Awesome Author short story Workshop 2021

I’m a judge of the Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors Youth Writing Contest again this year, and I’ll be giving a virtual workshop on January 23rd to help young writers aged 9-12 create short stories. We’ll follow a 7-step process to go from no ideas to complete stories. Here’s the gist.


Turning Words into Plots

My dog Ernest as a puppy
Puppies are cuter than closets.
  1. Pick a word, any word:

river / prize / puppy / closet / lizard /nest / staircase / soup

I choose “closet.” (It’s a boring choice. I’m leaving the best words for you.)

  1. Think of three story situations, premises or images, to go with that word.

e.g., for “closet,”

  1. A person is hiding in a closet.
  2. A kitten is trapped in a closet.
  3. A closet is a portal to another dimension.

Pick one of those premises to expand into a story. I choose #1, “A person is hiding in a closet.”

  1. Identify questions to help expand your premise into a story.
a clothes closet
Is my closet too dull? Yes.

e.g., for “A person is hiding in a closet:”

Who is hiding? In whose closet? Who is with them? Who knows they’re there?

What kind of closet? What is in the closet? What does it smell like in there?

When are they hiding? What time of day? of year? What year?

Where is the closet? In a house? A hotel? A theatre? A hospital? What country? What planet?

How long have they been hiding? How are they going to get out without being seen?

Why are they hiding? (The biggest question of all.)

  1. Answer your questions. (They may lead to more questions — that’ good.)
question marks

Who? A girl is hiding; in her sister’s closet; she’s alone; the dog knows she’s there. (Does the dog give her away?)

What? It’s a walk-in bedroom closet, with shelves and racks, a shoe tree, and a hamper. It smells like dirty gym clothes.

When? It’s January 2021, 9:00 p.m. (The sister is out with friends, not due back until 10:00.)

Where? A small house, a duplex, in an Ottawa suburb. A nice crime-free neighbourhood.

How? She hid just now when she heard her sister come up the stairs early. She can’t get out without being seen while the sister is there.

Why? She was borrowing a sweater without permission. Sneaking it. As little sisters do.

  1. Plan – or write – a story opening based on your answers.

e.g., Planning:  A girl is borrowing her sister’s sweater without permission when she hears her sister and friends coming up the stairs, so she hides in the closet.

Writing: Nala would have my head on a stake if she knew I was in here borrowing her pink cashmere cardigan. It’s buried in a drawer with T-shirts and hoodies– she really needs to organize this closet. And install an air freshener. Oh no! Someone’s coming up the stairs! I squeeze among the dresses and hold my breath….

6. Think of a problem that arises from the situation you’ve created. This is your story.

plot chart
Your inciting incident will launch your plot.

e.g., While hiding, the girl overhears the sister and friends talk about a shocking secret….

(They’re aliens? They’re bullying someone? They’re plotting murder? They’re running away?)

They’ve been robbing people at night, stealing things left in cars and on porches. They’re criminals! And super pleased with themselves.

What is the girl going to do with this information? Will she tell? Will she keep silent? Will she join their crime spree? Or will she right their wrongs? (She’ll right their wrongs. Eventually.)

  1. Think of ways to make the problem harder, obstacles to overcome, challenges to face, and maybe an ending to aim for.

e.g.,

  • The sister says she’ll hide the loot in the closet — tense moment! — but ends up hiding it beneath the bed.
  • The loot is a pricey electric guitar, and the hiding girl knows (or finds out) who owns it and how important it is to him.
    • Maybe it belonged to his father or he worked for a year to buy it or he borrowed it from music school and will have to pay for it.
    • Maybe he’s her crush and she always hoped he would write her a song on that guitar.
    • Maybe he’s the leader of a violent gang and will take revenge on whoever stole it.
  • She’s a timid girl who just wants this problem to go away, but it weighs on her. Maybe she idolized her sister and her idol is shattered now. She questions everything she knows about her family.
  • Maybe she finds more stolen goods around the house – or her parents do. And they’re police officers.
  • Maybe the sister frames her for the theft. Or the girl returns the guitar to its owner but he blames her for the theft.
  • Maybe the girl tries to find out why her sister is stealing and help her find a better path.
  • Or maybe she just grabs the guitar and becomes a busker?

There are many plot possibilities. But the girl will not let these crimes keep happening. Right?

Get writing.

template

Try this 7-step Word into Story process with other words, too. Find a template here:

Need more ideas?

  1. Do a character sketch.
silhouettes

Find a Character Sketch template here:

Afterward, review your sketch for plot potential.

(e.g., If you character has 3 siblings, she can confide in one. If she has always dreamed of being a rock star, she’d be tempted to keep the guitar for herself. If she’s afraid of small spaces, she might have a panic attack in the closet and burst out in the middle of the thieves’ conversation.)

Find a character workshop to go with the sketch here: 

https://catherineausten.com/2020/05/01/young-writers-workshop-know-your-character/

  1. Do a setting sketch.
setting sketch template

Find a Setting sketch template here

Afterward, review your sketch for plot potential.

(e.g., If there is a hedge in character’s front yard, she could hide behind it with binoculars and spy on the thieves. If there’s a bus stop at the top of the street, she could run into the guitar owner as he gets off the bus, his head hung low and no guitar on his shoulder.)

Find a Setting workshop to go with the sketch here: 

https://catherineausten.com/2019/02/08/young-writers-workshop-setting-exercise/

  1. Start writing.
cat on journal

Even if you have no ideas beyond a word or image, begin to write your story. Write whatever comes into your mind.

Ideas will rise up to meet you on the page.  🙂

Happy writing!

%d bloggers like this: