Reading stories is what you have done a lot at school, but writing a story on your own is a different thing.
Before you write a story you have to plan it well, basing your plan on the elements of narrative writing.
Plan a story before you write it, basing your plan on the elements of narrative writing.
The easiest kind of story for you to write is one based on a personal experience, something that happened
to you. You have been writing compositions of this kind for a long time. Your letters to friends contain
narratives - accounts of experiences. Now, however, for purposes of planning, you should think of an incident
in your life. Forget, however, that it happened to you. Think of the incident in terms of material for a story.
You may write your story in first person - from your own point of view, using first-person pronouns (I, me)
to refer to yourself - or in third person - as if you were someone else, using he, she - whichever you find
easier. Writing in the third person has distinct advantages. You can be the hero or heroine, just by giving
yourself a name. You can have blond hair or brown eyes, be taller or shorter, fatter or slimmer, better-looking or plainer.
You can make yourself be popular, brilliant, lucky. You can make your dreams and daydreams come true. And
when you finish, the incident you have related will no longer be a simple event in your life - it will be a
When you begin to think about your story material, you should make a story plan. Jot down the following:
1. Setting - when and where the events take place. You may note the time and place
specifically. This does not mean, however, that when you write the story, you must begin by describing
2. Characters - the persons involved. Name the characters, and next to each name, write
something of importance about his role in the story.
3. Situation - the problem. Write down the problem facing your main character, the situation
in which he finds himself when the story opens.
4. Action - what happens. Write a brief summary.
5. Climax - the culminating point. Indicate the point to which the action leads.
6. Outcome, or resolution - the ending. Indicate what this will be.
Exercise 1. Select a personal experience or incident which you wish to use as the basis for a story.
Describe the incident in a brief essay. Do not attempt to write a story at this time; just give a straight
description of what happened.
Excercise 2. For the incident you have chosen in exercise 1, write a story plan. Include
the steps given above, and also indicate under Characters whether you plan to tell story yourself.
Decide upon the point of view from which you will tell your story.
A story can be told from two points of view: first person and third person. A story that begins "I think
the most remarkable day of my life occurred the summer I was ten when I was visiting my grandparents" is an
example of first-person narration. The first-person point of view is sometimes called the 'I' point of view
because the first personal pronoun I is used so frequently. It is the point of view of a person called the
narrator, who has been involved in the story and is telling it from his own point of view. The narrator is
usually a central character in the story, but not always. He may be an observer who has witnessed the
important events and tells about thern. In either case he can only describe things that have happened to
him directly or things that he has seen happen to others.
A story that begins "The most remarkable day in John Anderson's life occurred the summer he was ten when
he was visiting his grandparents" and then goes on to describe John's actions and thoughts as though the
writer had some way of knowing everything important about them is an example of the third-person point of
view. You may think of this as the "he" point of view.
One of the first decisions a writer must make is which point of view he is going to use. You may find the
first person easier, especially if the story is actually something that happened to you. On the other hand,
third person gives you more freedom because it allows you to tell everything the characters do and think,
things you could not know as a first-person writer.
Describe the incident you chose in Exercise 1 as someone else who participated
in it or heard about it might write it. In other words, tell the incident from a different point of view.
Use dialogue to tell part of the story and to reveal character.
When people talk, they reveal a great deal about themselves: their education, their intelligence, their
personality, their social group, where they come from, their experiences. To seem real, the characters that
you write about in a narrative must talk, also.
It is sometimes said of a particular writer that he has an "ear" for dialogue. That is, the speech of his
characters is very true to life. If you are writing about pupils, for example, your characters will use
colloquial language and slang, and perhaps even make grammatical errors. The conversation of a teacher or
other educated adult, on the other hand, will be somewhat different. If the character lives in or comes from
a foreign country, he may from time to time use expressions, usually short phrases or interjections, in his
Before you attempt to write natural dialogue, spend some time listening to people in real life as they carry
on conversations. Notice how they say things and what they do while they are talking. Observe their
expressions and habits of speech. As you start writing conversations, keep in mind the following requirements
of natural dialogue that will make your characters "come alive" and reveal themselves.
(1) The words should fit the character. Let each character sound like himself. Should you quote your
six-year-old brother, do not give him the vocabulary and the attitudes of an older grammar school pupil.
If a messenger boy is talking, let him sound like a messenger boy, not like a taxicab
driver, a cowhand, or an English teacher.
(2) Long speeches are unnatural. Orations are for political conventions or for conversational bores.
In real life, most persons make brief comments; they say what they have to say in a few sentences or pieces
of sentences. Even then, they are often interrupted by an impatient listener. To write natural conversation,
be as brief as you can.
If you attempt to report all of the conversation of a character, your story will lose its focus and become
boring. Always remember to edit the conversation so that it will (1) advance the action of your story and
(2) reveal the personality of the speaker. For instance, if you are writing about an athlete trying to
become a good blocker, do not waste space by having him talk about his girl friends or his desire to get a
summer job. Instead, let him talk enthusiastically about football plays involving skillful blocking, the
excitement of a big game, and so forth.
In their conversation, your characters can help you get vour story going and keep it moving. The characters
can reveal what happened before the story began. Sometimes they even foreshadow what will happen. More
important, the characters can tell things about themselves or other characters. By what they say and how
they say it, we get to know what kind of people they are.
Exercise 4. Listed below are groups of characters in specific situations. After choosing one out of the
six, write a conversation (about 150 words) that reveals the personality of each speaker. For this exercise,
use dialogue only, not description.
1. Two girls have been shopping. One describes a new dress she has bought on sale; the other girl discovers
that she has one just like it.
2. Two football fans talk about an exciting game.
3. A policeman has difficulty trying to tell a woman driver how to make turns in heavy traffic.
4. Two strangers discuss the weather. One is a Missourian and the other a Texan.
5. A boy argues with his girl friend on the telephone.
6. Two pupils talk about the fish they have caught.
Use description to present characters and setting.
A story with no description at all would be flat and colorless. Although lengthy descriptive passages
like those in nineteenth-century stories and novels are rarely found in contemporary writing, every good
writer uses bits of description throughout a story. Vivid description helps the reader visualize the people and places in the
When you write narratives, use words which appeal to the senses; make comparisons; select descriptive
words carefully; include sharp, interest-arousing details. Notice how the writer Joseph Conrad does all these
things in the following passage from his story "Youth," as he describes the skipper of a sailing ship.
"He was sixty if a day; a little man, with a broad, not very straight back, with bowed shoulders and one
leg more bandy than the other, he had that queer twisted-about appearance you see so often in men who work
in the fields. He had a nutcracker face - chin and nose trying to come together over a sunken
mouth-and it was framed in iron-gray fluffy hair, that looked like a chin-strap of cotton-wool sprinkled
with coal-dust. And he had blue eyes in that old face of his, which were amazingly like a boy's, with that
candid expression some quite common men preserve to the end of their days by a rare internal gift of
simplicity of heart and rectitude of soul."
Descriptions of setting should create an atmosphere or mood for the development of the action. You know
that you feel different on a bright, sunny day from the way you feel on a cold, windy, rainy day. Weather
is often used in a story to prepare the reader for something to match the mood created by the weather.
In today's writing, description of the setting does not always begin the story. Often it is included as an
integral part of the action. But wherever he does it, a writer must tell enough to provide a convincing
Exercise 5. Write a short, but complete, description of one of the characters in your story plan.
Exercise 6. Write a description of the setting of the story you have planned. It is best, remember, to have
a setting with which you are familiar.
Exercise 7. The following story involves a personal experience told in the third person and in the past
tense. Note that there is only one character and that the situation is simple. There is enough action to
maintain interest with a minimum of dialogue, and the ending is satisfying. Read and discuss it with your
By Carmel Fleming Coleman
As the day for the big swimming carnival approached, Jim Morris found each class period getting longer. He
felt responsible for the success of Splash Day this year, because he was in charge of most of the arrangements.
Up until the last minute, Jim worked at selling tickets, supervising banana-tree decorations, and practicing
for the 100-yard free-style. He knew he could win it. In fact, just the other day, Mr. Phillips, the coach,
had stopped him in the hall and said, "We're counting on you to win the free-style next Saturday, Jim." All
he'd been able to do was grin, but inside he felt good.
He had that same "good feeling inside" on the day of the carnival, as he stood on the edge of the open-air
pool. Waiting for the starting gun, Jim noticed the colors in the water as it crinkled in the sunlight. There
was the signal! Sp-p-p-lash! Bodies hurled themselves into the water. Then came the hurting whack of a
confused dive, for one of Jim's feet slipped as he pressed to make a fast start. Many people stood up to see
what had happened. Others called out. Mr. Phillips knew that Jim would finish the race, although he was
Jim was the last one to get out of the water, and he wished there were some way for him to go through the
bottom of the pool to the dressing room. But he knew that he had to face the spectators and that they would
see the violent red of his face, although they would not be able to see the burning tears in his eyes. His
embarrassment was almost more than he could bear as he called himself the biggest fool in the world.
Standing up, he heard cheering and noisy clapping. Voices shouted, "Hard luck, Jim!" "Wonderful carnival,
Jim!" "Don't worry, Jim!" He saw that everyone was clapping for him, Jim Morris, fool swimmer who had messed
up everything. He couldn't believe it, and his face grew a deeper red. Then, Mr. Phillips was
walking toward hirn. He put his arm around Jim's shoulder and said, "You didn't win, boy, but this whole
afternoon is your big win. It's a great success, and we're all grateful to you."
All Jim could do was grin. The "good feeling inside" was coming back again, and as he looked down into
the water he saw that the ripples were made up of smiles.
Having planned your story and worked on certain parts of it, you are now ready to write it. You have already made a story plan. You have chosen
the incident, have possibly written some dialogue for it, and have prepared descriptions of a character and the setting. Using all these (adapting them if necessary),
and applying the rules for good writing that you have studied in this chapter, write your story.