Some advice for a budding, young writer

From time to time, through my video series and because I make the offer, school-aged kids send me their stories for my feedback. Here is one such case, from a young ten-year old guy.

I always reply, to everything I get sent, even if it takes a moment or two sometimes.

Hi <<withheld>> and thank you so much for your story!

I am the kind of person who writes as he speaks, and speaks as he thinks. So, often, my writing sounds like I am having a conversation. Because of that, I sometimes use words that might be a little too big for the person I am writing to, but that’s a good thing. I believe that to be a good writer you have to be a reader as well. That means I would like you to read every day. Read all kinds of things, and if you don’t understand something, you should look it up and try to understand. Some of the things I say here you might not understand and that’s okay. Just go through this with a grown-up who will help you. Look up words in a dictionary, or www.dictionary.com if you use a computer.

Firstly, I am interested as to how you chose your particular subject. You see, all writing is autobiographical. What I mean by “autobiographical” is that, most of the time, we write about things that we have experienced, or stories we have had, or things that have happened to us. Even the characters we choose to create are often about ourselves. Maybe Terry or Bloot is about you and a friend?

So, I am going to run through your story and tell you what I think, and give you some feedback. One of the things I would like you to look at, during your English lessons, is punctuation. Because this is very important for how your writing flows. What I mean by “flow” is that punctuation helps to make your story easy to read. I will give you an example in your actual story about how punctuation can make it easier to read and understand.

Secondly, your paragraphs: you did well with this. My general rule (and any writing rule, in fact) is that you move to a new paragraph when something changes. That change might be a change in scene, like moving to another room, or a change in time. So, for example, if something happens in the morning, and then something else happens later in the afternoon, those two scenes will be two separate paragraphs. That cool? So, in your case, you separated the events into different paragraphs and that is a very good thing. Well done.

Some thoughts:

Paragraph 1:

Terry and Bloot first met at the Wildrest Vintage Store and surprisingly enough they were shopping for old “Mrs. Lasange’s” lemons dated “1908.3”. Yes, you heard me, 1908.3. They cost R31 and they stared fighting and yes ABOUT LEMONS!!!!!

Okay, great start! You have introduced some characters, and set a scene. You have told us who the story is about, and where it is happening. Then, you put your characters inside the scene and gave them something to do, or something happened. In this case, Terry and Bloot go shopping. They are off to a particular shop and they are buying lemons.

What we don’t have in this opening paragraph, though, is what is called “context”. Let me explain this word by giving you this example: Terry and Bloot go to buy lemons. Surprisingly, they are dated 1908.3. Why is this surprising? And why did they start fighting over the lemons?

I am going to use this paragraph to show you some punctuation tips. If I re-wrote a section for you, it would look like this (I have noted the changes in red):

Terry and Bloot first met at the Wildrest Vintage Store and, surprisingly enough, they were shopping for old Mrs. Lasange’s lemons, dated “1908.3”. Yes, you heard me, 1908.3. They cost R31 and they stared fighting: yes, ABOUT LEMONS!!!!!

Read through this section again and, every time you come to a comma (,) or a colon (:), take a pause of about one half-breath and then carry on reading. You will notice that it breaks your sentence up and makes it flow better. And by the way, you don’t have to put a person’s name in quotation marks (“).

Paragraph 2:

Terry then went home and found that his study had been broken into. He went and found out that his art supplies had been stolen. The next day Bloot rang the doorbell and asked “Would you like to come over?” Terry said yes and they set off into the woods.

Now we have a change of scene, and so you created a new paragraph. Good. If you are following my way of doing it (“what happened first, what happened next, what happened then, what happened last”) then this is the “next” part. So Terry goes home and finds that his study has been broken into and that his art supplies have been stolen. But the very next day, Bloot arrives and asks him to some play.

This raises some questions: why did Terry not follow up on the burglary? Did he have some suspicions about who might have broken in? Does Terry call someone, like a parent, or the police? I feel like we have some missing information here. I would like you to expand this section and use my questions as a way to do this.

The fact that Bloot arrives the next day will be a whole other paragraph, and it goes better with paragraph 3. For example, moving onto Paragraph 3:

Paragraph 3:

The next day Bloot rang the doorbell and asked “Would you like to come over?” Terry said yes and they set off into the woods. At Bloot’s place be found many art supplies. He then asked Bloot if he could paint. Bloot stayed and they painted and painted and painted until the day passed and Terry went home. Terry then painted “Terry draws like coarse Bloot.”

See how I moved those sentences from the 2nd paragraph to the 3rd one? If you read them, does it make a little more sense now? This is the only area in which you didn’t split paragraphs but now you know why: Terry found a burglary. His art supplies were stolen. The next day, Bloot arrives. These are two different events and so must go into another paragraph.

Just to give you an overall idea, the way I see it. Terry and Bloot meet, for the first time, at the store. They become friends. Then, after Terry discovers the burglary and the theft of his art supplies, he is upset. He thinks about what is going on and, when Bloot arrives the next day and they go to his house to paint, Terry might tell Bloot about the burglary. Together, they decide to look into this mystery and see if they can solve “The Case of the Missing Art Supplies”. Do you see how I have taken what you wrote, and pulled out a theme (look up this word)? Because your story sounds to me like it could be a mystery story, or a detective story, about two boys who investigate the bad guy who stole Terry’s art stuff. Do they catch him? What happens, I wonder?

Finally, your story needs a title. Now that you know a little bit more about it, go ahead and give it one. And again, well done. I wouldn’t mind seeing how you take your story and turn it into a mystery story, if you wanted to. To help you out, here is a quick outline that will get you going:

  1. Terry and Bloot meet at the store, where they are both buying lemons. Perhaps there are only a few lemons left and they start fighting over them. They realise how dumb this is and agree to stop fighting, preferring to be friends instead. Write a paragraph about them meeting, and include an adjective (a describing word) for each. So, Terry might be tall and Bloot might be short;
  2. In the second paragraph, Terry arrives home to find his study has been broken into. How does he know? Is the door broken? Is a window broken? Are there things lying around, making a mess? Then, he discovers his art supplies are missing. How does this make him feel? Is he angry? Sad? What does he think happened? Does he tell someone? Does he look for clues? Does he find a clue? Write about this and use one adjective (a describing word) to describe the study. Is it big? Is it small? Is it painted blue? I don’t know. Write it as you see it;
  3. In your third paragraph, Bloot arrives to play. They talk and agree to go to Bloot’s house. Use one adjective to describe Bloot’s house. While they are walking there, or maybe while they are painting, Terry tells Bloot about the burglary and his missing art supplies. Maybe he tells Bloot about the clue he found; and
  4. Write a final paragraph, where the boys discuss – maybe – going off and investigating. What things do you think they will need? Will they need a backpack with detective stuff? If so, what kind of stuff? Torches, rope, maybe a notebook? What kinds of things would you put in your detective bag, if you were Terry or Bloot? Describe these items.

And then, when you are done, you have the beginning of a mystery story. You might even want to carry on. I know I would.

Again, thanks very much for your story, <<withheld>>, I enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing where you can take it! Take your time, and look out for important writing rules, like punctuation. Doing it right will mean that people will enjoy reading it more.

Until then,