Unlocking the writer inside: Making a story exciting

All stories are journeys, if you dig deep enough. I often write about quests, so most of my novels contain real journeys. But even a story set in a school or a hospital or a back garden can be a journey, perhaps inside someone’s head.

One of my novels, Rocking Horse War, is about a girl walking through mountains searching for her sister (who seems to have been stolen by rocking horses), so that is quite obviously a journey. When I use Rocking Horse War to show kids that stories can be seen as journeys, I ask them to imagine climbing a hill on a lovely sunny day, eating a picnic at the top, then climbing safely back down. Then I ask, is that a nice day out? Yes. Is it a good story? NO!

If a journey up a hill, or anywhere else, is to make a good story, it can’t go smoothly.

So I encourage children to think of a journey, then make it as difficult as possible! (You can try this exercise yourself.)

  • We decide where we’re going, from the classroom to the local park perhaps, and we begin to imagine that journey, but after the first few steps we come up against an obstacle (a physical obstacle like a hole in the ground, an opponent like a monster blocking the way, or even a problem needing to be solved).
  • Now the story is exciting, but unless we deal with that first obstacle, the journey has stopped and the story has ended. So we invent a way past the obstacle.
  • After we’ve created and then solved one obstacle, we find another obstacle round the next corner.
  • We build a whole journey, creating obstacles and then working out how to solve them, in order to keep the story going. With a class of imaginative nine-year-olds, you can invent a very long, exciting journey!

While on this journey, you could consider varying the obstacles. You don’t want every obstacle the same: a hole in the ground, another hole in the ground, then another. Or even a green monster, a blue monster, then a yellow monster. It’s more exciting if each obstacle is different. And if you make each obstacle more dangerous and difficult than the one before, then the story keeps getting more exciting.

The solutions should vary as well. If you hit the monster on the head, then hit the snake on the head, then hit the witch with the red apple on the head, it gets a bit repetitive. You’ll need a few other solutions, or else by the time you get to the witch, she’ll have worked out your line of attack and she’ll duck out of the way!

If you vary the obstacles and vary the solutions, you’ll surprise your readers, and surprise the baddies too!

It’s possible to show young writers how to keep an idea going, how to turn a moment of inspiration into a complete story, by seeing the story as a journey and by putting obstacles in the characters’ way.

Ways to visualise a journey

Draw a map and put the obstacles on the map.  

Make two lists, of obstacles and relevant solutions.

Put events on a timeline, to check you’re making obstacles more exciting as you go along.

 

 

 

 

 

I make my characters climb mountains, but there are many other journeys you can write about:

Searching for someone or something

Trying to get home

Trying to escape from somewhere or something

Looking for a clue or an answer

Stepping through a magic door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This blog is part three of a series of blogs by children's writer Lari Don. Click here to see the full series!

Lari Don

Lari Don is an award-winning children’s writer who writes novels, picture books, retellings of old folklore and novellas for reluctant readers. She also works in schools and libraries with children of all ages, sharing her passion for stories and encouraging children to write their own. Check out her child-friendly writing blog at www.laridon.co.uk/blog or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.