"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

Cormac McCarthy

Last updated 4 October  2019  © Julia Edwards

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So you want to write a story? Perhaps you've tried before, perhaps not. In any case, here are my top tips for writing a really good one. Are you ready?

First of all, you need a hero or a heroine, who we call the protagonist. This is the person that the reader is supposed to care about, so it's generally better if they are likeable. Most of all, you have to care about the protagonist if you want the reader to mind about what happens to them.

 

In the Scar Gatherer series, Joe is the protagonist.

At the start of the story, the protagonist has to have a problem that they need to solve. This should be a fairly big problem: for example, it could be a dragon who's lost the ability to breathe fire, or someone who has been thrown into a dungeon for something they didn't do. If the protagonist is a schoolboy who's lost his shoes, that's probably not a big enough problem - unless his father is very violent and likely to beat him for it, and he thinks this time he might not survive.

 

Joe's problem at the beginning of The Leopard in the Golden Cage is that he has slipped back into Roman times and doesn't know either what to do there, or how to get home again.

Stories usually work best if there is an antagonist. This is the person who stands in the way of the protagonist, and is determined to stop the protagonist solving his problem. The antagonist is often an out-and-out baddie, though sometimes, they're just someone who wants the opposite of what the protagonist wants.

 

Tiberius is the antagonist in The Leopard in the Golden Cage. He wants to get rid of Joe from his world.

It's often helpful if there is a third character in a story, who is a friend of the protagonist. This gives the protagonist someone to talk to about their problems. Without this extra person, you can end up with too much happening inside the protagonist's head, which isn't so good for a reader.

 

Lucy is the 'friend' in The Leopard in the Golden Cage, though she's also the heroine too.

Once you've lined up all of those people, you need to decide whether you're going to write the story in what's called the 'first person' - where the protagonist is telling the story out of their own mouth, saying, "I did this," and, "I said that" - or the 'third person' - which is when you write, 'He did this,' and 'He said that.' Whatever you decide, stick to it. For a really good story, you should also stick to the protagonist's point of view, even if you write the story in the third person. This means that you can't tell the reader anything that the protagonist doesn't know or can't see for themselves.

 

The Scar Gatherer books are written in the third person, from Joe's point of view. We see Lucy's world through his eyes, and we only know things about Lucy that she tells him.

Next comes the really big thing: THE PLOT!

There is no right or wrong way to write a story. Some authors sit down at their desk, knowing who the protagonist is and what his or her problem is , but with no other idea of what's going to happen. Other writers, like me, prefer to plan a lot of the events in the story. Either way is fine. As you write, all sorts of ideas will pop into your head, so if you had a plan, you need to be ready to change it to fit in the new bits. The story will get better if you do this. There is just one rule to follow: the protagonist cannot solve his or her problem until the end of the story. If they do manage to solve their problem, doing so has to create a new and bigger problem for them!

 

In The Leopard in the Golden Cage, Joe manages to fit in in Lucy's world, and is then transported back to his own time, which solves his two original problems. But his new problem is that he now really wants to get back into Lucy's world again. When he  solves that by getting there, he has an even bigger problem - having to persuade everyone he's someone else. This is where Tiberius stands in his way.

So you see how important problems are for your story? People are always more interested in stories (including in real life) where things didn't go right for someone, because they want to find out whether the problem was solved in the end. Keeping your reader interested until the end is very important, and it's something that authors have to work at with every book they write!

 

Other than problems, another way of doing this is to include twists, surprises, or especially dramatic moments in the plot at particular points. This is where planning the story in advance can help you. Ideally, you want three twists - one that happens a quarter of the way through the story, a bigger / more surprising one half way through, and the biggest twist three quarters of the way through.

 

I'm not going to tell you what the twists are in The Leopard in the Golden Cage, because that would spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it. If you've got a copy, you can see if you can work it out.

The Big Finish

If you've kept your reader interested all the way through the story, you have to give them the big finish they're hoping for. Don't let your story just fizzle out! Just remember, the climax of the plot has to come just before the end, when the protagonist finally solves his last and biggest problem. Make sure you don't leave too much story to be told after that.

 

If you have a copy of The Leopard in the Golden Cage you'll see that Joe's problems grow and grow from the end of chapter 13 until the climax at the end of chapter 15. Chapter 16 resolves his biggest problem and then brings the story swiftly to the end (though it opens a door for the next book in the series).

So there you have it! Easy really! Well, perhaps not.

 

But those are the bones of telling a great story. The magic is in the characters you create, the plot you put in front of them, and the way you tell it. And those tricks have kept storytellers hard at work for millennia, since long before Lucy ever lived!