16 Golden Rules of Creative Story Writing

Storytelling at its Finest

by Deborah Owen

Stories will differ in message, content, and characters, but each one must have more than theme, plot, and dialogue to be complete. Check your stories to ensure they contain the following 16 elements:

  • Theme – This is the thread that runs seamlessly from beginning to end telling the underlying morals of the story. For instance, Gone With the Wind is not about romance and war. It is about control, manipulation, and weak character.
  • Plot – Usually encased in the central climax scene, or possibly in a series of events.
  • Arcing – The gradual increase of momentum and interest that builds at the beginning, reaches a fever pitch in the middle, and declines into the resolutions of story conflicts at the end. Does your arc come too soon? Too late?
  • Pacing – Some stories move fast and some slow, but all of them move at some rate of speed. Use pacing to make them a combination of fast and slow according to the scenes. High climax scenes move fast.
  • Outline – Whether you do it mentally or by proper analysis, most writers will profit by some form of outlining. Knowing where your story is going will save on rewrites and editing.
  • Resolution – Have you ever watched a TV show and watched the story end, only to say, “But what happened to… ?” Be sure to tie up every loose end.
  • Hook – If you don’t have a hook in the first or second paragraph, you won’t have a reader to worry about entertaining!
  • Point of View – Which will you use? Right now, stories written in third person limited are the best sellers.
  • Story Essence – Every story has characters, theme, plot, and resolution. What makes your story different? Answer: The details.
  • Dialogue – The trick is to make it sound natural. Use contractions, poor English, and half sentences. Become a good eavesdropper and you’ll learn to write excellent dialogue.
  • Characterization – Every character must bear their own bag and baggage of physical descriptions, emotional hoopla, and psychological concoctions. This is what makes a character 3D. Make a list of the 50 characteristics of your two main characters.
  • Research – Absolutely essential! Sometimes it may only define how insane a person can be, how irresponsible parents are, or how careless children can become – but it’s still research.
  • Timeline – Are your scenes out of order? Does your flashback convey the reader back and forth in the proper way? While some authors may dwell on the same scene for a whole chapter, others will skip years in a single sentence. Make your timeline clear.
  • Setting – Your reader is landing in a new story. Let him know where he is. Hint: All stories use settings, but elite writers use imagery – settings that are mixed with one of the five senses. For example: The smell of salt in the air.
  • Verbiage – Believe it or not, you can delete 300-500 words out of every 2,500. Fall out of love with your work. Delete favorite phrases. Slash words that end in ­–ly. What remains will be solid meat.
  • Show, Don’t Tell – Every story must use some “telling,” but hold the narration down and show the scenes instead of telling them. One good way to do this is with dialogue. Here is an example that displays the difference between showing and telling.

Telling: “Mrs. Adams walked into the classroom with bloodshot eyes, visibly upset.”

Showing: “Mrs. Adams stormed into the classroom and slammed her books on the desk. Without looking at the class, she picked up the chalk and began writing on the blackboard. Her shoulders started to shake and she let out a sob.”

See the difference? In the first, you’re thinking for the reader. In the second one, you’re painting a picture and allowing the reader to think for him/herself. That’s the difference between showing and telling. General rule of thumb: never narrate emotions; always show them.

If you include all of these things in your story and it still doesn’t sell, either you need more help in some of these areas, or your sentence structure isn’t up to par. Best of luck!

And as always, be sure to check out www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and look into one of our fantastic creative writing courses!

How to Develop a Story

A Step-by-Step Rundown 

by Deborah Owen

There are many ways to form a story in your mind, but I have developed a unique approach that almost writes the story for you. Keeping in mind that every story must have plot, conflict, and resolution (not necessarily in that order) – I build the conflict first, then the resolution, and then the lead in. Notice I didn’t say the “plot”. The plot will develop by itself with this method.

Step 1

I’ll make up a story right now, as I type, to show you the process. I’m starting in the middle of my story because I’ll get into the action quicker, I’ll be able to identify most of the characters quickly, and the plot will develop more easily. FIRST, I’ll begin with the action scene that comes in the middle. I have no idea what it will be. I’ll think about high drama and tension and start there. (90 seconds of thinking.)

I will make this story about two abused children, a sister about aged 9 and her brother, aged 5. My mind begins with the action scene where an enraged stepfather chases them through a forest. They are hiding in a tiny washout in a bank that is covered by tree roots. They found it when the little boy sat down, leaned against the roots and fell into it.

The stepfather races through the forest, loudly calling their names. Gasping for air, he sits down and leans against the same tree, not three feet from where they are hiding. The children hold their breath in fear, lest he should fall into the hole and discover them.

Step 2

Okay. The anti-climax is done and my mind is thoroughly into the story. Next, I’ll create the ending. (Pause – thinking.) The children will come across a village they didn’t know existed. The people who live there dress in strange clothes, like a throwback in time.  They see a man who is a shoe cobbler, and a woman wearing wooden shoes that clack their way down the street.

The children run to the shoe cobbler and pant out their story to him. The cobbler alerts the townspeople that a huge, fierce man is coming and that he intends to harm the children. The townspeople hold a hurried meeting and decide to lay a trap to snare him.

The man walks into the trap, is caught, and put on trial. The people are merciless. In their eyes, there is no greater crime than abusing children. In such cases, they feel that ridding the earth of such a vile person is commendable – and they are commendable people. They hang him. The children live with the shoe cobbler and his wife, and they spend the rest of their natural lives with the townspeople.

Developing the lead will be easy now. What I want you to see is that jumping into a tragic scene mentally will naturally lead you to the number of characters you must have and who they are.

Step 3

Next, I have to answer some questions for the reader, such as, where is the mother all this time? My easy answer is that she’s dead. I can either state that or show it. Next, I have to tell my reader what happened to the natural father, and how the stepfather came into the picture. Or – I have a new idea. Maybe the real father is chasing them, but not to harm them. He’s trying to rescue them and their mother (who is no longer dead). Let’s suppose the mother married the stepfather because her first husband was supposedly killed in war, but now he’s back, trying to rescue her.

That puts the story into a happier mode, and it makes for a better plot. I’ll go with that. So the father is chasing them all this time, but the children think it is the stepfather, so they’re hiding in their little hole and waiting until he leaves. (Note the irony of having the father so near the children, and neither knows the other is there), and then they run to the village. The village people ensnare their father, thinking he is the stepfather who is trying to harm the children, but just before the hanging, the children see it is their father and he takes them home to their mother and they live happily ever after. Now I have to figure out what happened to the stepfather.

This is a very good way to build a story. I call it the DeBowen Story technique. Start writing in the middle of the climax scene, complete the story, and go back to write the introduction. Answer the questions of who, where, why, what, and how, and join it all together. It’s that simple.

The second ending I thought of at the last minute is better than the first because it has a twist, and because it has irony. Both of these are good writing tools.

There is something noteworthy here, and that is, you must always let the reader feel satisfied at the end of the story. That’s why you see very few stories with a sad ending. If you don’t satisfy your reader, they won’t want to read anything else you write.

This kind of story will run about 2,000 words. It will require two main characters (the real father and the oldest child). It will need at least three minor characters (the mother, little boy, and shoe cobbler). That’s an awful lot to cram into 2,000 words, but it can be done.

This DeBowen writing method will work for you every time. Try it. Let me know if you like the approach. And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out about our creative writing courses! Don’t forget to “like” and rate us before you go, and thanks for stopping by! Deb

Twist that Ending and Twist it Again

The Art to Twisting an Ending

by Deborah Owen

We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.

Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.

In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”

In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.

Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:

1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.

2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.

3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.

4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.

5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.

The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.

Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.

And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and check out our privately tutored writing courses. Sign up for monthly writing tips at http://www.cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.


 by Linda Cook, student of Creative Writing Institute

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing. We’re taking a Christmas story break. Here’s a true, heartwarming story you don’t want to miss. Let us publish your story, fiction or nonfiction, as long as it relates to Christmas. Up to 1,000 words. Send to DeborahOwen@cwinst.com.


       Hanging around the animal shelter parking lot on Christmas Eve was not how I had envisioned spending the afternoon. Pellets of hail bounced off the windows and hood. I had stopped and started the engine twice already, trying to stay warm. All I could think of was how much I had to do and there I sat, shivering, wasting time.

     Ted was late. I propped my head back against the seat, tugged my jacket tighter, closed my eyes, and let my thoughts drift. It all started at Ryan’s sixth birthday party. I couldn’t help but smile to myself, remembering his excitement.

     After tearing through birthday cards and gifts, he was anxious to get to the cake. I lit candles and everyone sang Happy Birthday. Ryan grinned, blue eyes full of sparkle and hope, and said, “Now I get to make my wish, right, Mom?”

     “Absolutely,” I replied.

     “You can’t tell what you wish for,” said his brother. “It won’t come true if you do.”

     “Oh, I won’t tell.” Ryan whispered, shaking his blonde head in agreement.

     He gave one mighty whoosh, snuffed all six candles, laughed and slapped high-fives with the group. 

     Later that evening, we tucked Ryan in for the night and listened as he ended his prayers with, “Thank you for my birthday, and don’t forget about my wish. Amen.”

     Every night thereafter, he reminded God about his wish, but we were clueless. In late November, he brought his scrawled Santa letter home from school.

     “Dear Santa. I know you and God are friends, but just in case He’s busy, please don’t forget to bring me a puppy for Christmas. I promise I’ll take good care of him. Love, Ryan.”

     We offered dozens of alternative gift ideas, hoping something would spark his interest, but his response was, “God and Santa know what I want, and I’m being real good.” And he was.

          He shoved toys into his toy chest and stuffed clothes into his closet. He volunteered for trash duty, and offered to set the table. It was inspiring to watch this energetic and life-loving boy battle distraction, trying so hard to be “real good.”

      Ted knocked at the window, scrunched under his umbrella, and I jolted upright.    

      “Sorry I’m late.  The meeting ran over and I couldn’t get away.”

       “Maybe we should skip it,” I said. “I’m still not sold on this.”

       “Don’t worry,” he said, giving me a shoulder bump. “We’re doing the right thing, helping out Santa and God. How can we disappoint Ryan? We can’t ignore prayers and letters to Santa. When a kid prays every night, his faith is strong, and somebody better be listening.”

       I sighed and nodded. “I know. You’re right. Let’s go take a look.”

      We huddled under the umbrella and ran for the shelter doors. A young lady glanced up as we entered the lobby. 

      “Merry Christmas,” she chimed. 

      “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

      “How can I help you? 

      “Our son has been praying and writing to Santa asking for a puppy for Christmas and that’s all he wants, so… here we are.”

     “That’s so cool. You’ve come to the right place. The dog kennels are down here.”

      We followed her, yaps and barks getting louder by the second. 

     “Oh, my! I had no idea there would be so many,” I said, glancing up and down the rows.

     “Yeah, it’s kinda sad. We always have lots of animals this time of year,” she said.

     “I’ll know the right dog when I see it,” Ted said. “I saw it in my dream. It’s tan with black and grey stripes.”

     I laughed. “You and your dreams.” But there he was, in the third kennel, curled up tight and tucked into a far corner of the metal cage. Tan with black and grey spots instead of stripes. Close enough. Ted hunkered down, unlocked the door, and reached to lift him. The pup wiggled, tail danced, and his entire body quivering in excitement.  He yipped, pink tongue hanging, legs scrambling to climb closer to Ted’s neck.

     “This is the one. Do you know what breed he is?  He’s all head and legs. Look at those feet!” Ted said.

     “Well, the card says Australian-German Shepherd mix. Expected to grow to about 35 pounds. He was the runt of an abandoned litter. This guy’s a friendly one. Should be great with kids.”

     My fears dissolved as my heart melted and I took a turn cuddling him. 

     “Ryan will be thrilled with this squirming bundle. He’ll fit right in with two rambunctious boys,” I said dodging his tongue. We finished the paperwork and stocked up on doggie snacks. He would live at Mother’s house for the night.

     Early Christmas morning, Santa made his puppy run. We stashed the pup in our kitchen. Warm and content, he snuggled into an old flannel blanket in his doggy box.

     It wasn’t long before both boys were up and racing toward the Christmas tree. Toby spotted his sock and the Shogun warrior he wanted. He plopped on the floor, absorbed in his gifts.

     Ryan crawled all around the tree, pushing packages here and there, and ignoring his stuffed stocking. He rocked back on his heels, eyes full, tears spilling down his cheeks, and whispered, “I guess I just wasn’t a good enough boy.”

     At that very moment, small howls erupted from the kitchen. Ryan leaped to his feet and raced for the sound. He dived into the box, and it was love at first sight. They frolicked and tumbled. Soon both boys were rolling and giggling while the puppy pounced and licked. Gifts sat forgotten. We weren’t sure who was happiest: Ted and I, the boys, or the dog.

     “See, Mom? I was right,” Ryan said as he nuzzled the pup against his cheek. “I told ya… Santa and God are friends.” 

     And that’s how Scooby joined our family. Though the pup grew to be 80 pounds, and he loved us all, there was never a question as to whose dog he was. Ryan and Scooby were best friends and loyal pals for thirteen years.  

      It seemed God and Santa knew just what they were doing.



Writing courses at Creative Writing Institute

Send your story to DeborahOwen@cwinst.com.

Get Published Now!

Get Published Right Away
Where do I submit my stuff?

By guest blogger, Annie Evett

Where do new writers get published? You’ve just finished writing material that you think is pretty good, but you’re not sure where to send it. Most writers begin their career by submitting to free publications such as e-anthologies (ebooks or pdfs available online), e-zines (online magazines or newsletters)or local newspapers. The thrill of seeing your name in the byline is reward enough, but accepted and published work also reinforces the belief that your work has some quality. It exposes your talents to a new audience, boosts your ego, and may pave the way to paid work.

When seeking publication, be sure to:

1. Check your work for:
• Grammatical and spelling errors
• Beta read by at least two other people. (Beta readers are people outside your immediate family or friend circle and who are more likely to give you constructive feedback. Their role is to give an impression of how your piece will be received by the audience you’re targeting. Beta readers don’t edit or correct your piece. Try to find someone with some writing experience.)
• Act upon their feedback
• Rewrite to perfection
• Submit to an editor (know the editor’s name)

2. Craft a cover letter and a short biography (up to 50 words)

3. Submit a publicity photo (clear head shot) of yourself in electronic format. Most publications will include this in your byline at the end of your piece.

4. Write a publishing goal for yourself and make a specific date. (Answer such questions as what is most important to you? To be paid? How much? To be published? Be recognized? Why? By whom?) Post your goal in a prominent place near your writing area. These answers will arm you with a basic level of professionalism.

Data bases of markets open to emerging writers:

Duotropes http://www.duotrope.com/
Worldwide Freelance http://www.worldwidefreelance.com/
Fiction Writing Markets http://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/markets.htm
The Short Story http://www.theshortstory.org.uk/prizes/
Writers Weekly http://www.writersweekly.com/markets_and_jobs.php
Womagwriter http://womagwriter.blogspot.com This blog highlights magazines that accept short story submissions across several countries. They also provide writers guidelines and the blog will keep you up to date with what’s happening in the market.

Also Open for Submissions:

Untitled http://www.untitledonline.com.au Fiction of any genre – 350 words to 5000 words.

Ether bookshttp://www.etherbooks.co.uk/ – open to any genre in fiction. Specifically looking at short stories or serial stories. This platform publishes to mobile devices and are available through itunes.

Global Short Stories http://www.globalshortstories.net – all genres all themes – short stories under 2000 words.

Noble Romancehttps://www.nobleromance.com Sweethearts (no sex or sexual overtones) and Erotica (more saucy)- Short Stories– 3-10K words. Novellas 10,001-29,999K, 30+K words and up for novels

Wet Inkhttp://www.wetink.com.au A magazine of new writing – open to fiction (including genre fiction), creative non-fiction, poetry, memoir, essays and opinion pieces

eFiction http://authors.efictionmag.com/ online monthly magazine – all genres

Red Asylumhttp://theredasylum.webs.com/ Quarterly online magazine, devoted to the discovery and publication of dark and twisted stories.

Lyrical Press http://www.lyricalpress.com Seeking erotica, romance, and urban fantasy short stories (15K) through to novels

Got your stories posted on your site and want some readers? These sites are community-run listings of online fiction where you can post a link to your stories and go and check out other writers work. This is particularly handy in order to get feedback from other writers and build your own support group.

Webfiction http://webfictionguide.com/
Write Anythings Fiction Friday http://wa.emergent-publishing.com/writing-prompts/
Mad Utopia http://MadUtopia.com/blog/fridayflash/what-is-fridayflash/

Make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully – and good luck!

For more great tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com. Please take a moment to rate this article and make a comment. Bookmark us! Happy day!