Writing advice beginning writers

Writing Advice for New Writers

By James Van Pelt
Nov 30, 2019 · 403 words · 2 minutes

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Photo by Green Chameleon via Unsplash.

From the author: If I had to boil storytelling to its essence, this is it.


Each year I taught the Science Fiction class in the high school, I asked my students to write a science fiction story, but it was a literature class, not a creative writing one, so I didn’t have the time to have them do the exercises that a writing class would do.  They had to write the story with very little instruction.

The first exercise to get them into the storytelling mode was to write their own “Global Dispatches.”  This was a follow up to studying H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.  The students were to write their own version of what they experienced during the week-long invasion of Earth by the Martians as if it happened in Grand Junction today.  The idea was that their story would be a bit of oral history, as if a historian came to town after the invasion to talk to the people who made it through to the end.  I got the idea from Kevin Anderson’s brilliant anthology, War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, that told Wells' story from the point of views of famous personages who were alive when the invasion would have happened had it been real.

The objective of the assignment was to get the kids into storytelling mode, but I needed to boil down the instructions to what I thought was the essence of making a story interestingly dramatic (because without instruction, most of them would write tons of exposition that didn’t read like a story).

Here’s the advice I put up on the board for them as they worked on their narratives:

Writing Stories that Work

– Write in scenes–don’t summarize!

  • Tell the reader at least 3 details from different senses
  • Tell the reader what the character did or what happened
  • Tell the reader how the character felt about what he/she did or what happened.
  • Use your imagination and your knowledge to provide specific details in the scene.  If you don’t know details, make them up.
  • Put your fingers on the home row (if you are typing), close your eyes, and then start.  The words will be on the page, but the story is in your head.  Be in your head, not on the page.

This assignment presented this way almost always seemed to work and their narratives were much more interesting.  The quickest form of the list is this: scenes, senses, actions, feelings, specific details, close your eyes.


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James Van Pelt

An interviewer asked the author if he wanted to be the next Stephen King: he said, "No, I want to be the first James Van Pelt."