice you’re doing it. ‘Oh, look at me, thinking about this other thing, not about my story!’ And bring your mind back to your story and keep thinking about it, and you’ll find your story.
The more you do this, the easier it gets. If you want to be a writer then try to do it every day, but even if you don’t need a story, good thinking is so important. It’s not just for writing. It’s for everything and everyone.
How reading helps your writing!
Featuring Sinéad O’Hart!
The books you read in childhood are probably the most important ones, as they really can shape your mind and the way you think and approach the world. To sum up what I’ve learnt from my favorite childhood books I’d say:
The things which seem everyday can be the most important.
Family, love and the threat of their loss are eternal themes.
Write whatever makes your heart sing, and be proud of it.
Remember always to laugh and be a little unpredictable.
The best characters are like onions, with lots of skins to peel away.
How to write from experience!
Featuring ER Murray!
Can you remember feeling left out? Or bursting with excitement at opening a surprise gift? Or what it’s like to fail at convincing people you’re telling the truth? You can draw on memories like these to add colour, music, and magic to your stories – it doesn’t have to be 100% exact, it just adds a flavour.
For example, I didn’t realise it when I started writing but my main character in the Nine Lives Trilogy, Ebony Smart, is the feisty, brave and bold girl I wish I had been when I was younger. I liked being a show-off when I was good at something but was terribly shy when I wasn’t and I never felt empowered to make decisions. So I created a character that could be really brave, but doesn’t always make the right choices.
How to start a story
Featuring Caroline Busher!
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?
How to write great characters
Featuring Kieran Crowley!
How do you make them real, part one: I try to make sure that every character, even the most minor one, is a person in his or her own right. I don’t know about you, but I often see myself as the star of my own film, the centre of the universe, and everyone else is just a character in the story of my life (perhaps I have an ego problem). Unless they’re lacking in self-confidence, none of your characters should think of themselves as sidekicks – they’re the stars of their own life stories.
How do you make them real, part two: I come up with situations and think about how my characters might react in those situations. For example, if one of them found a fifty euro note on the footpath, would they look for the owner or would they head straight for a shop and spend it? If they did spend it, would they feel guilty afterwards? The answers to these kinds of questions can help to show you who the character is.
Inventing a fantastical world!
Featuring Pádraig Kenny!
A lot of the time when I write a story it starts with a simple question, probably the most important question of all for any writer who’s writing something fantastical. That question is “What if?” What if the world was turned upside down? What if there was life on other planets? What if we made robots that were smarter than humans? What if Ireland won the World Cup? Admittedly the last question is a little too fantastical, but every time you ask “What if?” it leads you somewhere.
For example, what if there was life on other planets? If your story instincts are kicking into gear you’ll be asking yourself, what kind of life is it? Will it be aliens who look like us, or will they have tentacles and three heads? Will they be friendly aliens or aggressive? Can they travel to Earth? Already you’re looking for answers. Those answers will be the building blocks of your story. (Except for the answer to the Ireland World Cup question which is “No, never gonna happen. Go write a more believable story.”)
Alright. All cooled down by those top tips? I hope so. Oh and thanks as ever to Eve McDonnell for the great art work.
If you’d like the full refreshing Story Thief experience then read all the episodes, get advice on how to use it with kids to promote writing and creativity, check out our kids’s work section and subscribe so you won’t miss an episode.