7 tips to help see the stories around you

People often ask me where I get my ideas from, and I usually can’t give them an answer. My ideas don’t usually come from any one experience or place, but weave themselves together from hundreds of moments.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to create the conditions where a story can grow. Here are my top tips for story-building:


1) Read everything you can

Seriously, everything. Fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, advertisements, even cereal boxes if that’s all you have. Join the library and read their books once you’ve exhausted your in-house supply. You can’t write well until you have experience as a reader. Get to know the ways other people construct narratives, see how they use words to make the reader feel certain ways or believe certain ideas. Look for patterns in the way stories are told, make notes of good ideas if you like. This is important groundwork in getting your own story written (and a great excuse to take some me-time to read some great books!).


2) Look properly

Most people filter out a lot of things when they’re out and about. A good writer sees EVERYTHING, from weeds in the pavement to graffiti on walls, from the lovely old couple who hold hands outside the launderette to a pair of pigeons fighting over popcorn crumbs. You never know what will be the seed of a future story, so file it all away in your amazing brain. Visit art galleries and museums to see how ideas have been expressed through time.


3) Narrate your life

This bit sounds crazy, but it really helps. Trust me. The best way to hone your narrative skills is to start by narrating your own life, either in your head or in a notebook or diary. Think about the order in which events occur, which events depend on particular things having happened first. All stories have structure and narrative, even the mundane ones of getting up, dressed and out of the house. Build up descriptions of people you know well. If you can describe them clearly, you’ve got a head start when it comes to bringing your characters to life.


4) Banish the blank page

The blank page is terrifying, and blocks creative thought. When I’m starting a story on paper, I often make a huge scribble in the middle of the page and write key words around it. If I’m working on a screen, I type words at random and look for words that look like they would go well together. It doesn’t matter what you put to kill the blank page, you can take it away later once your beautiful story takes shape. Once you have a basic plot down, try writing chapter headings to draw the reader through the story without giving too much away.


5) Know your characters

Every story has at least one character. You need to know that character well to write about them. If you are having trouble making your character believable, try “interviewing” them in a notebook. Basic details about name, age, where they’re from, then think about things that may never be in the story such as the character’s favourite book, or which chocolate they would choose from a box of chocolates. It’s like the game “If you were a car, which car would you be”, but for your character. Everything you decide about your character will make them more complete in your head, and your head is the place where the story will grow. The better you know your character’s foibles, the better placed you are to know how they’ll react to situations, and the better that character will be.


6) Make mistakes

Every author makes mistakes, in fact everyone who is successful at anything in life has failed on the way to success. The trick is to see failure as a step towards future success. Celebrate small wins, such as finishing a chapter or writing more words than yesterday. Learn from small failures and move on quickly to focus on the next success. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, and this is especially true for writing.



7) Edit and rewrite

The most important and sadly most neglected part of writing a story is the rewriting and editing stage. This can easily take longer than writing it in the first place. It will feel like you’re taking the guts out of your perfect masterpiece, pulling apart the story and chopping and changing bits, but it is vital. Get honest (blunt) people to read and comment on your manuscript. It’s better to find out about plot holes and proofing errors at this stage than after publication. When you’ve rewritten at least once, leave the manuscript for at least a day before reading it again. You’ll see new errors (everyone does, no matter how carefully you rewrote it, or how much experience you have!). Repeat this process as many times as necessary to perfect your work.

Once your story is written, you’ll need to format it for publication, either as an ebook or a print book. Read my free PDF of Short Story Lady ebook publishing advice for help with this stage.  I can format your book for you, at reasonable rates. Contact me to discuss your requirements.

You have a special way of seeing the world, and a unique experience of life, ready to build a story only you can write.

Get out there and give it a go, you have nothing to lose!

Big Bear is Missing!

Once there was a little girl, in a land far away. She had a bear called “big bear”. He was almost as big as she was, although she remembered a time when he was bigger (or she was smaller, she didn’t quite have the hang of that yet).
Big Bear looked after the little girl every night, and kept all the monsters away. He was brave and strong, and the little girl loved him with all her heart.

Big Bear One night, at bedtime, Big Bear was nowhere to be found. The little girl searched all through the house, and put up posters throughout the land asking if anyone had seen him. she got no replies, and eventually went to bed in tears as she missed her Bear.
As she lay in bed, she could hear the monsters outside, so she shut her eyes tight, and hid under the covers. She cried ” Big Bear, come and help me, save me from the monsters” and she heard the door open. It wasn’t her mum or dad, whoever it was, they were quite small. She looked again, and found it was her Big Bear, come to the rescue. He scared the monsters away, then the little girl cuddled him all night. Big Bear stayed with the little girl all night long, and promised not to go away again.
Big Bear and the little girl had many adventures, and lived
The End

Super William and the Football Tryouts

Once upon a time, there was a boy called William. He was no ordinary boy, he had magical powers far beyond his years. One day William was kicking a ball in the school playground when he noticed his friend Rocky needed his help. Rocky had kicked a football onto the school roof, and needed to get it down. What’s more, it wasn’t even Rocky’s ball, it belonged to the headmaster!
William knew it was time to use his magic, so he ran in a big circle around the playground, gaining speed, then held out his coat like a pair of aeroplane wings and flew into the sky. He swooped round the playground, onto the roof, and fetched the ball down. Once the ball was down, William kicked the ball up almost a mile into the air, bounced it on his knee, and kicked it into the goal, past the biggest boy in school! Rocky was amazed at William’s magic powers, but the headmaster had seen it all, and called William to his office.

William was worried about going to the headmaster’s office, but he tried to be brave because he knew he’d done the right thing rescuing the ball from the roof. The headmaster came in, but he didn’t look cross, he looked very happy. He told William he was not only a headmaster, he was also a top football coach, and he wanted William to try out for his football team. He also gave William a Headmaster’s award for being a good friend to Rocky.
William went home that day and told his mum the news. She was surprised to hear about the headmaster’s secret job, but was pleased that William had been such a good friend, and that he had the opportunity to try out for a football team. William practised every day to improve his football skills until the day of the football tryouts.
William felt very small next to the grown-ups on the team, but he remembered that he was the best at football, and concentrated on the ball. When William’s turn came, he had to take a penalty against an enormous goalie. William took three steps back from the ball, concentrated very hard, and ran as fast as he could towards the ball, giving it his best kick ever. The ball shot at lightning speed towards the goalie, and went into the goal so fast it burst right through the net!
Nobody on the team had ever seen such a good footballer, and they signed him for the team straight away. William kept training and practising, became the world’s best footballer, and lived
The End

The Hare and the Fox

In times past, the hare looked very different to how we see him today, his tail was long and bushy, his feet were neat and small, his legs were long, and his ears were short.
You may wonder how he came to look the way we see him today, well, it just so happens that I know a story about just that.
Back when the world was young and fresh, there lived a hare, the father of all hares. There also lived

a wily fox, whose most fervent desire was to eat that same hare, but the hare eluded him.
One day, the hare woke the fox by tickling poor foxy’s nose with his long bushy tail. Fox woke with a start and snapped at the offending tail, catching it in his teeth. Hare knew he was in trouble, so he tugged at the tail, but it was stuck fast in the fox’s strong jaws. Hare took his knife and chopped off his long bushy tail, leaving a short bushy bob. He ran faster and further than he had ever run, to get away from the fox.
The fox tied Hare’s tail to the end of his own as a trophy, then pursued the hare. Such a chase had not been seen before in this new world, sometimes the fox would gain, sometimes the hare, but for days upon days they raced, and as they raced, unknown to them, their bodies were changing.
Fox’s muzzle became longer, as he frowned with concentration trying to catch the hare. The white fluffy hare’s tail he had tied to his brush merged in until it could not be untangled (that is why foxes have two colours to their tails today).
The hare ran so far and so fast that his small feet flattened and lengthened, while his legs bunched up into the springy legs we know today. The hare became tired of turning his head to hear his pursuer’s footsteps, so he learned to turn his ears, which lengthened to better catch the sound.
The chase continues to this day, sometimes a fox will catch a hare, most times he won’t, but a fox will always chase a hare, and a hare will always taunt a fox, neither of them knowing how their actions have shaped them.
But we know, don’t we?

The Ugly Duckling

Once there was a nest, and in the nest there were five eggs. They were duck eggs, and the mother duck looked after them until they began to hatch. One by one the little ducklings emerged from their eggs, all eyes and beaks, and fluffy yellow down. four hatched, but the last egg, the largest egg, took its time. It was a full week later than the rest, and the chick that emerged was like none the mother duck had ever seen. It was larger than its siblings, with a longer beak, and its down was grey instead of yellow. The mother duck tried to love her strange chick as much as the others, but the ducklings were not so kind. They taunted the newcomer, nicknaming him the “Ugly Duckling”.

The Ugly Duckling was unhappy, but still he tried his hardest to fit in. He tried swimming with his siblings, but his long legs kept getting tangled in the water weed. He tried bobbing his head under the water to dabble for plants at the bottom of the pond, but his long neck meant he invariably got a mouthful of mud. He tried to join the other ducklings, shouting “cheep cheep” in their high-pitched voices, but his own voice was harsh and low-pitched, and said “Hooonk”.  After a particularly difficult day, where the Ugly Duckling felt he could do no right, he resolved to run away where he could do no harm.

The next morning, the ducks awoke to find the Ugly Duckling was missing. The mother duck looked high and low, but could find no sign of her odd duckling. By then he was far away, among the reeds by a river, and there he stayed all winter long, living alone and finding his own food.

One spring morning, the Ugly Duckling awoke to an odd sound, a hooting, honking sound. He looked for the source of the sound, and saw a flock of the most magnificent birds he had ever seen. They had long, graceful necks, broad white wings and strong yellow beaks. He plucked up all his courage, and spoke to them in a small voice “er, excuse me, but what kind of birds are you?”  The largest of the flock turned his majestic head toward the Ugly Duckling quizzically, and said “we’re swans, like you”.  The Ugly Duckling didn’t know what to make of this statement, so replied “but I’m a duck, and not a very good one at that”.

The swans beckoned him out into open water, and looked him up and down. “you’re definitely a swan, and a fine handsome one at that! No wonder you didn’t fit in! A duck indeed!” The swans bade the Ugly Duckling swim to a calm area of water, that he could see his reflection in the looking-glass smoothness of the water’s surface. The Ugly Duckling was astounded at the sight that met his eyes. Gone was the straggly grey down, replaced by sleek white feathers. His long neck was now strong and graceful, and his wings were broad and strong. The other swans said ” join our flock, and we’ll show you how to curve your neck, how to preen your new white feathers, and best of all, how to fly for hundreds of miles, to see far off lands, and taste exotic grasses.”

They gave him a new name “Handsome Swan”, and he grew strong and happy in the company of his flock. He was renowned throughout the land as the finest swan around, and he lived




The End

Once upon a time, there were three billy goats

Once upon a time, there were three billy goats. They were brothers, one was small, one was middle-sized and one was huge, and they lived in a valley, eating the grass of the meadows.

Every day, they looked across the valley at the lush green grass on the other side, but they couldn’t get over to eat it, because the only bridge over the rushing river was guarded by a terrible troll who ate all passing creatures.

The goats thought how they might defeat the troll to cross the bridge.

One afternoon, the smallest goat approached the bridge. His little hooves went “tip, tap, tip, tap” on the bridge, and out came the troll, shouting “WHO’S THAT TIP TAPPING OVER MY BRIDGE? I’M A BIG SCARY TROLL AND I’LL EAT YOU FOR LUNCH!!!”

“Err, I’m only a tiny billy goat, mostly skin and bones, don’t eat me mr troll sir” trembled the little goat “my brother is coming along, he’s much bigger and fatter than me, you should eat him instead”

The little goat tip-tapped across the bridge and away, and the troll sat drooling under the bridge, anticipating his lovely goaty dinner.

Later that day, along came the middle goat, Trip Trap Trip Trap, on the bridge. Out came the troll, shouting “WHO’S THAT TRIP TRAPPING OVER MY BRIDGE? I’M A BIG SCARY TROLL AND I’LL EAT YOU FOR DINNER!!!”

The middle billy goat replied (his knees trembling a little) “I’m really not much bigger than my little brother, not very much of a meal. Our big brother is coming along, he’s biggest of all, you should eat him.”


The middle goat Trip-Trapped off to join his brother, and the troll settled under the bridge to await his feast.

Later still, along came the biggest goat “BOOM, BOOM” went his hooves on the bridge. Out came the troll, “WHO’S THAT BOOM BOOMING OVER MY BRIDGE? I’M A BIG SCARY TROLL AND I’LL EAT YOU FOR SUPPER!”

The huge goat lowered his head, showing his big curly horns, and replied “I’m a big scary billy goat, and I’ll eat YOU for supper!”, and the goat charged at the unfortunate troll, knocking him clean off the bridge, up into the air. The troll landed with a splash in the rushing river and was never seen again.

The three goats, however, ate the lush green grass and in time were all as big as each other, and they all lived Happily Ever After

The End

Back when the world was brand new

Back when the world was brand new, and half of it still had the wrappers on, there lived a frog called Tiddalik. He was greedy, he had always been, there was no other way for him to be.

One day he went to the watering hole. The other creatures greeted him, but Tiddalik just smiled his broad smile, as frogs do, and began to drink. He drank so much that he drank the watering hole dry, then he waddled off to find more water.

He went to the mighty river Nile, and drank it from the delta to the source. He went to the blue oceans and drank those too.

By now, he was the size of a mountain, and still as greedy as he ever was.

The creatures stood in the hot new sun, and they were thirsty, some were dying from thirst.

Now it just so happened that there was a creature who could help. He was called Echidna, and mostly he walked alone, because his back was covered with spikes, and nobody could get too close without being prickled.

The creatures begged Echidna for help, so he crept up behind Tiddalik, turned his back on the enormous creature, and fired his spines. Where the spines landed, they punctured Tiddalik’s leathery skin, and shoots of water came out, filling up the oceans, the rivers and the watering holes. Tiddalik was unhappy, as his stretched skin flapped around him, his wide mouth made an impressive frown, but the creatures told him “never again will you be so greedy, Tiddalik, the water is for all of us to share”

Tiddalik found a home under the sands, and hid there as he was ashamed. To this day, if you look carefully, in just the right places, you can still find Tiddalik hiding under the desert sands, full of all the water he can drink, for though ashamed, he is still greedy!

Ben and the Midnight Mouse

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Ben. He was playing in his bedroom when he noticed a toy he’d never seen before, a tiny mouse toy with a pink nose. He picked it up, and touched his nose to the mouse’s, and the mouse came to life! The mouse said his name was Sam, and he was a travelling mouse. Wherever Ben wanted, they could travel, but only for an hour at midnight, because the midnight hour is the most magical.

Ben waited until midnight, asked to visit the moon, and Sam Mouse took him there in a shake of his tail.
They played among the moon rocks until their hour was up, then Ben found himself back in his room.
The next night they went to Rio and joined in a carnival, dancing and celebrating until the hour was up.
Each night they had adventures in different places until one day Ben came back from school to find his mum had tidied his room. All his toys were neatly put away, but Sam Mouse was nowhere to be found!
Ben’s mother said that as she was tidying she saw a little girl crying outside, and had given her the mouse to cheer her up.
Ben grew up to be an adventurer, travelling the world to see all the places he’d visited with Sam Mouse. Eventually, he met the little girl who his mother had given Sam mouse to (she in turn had passed it on to another child) and they travelled together, and lived Happily Ever After
The End.

A man walked along a beach one morning…

A man walked along a beach one morning, when he heard a voice singing from behind some rocks. He sought out the source of the song, and found a grey seal, lying alone in the cave, crying silver tears and singing so sad a song that the man pitied the beast. He wrapped the seal in his own coat and sang along with it as the sun rose in the sky.

The seal’s silver tears soaked into the man’s coat, giving it a shimmer, so that as night fell and the seal’s song ended, the coat fair glowed in the moonlight. The man brought the seal to the water’s edge and sent it into the waves, promising to return the next day. He wore the coat home, and when his friends asked what had happened at the beach he replied “I met a friend, and we sang the day away”.

The next day he returned to the beach, but the seal was not there. The man searched, and eventually saw a fishing boat on the horizon. He ran to fetch his own rowing boat and met the fisherman. The fisherman said his net was caught on something, so the two men pulled together, but the net didn’t budge. The man saw his seal friend bobbing in the waves, and he knew what to do. Still wearing his silvered coat, he jumped into the water and swam to the sea bed to free the net. The net was caught on the prow of a sunken ship, but as the man reached out to untangle it, he noticed his hand had turned to a seal’s flipper. He saw his friend beside him, and together they freed the net.
As the man rose to the surface he returned to human form, but his coat was no longer silvery.

He told the fisherman of the sunken ship, and the fisherman spoke of a local legend about a long lost ship, that sank in ages past. All had been rescued except a little girl who had been asleep in a bunk right at the bottom if the ship. It was said that on starlit nights, she sang to travellers to guide them home.

The man then understood, and swam back down to the wreck, where he found a doll, long lost on the sea bed. He brought it to the surface, rowed it to shore, and left it in the cave where he first met the seal. He waited until nightfall in the cave, and the seal returned.

“I found your doll”, he said to the seal, and as the seal touched the doll, she turned into a little girl, and when the little girl looked up at him, her eyes were like the seal’s eyes, and silver tears dried on her cheeks.

The man took the little girl home to his own family, and they lived Happily Ever After

The End.

Once there was a tailor…

Once there was a tailor, and he was famous throughout the land as he wove the finest fabrics to make magnificent garments for kings and emperors.

One king set out to find the tailor’s secret. He travelled far and wide until he saw a forest with strange lights glowing in the centre. He entered the forest and found himself in a fairy glen, bedecked with fireflies and will-o-the-wisps.

In the centre of the glen was the famous tailor, and he listened to the fairy’s stories. As he listened, gossamer threads appeared in the air between them, which he skilfully wove into a fabric. The king was about to leave, glad he had discovered the secret at last, when he stepped on a twig, and the fairies stopped their tales, and the tailor stopped his weaving, and they all turned to look at the king.
The tailor invited him into the glen.

“It is time to weave your story into the fabric, you have found my tapestry of words, you must add your own”.

The king sat down and recounted his adventures, and as he spoke, the tailor took the very words from the air, and span them into shimmering threads, then wove them into as fine a fabric as you have ever seen.

When the king had finished speaking, the tailor sewed the fabric into a cloak, then handed a needle and some scissors to the king.

The king was surprised, and asked why he had been given such fine gifts.

“It is the curse of the story weaver to carry the needle until such a time as he can weave a cloak from the life of another. I have woven your life into my cloak, and shall wear it henceforth. I wear your life and it is mine.”

The truth dawned on the king “but what will I do without my life?”

The tailor had put the cloak on, and looked just like the king now “I have been where you are now, and my advice to you is to do the very best story weaving you can, for once you have woven the finest stories you will ignite the curiosity of one who will tell you theirs, and perhaps one day we shall meet at my palace.”

The old king replied “you mean my palace!”, but found himself alone, save for the needle and scissors. He set out to search for stories to weave, a long journey, and the hope of redemption.