Continued Adventures Great New Adventures The Comic Section Your Questions Answered Top Tips and Your Views Read Short Stories Back to the Main Page

Writing Well for the Times

by muas

Nobody can give you a clear definition of what a "good" story is. Get two people to compare literature and make a list of their favourite novels and the stories are almost guaranteed to be different. Some people like science fiction, some like satire, and others like romance. Others prefer one particular author, like H.G. Wells or Agatha Christie. So I cannot presume to tell you how to write the best story anybody has ever read in this article, but I can give you some basic points that every story must follow in order to have a chance at being regarded as "classic".

The first is your language. I myself am a stickler for correct grammar and capitalization, plus spelling. You simply cannot have stories that begin "kRaWlEr wUz A bLuE wOcKy AnD hE lUvEd 2 PlAy." Nobody would read more than two sentences of any story like that. If spelling isn't your strong point, you have two options. One is to grab the nearest copy of Webster's or go to and look up every word you are unsure about; the second is to write your story in Microsoft Word or another word processing program with spell check to find misspelled words automatically for you. There's no real excuse for horrible spelling, and it is one of the things that will alienate many readers.

Now, once you've got Word or your Webster's open, you've got to think of a plot for your story. This is one of the harder things to do, since you've got to be original and entertaining. Look at back issues of the "Neopian Times" and make sure your story hasn't been done too much already. There are lots of stories, so if your idea has been done once or twice, you shouldn't worry about it too much, but if it's so common that it's in every issue of the Times (for example, the old "pet has mean owner, rebels against him/her, finds new, nice owner"), you might want to rethink how you could do it or maybe work at it from a different angle - tell the story from the owner's instead of the pet's perspective, perhaps.

Now you should probably make an outline. Outlines are very simple to do; you just write down the beginning of the story, the middle, and how you want it to end, and include any ideas for dialogue or plot twists you've had already. I know, I know, they seem restricting at first, but I find it easier to work with an outline than without one. And you can always adjust your outline if you come up with any super ideas while writing.

The beginning of your story should hook the readers; they're the fish and your opening sentence is the bait. It should be interesting and make the reader want to read more of your story. You could open with a line of dialogue, a question, or a statement that interests the readers - just don't make it boring! One technique I sometimes use is to ask a friend or my little brother, "If you heard this sentence, would you want to read the rest of the story?" and recite the first sentence of my story. If they say no, I adjust it until it sounds interesting.

Every story must have a climax. This is when the story gets its most exciting. Usually, you start with an interesting beginning that sets up the characters, move the plot forward, and two thirds of the way through start building up the story until you get to the climax. The rest of the story can then be spent on the ending, when you wrap it all up.

The biggest challenge of them all is keeping your plot interesting. Even if your readers keep reading after the beginning, they can be turned away at any time, such as if you introduce too many new characters and it all becomes confusing, or if your story seems to be going nowhere.

That leads me to my next discussion: characters. The characters are the people (or NeoPets, as the case may be) that make up your story. Writing characters for the "Times" is a little harder because you've got to come up with unusual names and can't call one of them Jake Smith, for example, like you might be able to if you were writing a real-life novel. And stereotypes are a hard thing to overcome in both Neopian and Earth novels. Think, right now, about what species of pet you would choose to be a villain if you were to write a story. What popped into your mind? A Skeith? Maybe a Jetsam? Certainly not a Poogle or a Blumaroo, right? Well, you can make your story even more interesting by reversing stereotypes. Make a Quiggle bad to the bone and a Skeith just a big baby. It's sure to surprise your readers on some level, and makes your characters all the more unique.

By this point, you should be pretty much done with your story. You've got the fascinating characters, the engaging plot, the correct grammar and syntax, but you're missing one crucial element: the title.

The title is very, very important in a story; it's got to be clever, maybe humorous, something to catch the reader's eye as they scan the list of short stories. Think about it for a moment. Would you rather read a story called "The Blue Poogle" or one called "From Cloud High to Rock Bottom"? Come up with a title and then use a thesaurus to find interesting substitutes for the bland words in that title, and think about how you can twist popular sayings to fit your own title and surprise your readers as well.

Okay. You've got the story. You've got the clever title. Now you have just one more obstacle to overcome: getting it published.

There are millions of NeoPets users. Thousands of them read the Times. Hundreds write a story. The stories widely differ, from tales of mystery and horror to funny little cute stories, but they must all pass one test: they have to be accepted.

What can you do to be accepted? People ask me that all the time since everything (eight stories and articles, counting this one; there's a list in my shop) I've sent into the Times has been accepted so far. From what I've seen, there's no magical formula for success, but I have a few tips.

Don't put the subject as "A New Story" or "My Submission". It might get read if you do that, but a better subject would be "[insert story title] by [insert your username]." That way, the people in charge can know a bit about what your story is about and also know who you are.

Be polite. Don't say "Put my story in the Times or else!!!!!!"; say "Hello! I, [your username] have a submission for the Times."

Copy and paste your story from your word processor to the e-mail or attach it to the mail. Use Times New Roman or Arial in 12pt. or 14pt.; no weird fonts that are hard to read. End your e-mail with "Sincerely, [your username]" or "Thank you, [your username]." Being polite always helps.

After that, it's up to the editors! If your story passes muster you will one day see that golden feather on your lookup screen. Good luck!