Last year, I was teaching my year 10 class and had asked them to write a gothic story in 200 words and in 20 minutes... The look on their faces was one of horror. However, this is an important skill in the current GCSE system. Students have 45 minutes to write a story or description at the end of a gruelling GCSE exam paper. For most students the time constraints of the first 4 questions means that they actually have far less than the 45 minutes in reality. So faced with 15 horror-struck faces, I decided I would put my money where my mouth was. The task was difficult but this is what I produced. Stay tuned for my top tips.
Under the roof of stars the old church stood, long forgotten. Its arched windows gazed out at the cemetery below. Crumbling, the roof jutted upwards, as if reaching desperately for the heavens. Grass and brambles crept through the forgotten building, the only thing still living in this macabre landscape.
Voices slowly started to penetrate the silence of the night and eventually from behind a tombstone slid a pale girl, dressed in a tatty nightdress and clutching a dirty one-eyed teddy. Her brown eyes looked like pools that went on forever and widened as she caught sight of the towering church.
“It’s okay teddy,” she spoke soothingly. “Mummy will be here soon. She said to meet her at the church. She won’t forget us.” The girl sat down on the large stone step holding her knees; her eyes shot around at the surrounding trees that seemed to loom over her and stretch witch-like hands before her.
Time went slowly.
The clock on the church refused to budge; time had stopped here long ago. The girl and her teddy waited. Night continued. No light would ever again reach this church. The girl and her teddy wait there still, hopeful for her lost mother. Trapped forever in this limbo, she wanders the graveyard, around the church, never pausing to read the gravestone that reads her name.
These are my tips on how to write a story in 20 minutes:
1) Always know where your story is going. You should know from the start what is going to happen at the climax of your story - this should be the big exciting moment that your piece is working towards. If you don't know where it is going, you won't know which direction to take it in and it will end up being a mess you can't write your way out of.
2) Keep it short. Obviously it is going to be short in length if you only have 20 minutes, or even if you have the full 45. However, it should also be short in terms of the time that you are writing a story about. There is no point trying to write an epic story spanning decades or even months or weeks in 20 minutes. Tell a story of a moment in time as I did above and then tell it in detail.
3) Have a few stories up your sleeve. The story I told is not new; there have been numerous films and books in which a character doesn't realise they are dead. Borrow and steal twists and climaxes from stories you like and make them your own. It is worth having a handful of these stories ready and revised in a story. The likelihood is that you will be able to adapt your story for the question you have been given. For example if you are asked to tell a story about a person you cared about, my story could be adapted so that it is told from the point of view of the girl and more emphasis could be on her love for her mother; if the question asked you to write a story about a time you went to the beach, the description could be of a wild beach-side cemetery again told from the point of view of the girl.
4) The description, action, speech formula. Most stories need description (of people and places), action and speech. Speech is probably the area that can be missed out most successfully but some well-placed speech can be a really effective way of developing a character. Therefore, I always try to write keeping these three areas in mind. As I start each paragraph, I ask myself which area has been missed in recent paragraphs and let this lead me. If I have not had any description for a couple of paragraphs, for example, I may decide this is the moment for a description of the place or the character that is currently the focus.
These are just a few of the ways that you can successfully write a short story. If you need help with story-writing or literacy and live in the Oxenhope, Keighley, Haworth area, then come to one of my classes for school-age students. Contact me too if you are an older aspiring or hobby writer who wants to get back into writing! Call 07743378429.