As a professional ( and often published in The Neopian Times) writer, I am
frequently Neomailed with questions about how to write well, or how to refine
one's writing skills. Because of this, I have put together this three part writing
workshop to help aspiring writers hone their skills.
Everyone (yes, this means you!) can write a series. The key elements to series
writing are imagination, ideas, and continuity between installments.
Determine your Skill Level
How are/were your language arts grades? The more proficient you are with the
elements of grammar and style, the more intelligent and comprehensible your
writing will be. If you are not very skilled in the language arts, work on improving
your spelling and grammar skills first. This is something that will benefit
you for your entire life. If you have a reasonable proficiency in the language
arts, and can understand how grammar and tense operate, you're ready to write.
If you are not as skilled as you should be...
Can you Fake It?
There are wonderful strides being made these days with spell-check and grammar-check
technology. Use them. If you have a limited vocabulary, pick up a thesaurus
to add variety to your words and sentence structure. And above all - never use
"chat abbreviations" in a formal published work. These include "u" for "you"
and "ur" for "your" and "z" for words where an "s "belongs. These abbreviations
aren't funny, or cute, they just make your article look poorly written, and
barely literate. So just don't use them.
Let's take a look at some of the things that make a series different from an
ordinary short story. If you've read my Short Story Workshop, you know that
all stories should include such elements as setting, plot, and characters. This
holds true for a series. The major additional elements of import are length
A series will usually consist of four to six parts. You will need to have all
of your series parts written before you submit to the Times. Four to six parts
may seem like a large task to the first time series writer, and sometimes, this
is true. If you are having a hard time reaching four to six parts, consider
making your piece a short story instead. If you have more than six parts, make
sure that the plot is solid enough to keep the reader interested!
Continuity between parts is essential. If a character died, or was injured at
the end of part one, he should still be dead, or injured at the beginning of
part two (unless time has passed between the two parts, and this should be clearly
indicated). The parts of your series should flow together naturally; do not
make any large jumps in time or setting without an explanation.
Now... with these two things in mind… let's start to develop a series…
In the Beginning...
First, determine what your series will be about. Get a large piece of paper
and brainstorm some ideas to help you. Determine the elements of your series,
Where will your series take place? On a mountain? In a cave? The ruins of Maraqua?
Maybe all of the above! Because of the length of a series, several settings
may be incorporated into your piece as the action shifts, or characters travel
from place to place. Write down a bit about each setting that you will use in
your series. Then move on to...
What sort of characters will your series include? Due to the length of a series,
there is a much greater opportunity for character development than in a short
story. You can really get to know a character as you read about their exploits
on a weekly basis. Think about each character, and ask yourself some questions
about that character. Some sample questions include:
· What do they wear?
· What do they like to do?
· How do they act towards others?
· What are their goals and dreams?
· What are they afraid of?
Jot down your answers and begin to build your characters. Think about how each
of the characters feel about the setting, and why they are here. Next, move
Plot is the action that makes a story worthwhile. This is the driving force
that keeps your series going. The plot of a series is especially important as
this is the common thread that will hold your parts together. Write down a few
sentences about how the plot should move along. The plot of my series, Harry
Halloween, moves as follows:
· Harry the Grarrl (first seen in "A
Grarrl Called Harry"short story) does not understand the meaning
· Meanwhile, the bumbling mad scientist Smedley and Franco (reoccurring villains
from the short story "A Grarrl Called Harry") are plotting a Halloween
· Harry learns the meaning of Halloween, and gets a great ghost costume
· On Halloween night Franco and Smedley launch their evil plan (to get
lots of candy by posing as trick-or-treaters, then selling it in their shop).
Includes amusing moment of Smedley dressed in Fire Faerie costume (it was all
the shop had left!)
· Harry trick-or-treats with his siblings. They grow tired after a while…
but he continues on, alone, to a strange area of houses across the hill from
· Smedley and Franco return home with their haul and do the evil muhaha
· Harry knocks on their door to trick or treat. They open the door- and
see what looks like the ghost of the Grarrl they once experimented on before
his escape. They both faint dead away!
· Harry doesn't recognise Franco and Smedley in their costumes, and helps
himself to all the candy before leaving.
· Franco and Smedley wake up… and find all their chocolate gone! So much
for the plan!
Divide and Conquer
Write your story and as you go along, look for good places to make your
division into parts. A fun place to divide your story is at a key moment. For
example, if Rocky the mountain climbing Kacheek has slipped, and is dangling
by a thin rope off the side of Terror Mountain at the end of part one. Readers
will want to read part two to see how he gets out of it!
Another good place for division is when the passage of time occurs. If you
make a shift in the action to the next day, the next week, or whatever the time
jump is, this is usually a good time for a new part. Be sure to include some
indication of the time passage.
When the setting shifts to a new location, you may wish to change parts as
well. Just be sure to include some indication of the new setting at the beginning
of the next part. For example, if the pets are traveling by boat from the Mystery
Island to the ruins of Maraqua but you don't want to detail the entire journey,
End of part one: The pets all boarded the boat and wondered what excitement
lay ahead during the long voyage.
Beginning of part two: The voyage had not been all they expected. Benny the
Zafara was seasick the entire time, and the others had to find new places to
bunk The weather was bad, and Cyril Cybunny got a terrible sunburn. But now,
at long last, they could see the ruins.... Places that are usually more difficult
to divide a series are in the midst of a paragraph or a dialogue. Paragraph
division rarely works well, and should be avoided if at all possible. To divide
a dialogue properly if needs be, look for a natural lull in the conversation
flow, or perhaps, a dramatic pause. For example:
End of part one: "What do you mean?!" Barthalomew snarled. "I am not the one-handed
Grarrl who destroyed your sister--for I have two hands!"
Ginny stared at the Grarrl in disbelief...
Beginning of part two: "Two hands? How could this be! I only see one!" Ginny
cried. Surely this was the Grarrl who had knocked off poor Bessy.
"My other was cold... so it's in my pocket! Twit!" He slowly drew out his
other intact hand from his coat pocket.
Edit, Edit, and more Edit
Revision is the key when you're a writer. Very rarely is the first draft of
writing perfect. Check your writing for spelling and grammar errors by hand
to catch the more obvious ones, then run it through the spell and grammar check
of your word processor. After that is done, print out a copy and read it aloud
to see how the piece flows. If it sounds choppy, or unclear, edit the sections
that don't mesh well, and try again. Lastly, share your piece with a friend
who writes well, and get their honest opinion. When you are satisfied with your
editing, you're ready for the final step...
Submit all the parts of your series to The Neopian Times by e-mail as an attached
document with all the formatting put in (bold, underline, etc.) where you want
it. Be sure all the series divisions are marked as well; no one knows how to
divide your story better than you. Make the subject of your e-mail something
that describes why you are e-mailing, such as: Series Submission. Write a polite,
spell-checked, well-written note in the e-mail that includes the following:
· A polite greeting
· Your NeoPets' user name
· A brief summary of your series plot
· A closing which thanks the editor of the Times for reading your work
and considering it for publication
If you are published--great! Be sure to tell all your friends to read your
Oh, no! Your series wasn't published! Don't worry, it's not the end of the world.
Most writers have a long stack of rejections that far outweighs their publications,
especially when they are just getting started. Don't give up! Try rereading
the series to see if there were any obvious errors you missed (unsuitable topic,
bad grammar/spelling, unclear wording). If you find errors, rework it and submit
the new and improved version.
Also, remember there is only so much space in the Times for new series each
week. As with all things, practice makes perfect. You can be an series writer--don't
I have received a lot of great Neomail from this series of workshops, and I
would like to thank everyone who has written me for taking the time to let me
know the content was useful to you!
If you have any questions about this article, or just need some friendly advice
for your writing, please feel free to Neomail me.