In addition to writing numerous stories and articles for the Times,
I read the paper itself every week. I don't always manage to keep up with the
series, but I do read a good deal of the stories and articles, and always the
From this reading I've gleaned some insights into what makes a Neopian story
memorable and what makes it fade into the background with all the other stories.
It's one of my beliefs that you learn from mistakes, so here, I'll take a look
at some of the most common story goofs and how you can prevent them.
1. A Non-Neopian Atmosphere
Imagine that you're someone who's never heard of NeoPets before. You do a search
on a search engine and find a link to somebody's story in the Times.
If it's a good story, you should be able to tell from the beginning that this
is a NeoPets-based story, not something that could happen anywhere.
I've seen some stories in the Times where the authors could just have
easily have replaced humans on Earth with the pets in Neopia, and nothing would
change. That's not what you want. You need the flavour of Neopia. And it doesn't
have to be very hard--instead of saying "Roxanne ate a dinner made up of pizza
and soda in her house," say "Roxy ate a dinner of Snow Pizza and Neocola in
her NeoHome on Krawk Island."
2. Confusing Names
Say you have four pets in this story of yours. You could name them Mandri, Mandicle,
Mansoon and Manrone, but why? Chances are your readers will get very confused
and may not stay to read the whole story if you do. Instead, you could name
them Mandri, Rollma, Cyte, and Pauldone, and nobody will be confused.
The same goes for species. If you have a lot of pets, make them different
species (unless it's integral to the plot that they be the same), and refer
to them not only by their names but also by their species sometimes, just to
refresh readers' memory.
3. No Character History
Your characters have got to mean something. Nobody will care about your story
if your characters are flat, one-dimensional, and have no personality. Your
protagonist (the main character) and the antagonist (the opponent of the main
character) should grow and learn in the story, not remain the same.
So if your protagonist is a big bully in the Swashbucklers Academy, and his
antagonist is the teacher of the academy, you could have the bully become the
best friend of the teacher. Having a story just about the bully's teasing would
definitely not be interesting and many readers would probably give up.
4. Implausible Endings
It's known as a deux ex machina (DEM): when somewhere, out of nowhere,
with no foreshadowing whatsoever, something comes in to save the day and end
the story miraculously. It's popular with people who don't create outlines and
thus have no ending when they get to the appropriate place in the story.
Faced with no idea of how to get the characters out of the situation, they
employ the deux ex machina. In Neopia, it could be a Light Faerie swooping
down with her magic to rescue the pets, or Fyora herself granting a pet magical
powers to get out of a situation at the last minute.
The best way to fight off the sneaking-up of a DEM? Create an outline. At
the very least, make sure you've got an idea of how to end the story before
you begin it. If you abhor this sort of thing, and find yourself using DEMs,
go back through the story and add in some foreshadowing.
To use an example, let's say you've got two pets trapped by the Snowager in
the icy mountains. Unfortunately, you've got no idea how to get them out of
there. So you suddenly have a Fire Faerie swoop down and melt the Snowager,
freeing the pets. This is classic DEM. But you can save your story by going
back and maybe adding in a mention that one of the pets is a favourite of the
Fire Faerie, or have the pets pick up a special trinket that summons a Fire
5. No Proofreading
When you finish your story, print it out, go through, and look for mistakes.
I guarantee you will find more errors on paper than if you scroll through the
document on the computer. Mark each mistake with its corrected version and make
any necessary adjustments on paper. Then go through the story on the computer
and change the parts you need changed. Don't be afraid to trim down, remove
entire sentences or change the order of things. If it makes your story better,
it's worth it.
If you can, have somebody else read the story just to point out errors. Don't
be egotistical and say you don't make any mistakes--everybody does. Stephen
King makes mistakes. So did Shakespeare. Just fix them and your story will be
the better for it.
6. Picking a Common Theme
The most common storyline (and popular with beginning writers) is the following:
Pet is rich, or pretty well-off. Suddenly something happens and they become
poor. Owner must give up pet. Pet languishes in pound for a while before amazingly
finding the perfect owner. We have a happy ending.
This story, or variations of it, has appeared in nearly every issue of the
Times. I've done it twice before, though I tried to put a spin on it.
Another common theme:
Pet is very rich and spoiled, but second pet or human teaches them a lesson
and they become kind and good.
Again, pretty common. My first story, of a human "crossing over" to Neopia
and experiencing it all, was so popular because nobody ever did it before. Once
I did it a few people (very good writers) produced stories along the same vein,
and I did some myself. If you have a good idea, write it! Don't go for old,
7. ONLY IN COMICS: Stealing jokes from other comics
I am a frequent reader of the newspaper comics, and I tend to remember jokes.
So if I then see a NeoPets comic which has the same joke, just with Neopian
characters, I know it's a rip-off of the official comic.
This is plagiarism! Unless you are the original comic author, or you have
permission from him or her, you can't steal their jokes, plots, or characters.
It's kind of tacky, too.
8. Writing Outside Your Area of Expertise
If you own all Usuls and know everything about Usuls, write an article about
Usuls. Don't try your hand at Gelerts if you know nothing about Gelerts; people
will notice that you don't.
The same goes for stories. If you set your story in the Haunted Woods and
you know nothing about the Woods your story will be weaker.
It's okay not to know about a topic before starting the article. Before you
do, though, research it; go to the setting (the Woods in this case), ask other
people about it, explore. Write down interesting things to remember and refer
back to the setting at all times.
In your proofreading session (see #5), circle parts that seem weak, or betray
the fact that you don't know anything about your topic. When you go back to
fix the story or article, research the circled parts and fix it.
9. Awkward Dialogue
Some people are better at plots; some people can capture just the right nuances
of speaking. If you don't fall into the latter category, your stories are in
danger, because dialogue is essential. But never fear; you can learn.
It's almost impossible to teach in an article like this--in fact, people can
and do devote entire books to this subject--but if you concentrate on the important
things people say, their gestures, and their facial expressions, and then incorporate
this into your stories, they will fare better.
10. Try, Try Again--Within Reason
Is this the 20th time you've submitted your story to the Times with no
response? It may be time to consider going over that story again, or writing
a new one. Not everybody is published every time.
However, if your article isn't posted in the very next issue, feel free to
send it in again. I think 7 times is a pretty good limit on stuff like this.
Once you pass that mark, do another draft of the story, or proofread it again.
If it still doesn't get published, consider writing out another one.
I know that the first few times I tried my stories sounded awkward. They were
published, yes, and my first one caused a storm, but looking back on it now,
it sounds silly with a lot of extraneous information I could have left out.
Just keep trying!
I hope these 10 tips have helped you on your way to earning that golden quill
on your user lookup. The best tip, though, is the one I saved for last: always
read the Times, for only by learning from other authors can you learn
to be like them.