1. A lot of people don’t know this, but you mostly write with your bottom!
By which I mean that you have to park your bottom on a chair before you pick up your pen or pencil. It is the hardest part of writing. It’s so easy to find an excuse not to sit down and start writing: there’s always something interesting to look at out of the window; or perhaps it’s worth emptying everything out of your bag to check whether there are any left-over smarties lying about in the bottom, or maybe it’s time to see how far you can flick a rubber band?
RESIST ALL THESE THINGS AND SIT DOWN ON YOUR BOTTOM!
Sit down at your desk with a pen and paper and resist every urge to get up again until you have written at least a paragraph. After the first paragraph, you can get up and do some skipping, or see if you can throw three scrunched up balls of paper into the wastepaper basket in a row, but only allow yourself FIVE minutes – then sit down again, and write at least another paragraph. I promise you that eventually, something magic will happen. You will suddenly look up and see that half an hour has passed and you have written five paragraphs in a row without even thinking about it.
2. Think hard about your main character before you start writing
Most good stories are about interesting characters, more than they are about the plot: Harry in Harry Potter; Ratty and Mole in The Wind in the Willows; the BFG in The BFG. It’s worth noting down, on a separate piece of paper, everything you can think of about your main character or characters before you start writing. You might not use everything you know about them in your story, but it will help you understand how they might react in any situation. For instance, if your main character is shy, timid, and scared of the dark, you know how they’ll behave in a dark cave with an angry dog.
3. One trick I use when I’m thinking up characters is to think of someone I actually know and use all their characteristics – but for someone completely different. Shhhh...
For example, I know a little four-year-old boy who is obsessed with the film School of Rock. He runs around all the time playing air guitar and sticking his tongue out. Wouldn’t it be fun to give those characteristics to an old granny? My seven-year-old niece is very good at staring competitions. It’d be great to have someone serious – a bank manager, or a politician – who behaved like her, always starting staring competitions and dressing up as a fairy as soon as he got home. Or, the other way around, a baby that behaves like an adult, like in Boss Baby.
4. Try to write more than just ‘what happens’
It’s easy to get stuck in the plot of a story: ‘Then they went to the castle. Then they killed the dragon. Then the prince and the princess got married.’ We want to know what they were feeling as they went to the castle – Happy? Sad? Nervous? Was one of them just hungry? Or sulking because he wasn’t allowed to carry the sword? How did they kill the dragon? What happened to the dead dragon? (That always bothers me.) How do you get an enormous dead dragon out through the palace gates? Maybe they had a barbecue for the whole town and ate dragon burgers?
5. Sometimes a story can be quite small, but just as interesting
Don’t think you have to write an epic like a Harry Potter or The Hobbit. You could write a whole story about a group of people trapped in a single room: they start off happy, then one of them cracks, another of them finds a piece of cheese and keeps it to himself, people start arguing… Will they be rescued in time? Can they break out themselves? Is there an escape route they haven’t found? Was the door unlocked all the time?
6. Don’t be afraid to go back over your story and change it
You can always write it out again neatly when you’ve finished. Sometimes you get to a bit and you think ‘If only I’d made them bring the Russian doll with them when they first left the house…’ Well, you can make it happen! Just go back and put it in. One of the things I enjoy the most when I’m writing is going back and ‘laying in’ bits of information that will prove useful later in the story. For instance, in Tilly & the Time Machine, I needed Tilly to be able to move quickly from one time to another, so I went back to the moment she first used the machine and made the “GO” button fall off in her hand – then the button travelled with her and she could flit about in time, quite literally ‘at the touch of a button’.
7. Write to please yourself
Don’t write to please anyone else. If you please yourself, lots of other people will probably like it anyway.