Story ideas are all around us just waiting to be snapped up.

Be a detective and carry a notebook and pencil.

Watch the people in the playground/ at the football/ in the supermarket. Choose a person to describe – hair, clothes, eyes, skin.

What if that person suddenly fainted/ pulled out a gun/ began to transform into an alien? Write a report of the incident for the school newspaper.

Now pretend that you are the person you chose to describe and re-write your report as a story.

The idea for my novel Leaving no Footprints came while I was walking along the beach with my dog. A boy and his dog walked past me and I noticed that neither of them had left any footprints on the sand.

Was this a real boy and a real dog?

Or had I imagined them?

They seemed real, but what sort of magic allowed them to walk on the beach without leaving any trace of their presence?

Write your own answer to this puzzle.

How did last week’s stories turn out?

Even if they’re not very good, don’t throw them away.

You never know when another idea is going to come along and crash into one of them.

Some stories need two ideas to join together and spark each other off.

  • Think of an exotic name.
  • Describe a person who fits that name.
  • Add family members, pets.
  • Where does the person live?
  • Write a diary entry describing one day in this person’s life.

Many years ago, while I was struggling to write The Watching Lake, I read a book by Eleanor Nilsson. Her advice was to spend 10 minutes writing every day. It doesn’t sound very long but, as she said, 10 minutes can easily turn into an hour when you’re having fun. Even if you have to stop for homework or music practice, just getting out your story and looking at it will be enough to keep it fresh so that in the shower or on the school bus or any time during the day, your story will keep on writing itself in your head.

Have you tried writing for ten minutes a day yet?

How many times did you have to stop to do your maths assignment, clean up your room or visit your least favourite relative?

Write a blow by blow description of something you often do, like, get out of bed/ eat an apple/ clean your teeth.

Now describe the same action as if you were

  • a three year old
  • a ninety three year old.

Don’t forget to add the dialogue. The way your characters speak tells your reader a lot about them.

Which description was the easiest to write?

Here is a riddle for you to try.

The dedication in my novel Graffiti on the Fence reads:

“For Cameron and Amy whose grandmother plays the witch”

Q. Who are Cameron and Amy?

Write it down on a piece of paper and check below for the answer.

Did you guess the answer to the riddle?

A: Cameron and Amy are my grandchildren.

Lally, in Graffiti on the Fence, is not exactly me but I gave her my voice. Usually I have to imagine the voices of my characters. Lally’s voice was already there. I had a lot of fun writing that book, but I can never give a character my own voice again. If they don’t have different voices, they don’t come to life on the page.

Imagine that your car has run out of petrol. The driver can’t leave the sleeping baby, so you are sent to find out where the nearest petrol station is. You ask a well dressed lady, an old tramp, a scruffy teenager.

Write down each person’s reply using expressions like ‘Yeah, man’/ ‘Oh, dear me!’/ ‘Nah, mate’.

Experiment with letters to make sounds. ‘Aww’/ ‘Garn’/ ‘So-o-o-o sorry daahling’.

Inside those speech commas, you can break all the rules!

Don’t let your characters lie down flat on the page while you tell the story. Get them up walking, talking, feeling the wind in their hair.

Change a telling sentence into a showing one.
In my novel Winning, Mr Crowe is the school gardener from hell.


“Mr Crowe screamed at Pearce and Yosef because he had just finished marking out the lanes with his white-line marker and the boys smudged them.”


“‘That’s it!’ Mr Crowe screamed at Pearce and Yosef when one of his white lines got smudged. ‘I’m going to have you boys banned from this oval!’”

Match an action with a reaction:

“Mr Crowe abandoned his white-line marker and stormed up to the office.
‘We didn’t mean to, Mr Crowe,’ Pearce called after the old buzzard.”

Try using metaphor/simile:

“Early next morning there was a bee hive buzz of excitement in the schoolyard. The news passed from one person to another like the common cold. There had been a break-in overnight.”

How did you go with metaphors/similes?

Like adjectives (and salt in food) too much can ruin the flavour.
Mixing tenses can also destroy your story very quickly.

  • Describe one meal that you had at the weekend – where, when, what and who with?
  • Rewrite your description as if it was happening now.
  • Write about the same meal as if you are planning to have it in the future.

Which description was easier to write?

Which one is the most interesting to read?

The present tense is great for getting inside your character:

‘Shut up!’ I yell.

I wait for Enya to protest. It’s the least she can do. She complains. I shout back. That’s the way it should be. That’s what I’d do.

from Someone Like Me.

But it does mean that you can only tell the story from one point of view.

Things you know about usually make the best stories.

When I first tried to write my novel Straggler’s Reef, I had Karri going back in time to meet Caroline in the 1840s. I sent it to my publisher. She sent it back. I rewrote it, sent it again – again and again it came back. I could only make it work by bringing Caroline from 1840 in to the present – the world I know best.

Describe an event that you remember really well.

Perhaps the most scary or embarrassing or exciting thing that has ever happened to you.

  • How did it feel, taste, smell, sound?
  • Remember to show, not tell.
  • Read your work again. Does the dialogue sound real?

Would Mum say ‘I will most certainly help you up,’ when she finds you have fallen off your bike and cut your knee? Or would she cry out, ‘Oh, darling, are you alright?’

How did your scary/embarrassing/exciting stories go?

Re-read the one you like best.

Exaggerate the main event.

Now ask yourself some what if questions.

  • What if the noises in your roof at night are not made by rats but by a lost tribe of gnomes?
  • What if your resident cockroaches have been eating a new GM type of mushroom and have grown as big as cats?
  • What if the gnomes enlist your help to poison the cockroaches, but the poison turns them into humanoids?

Remember you don’t have to return the whole world to normal. Give your story a surprising twist at the end. Or leave it open so that the reader can decide which of the possible endings they believe in.

A story with an open ending will often stay alive in the reader’s imagination long after one where everything is carefully spelled out.

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