Six Simple Steps to Help You Write a Story for the Neopian Times
One of the most common messages that people send to Neopian Times writers like myself is “OMG!!! You have so many stories published in the Neopian Times! I wish I could write a story, but I wouldn’t know where to begin!” After much thought, I decided to pass on some useful steps to help aspiring writers create their very first short story to be entered into the Neopian Times.
Please keep in mind that this article is a product of my own individual opinion. There are a lot of very good articles about writing which have already been published in the Neopian Times, and I suggest that you read as many of those as possible in addition to this one. The tips that I have suggested in this article may not work for everyone, and following them will not guarantee that your story will get accepted. Instead, I hope that this article will start you on the pathway to writing a short story and increase your chances of getting it accepted into the NT.
Writing is an extremely enjoyable activity and is an excellent way to exercise your creativity. It is also very hard work! Writing a story, even a very short one, is extremely challenging and time consuming. To be able to create a story, you must have a good imagination, enthusiasm, and the ability to keep your readers interested; you must also have patience and determination to see it through to its completion. Strong eyes and wrists of steel are also a requirement; when inspiration has taken hold of your brain, the marathon typing sessions which result are very hard on your eyes and hands! But now you are thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute! You said “Six Simple Steps---what’s up with that?”
I’ll be truthful. I lied. I couldn’t help it---I’m a sucker for wordplay. Alliteration, you know. Six Simple Steps... get it? Hahaha! *pause* Why aren’t you laughing? *pause* But in all honesty, even though the entire writing process is hard, the basic writing steps are very simple.
Now that I have scared off all of the people who are afraid of a little... errrr... okay, a lot of hard work, let’s talk more about the different categories of works that can be submitted to the Neopian Times. Even though articles and comics contain many storytelling elements within them, I will be concentrating only on short stories in this particular article, since I do not have enough experience with these other two genres. I also am not going to discuss the series category in this article. Although I love series because they are very rewarding to write and give you the opportunity to create extremely well-developed characters and an enthralling plotline (here comes the sort of shameless self-promotion that Neopian Times writers are prone to do *wink wink, nudge nudge, read my series*), it would be very difficult for a beginning writer to create one. Short stories are a better choice for a new writer to set their sights on. Short stories can contain so many different types of literary genres: mysteries, science fiction and fantasy tales, narrative accounts, comedic stories, legendary stories... the sky’s the limit! As one of my friends succinctly put it, “If you can dream it, you can write it.”
But before we go any further, there are some things that you will need which are vital to the writing process. First off, find yourself a paper notebook (any size will do just fine) and a pencil with an eraser. I highly recommend using these to jot down quick notes while planning out your story. Secondly, you will need some Neopets friends (You don’t have any Neofriends? *gasp!* Make some!). Friends and guild members (You do belong to a guild, don’t you?) can be an excellent source for ideas, and will kindly provide constructive criticism as is appropriate.
Have you got your pencil and notebook? Are you ready to take the plunge into new and exciting world which challenges your mind? Then here we go!
Step #1: Find Inspiration
In many ways, this first step is the hardest. Every story must begin with an idea, and you cannot write a story until that elusive spark of inspiration hits you. So what can you do to find that inspiration?
There are a thousand different ways you can find that magical idea. Read books, watch movies, listen to the stories that your friends at school tell you. Read the Neopian Times every week, re-read all of the old Neopets plot comics, and explore Neopia with an open mind. One wonderful source of inspiration which I feel is commonly overlooked is the Storytelling Contest. I suggest that you read it as often as you can, and even try your hand at writing a part for it. Even if your entry is not accepted, writing for the storytelling contest will help develop your writing skills, and it could even give you an idea for a full-length short story!
Even the activities that you do purely for fun can inspire you. Things like your martial arts class, your camping trip, your visit to the museum, your school band, and even your family reunion could give you an idea. Whoa, I’m getting ideas for possible stories just from typing down this list! *must... resist... urge... to start writing... a new story...*
So go out, read as much as you can, and explore the world. When you are least expecting it, you will see something or hear something that makes you say to yourself, “Hey, that gives me an great idea! I bet I could write a story about that!”
Step #2: Develop Your Characters
Now that you have an idea to write about, you can now turn your attention to your characters. Characters will be the most important facet of your story, so you must devote extra attention to their creation. At this point in the writing process, it is very helpful to pull your notebook out and write down a description of all of your characters. What do they look like? Be specific with things like species, color, and gender. What is their personality like? Is your character bold, impulsive, shy, stoic, inquisitive, or one of the many other adjectives that you can use to describe their behavior and personality. Make sure that their outward appearance reflects their internal personalities. For instance, if you wish to portray a character as absent-minded, describe their rumpled clothes and messy hair. Likewise, if you wish to show that a character is very vain about their appearance, give them an extravagant appearance (colors like Royal, Faerie, Island, Maraquan) and accessories (jewelry and clothing, Battledome weapons, expensive petpets) to match their personality. Also consider how each individual character will behave when confronted with a problem. Will they avoid direct conflict or charge headfirst into it? Will one character try to bluff their way into safety, while another will try to outwit the problem?
Character names are also an integral part of their identity. Your main character’s name is extremely important. When creating a name for a Neopian character, be careful not to choose a name which is neither too common not too exotic. Your potential audience probably wouldn’t be too interested in reading a story about a Neopet named “Bob”. In the same vein, “Ripdejfic” is not a good name either because it is difficult to remember and pronounce. A good name for a main character will be somewhere in between these two extremes---unique, yet recognizable. This is not as important for minor characters, so go ahead and save your exotic names for your minor characters.
If you are writing a story about your own Neopet or a friend’s pet, go ahead and use their name. The only thing you should do is simplify it. For example, if I was to write a story about my Eyrie, Skandranon8560, his character’s name in the story would be “Skandranon”. My Lupe, Darkhoundofdoom4life (that’s a mouthful!) would be shortened down to “Darkhound”. You get the picture. *pause* Hey, that gives me a great idea for a story...
If you are still stuck on naming your characters, don’t hesitate to ask your friends for suggestions! Your friends and guild will be a great source of inspiration for you throughout the writing process, and they will be more than happy to give you some potential character names. Also try looking your old school yearbooks to see if any of your classmates have interesting names.
However, if your old school classmates ever discover that you have ‘borrowed’ their name without their permission, they might be a bit upset... especially if you have portrayed ‘their’ character as a little slow on the uptake. If your one of your classmates ever confronts you, be prepared with a quick answer. “Of course I didn’t steal your name! What a ridiculous idea! Say, isn’t that a white Weewoo behind you?” and then run away the moment they turn around to look. That little trick has always worked for me! Except for that one time when I was confronted by a two-headed Mutant Hissi. *embarrassed laugh* Boy, did that hurt!
Step #3: Setting
Before you can begin writing the actual story, you must consider the location where it will take place. Will it be in Neopia Central? Or in the Haunted Woods? Or Lutari Island? Or Maraqua? Think about the way in which your choice of setting will affect the way that the characters can behave, and how the use of setting will influence what events will happen in the story. There will be different types of weather in different lands: hot blazing sunshine in the Lost Desert, blizzards in Terror Mountain, and monsoons in Mystery Island. Topography will also be an issue: you could expect to find mysterious caves and windswept peaks in mountainous regions like Shenkuu and Altador, and none of these geological features in a place like Kiko Lake or Roo Island. Lastly (and most importantly), you must consider the way that citizens of each region will behave within the story. If you want to include a bandit attack in your plot, you probably should choose a lawless area like Krawk Island, rather than a peaceful region like Faerieland. But enough about your story’s setting; it’s not that important when compared to your characters and plot. And speaking of the plot...
Step 4: Develop your Plot
Just like with characters and the setting, you must do some planning before you begin writing your story. What kind of events will happen in your story? Dig out your notebook (you still have it, don’t you?) and list a very brief chain of the events which will take place in your story. This will help you to plan out the basic plotline of your story. Don’t hesitate to update this list as your plot evolves. That’s the nice thing about using a notebook---it is easy to pencil in changes during the development of your story.
Step #5: The Writing Process
Now this is where the magic happens! Take a good long look at your list of characters, the setting that you have chosen, and the plotline you have created. Sit down at your keyboard and start typing. But don’t try to start at the very beginning of your story! It is extremely difficult to overcome writer’s block while writing the story’s introduction. I find it easiest to start writing in the middle of the action, so I suggest that you do the same. Pick your favorite scene or an interesting line that you would like to use in your story, and start writing the main body of your tale from that point. After finishing the middle part of your story, double back and write the beginning. Then, after a quick revision of the main body, go on to write the conclusion. Your conclusion should wrap up all of the story’s loose ends, and leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction at the completion of your tale.
It may take you many writing sessions, and many days or even weeks to complete your story. Be patient, and don’t feel too guilty if you are spending time away from the computer; sometimes an idea or an exceptionally good line will come to you while you are off doing another activity. If you are struck with writer’s block and are unable to think of anything to write, sometimes you can overcome it by pulling out your notebook and working on your character list and plotline. Even if you don’t actually write anything more down in it, even just sitting down and doodling in your notebook helps some people to overcome writers block.
Once your story is finished, it is time to come up with a title for it. Your title has two functions: it should draw the interest of your potential audience while reflecting the main theme of your story. Make your title interesting: use wordplays, alliteration, an interesting phrase or image, etc. Play around with different titles until you find one that suits your story.
Step #6: Revision
As soon as your story is fully written, it is time to move on to the next step. Now it may not seem very exciting, but revision and proofreading is absolutely vital to getting your story accepted into the Neopian Times. First, go through and read over your entire completed story, checking for grammar errors and misspelled words. After you are satisfied that you cannot find any more problems by yourself, very politely ask your Neopian friends and guild members if they would be willing to read over your story. If they seem uninterested after you have finished asking them, grovel on the floor in front of their feet and offer to do all of their unpleasant household chores, up to and including scooping out the Kadoatie box. If they still seem reluctant to read over your story, follow them around for the rest of the day until they break down and agree. Be persistent! I’ve found that singing M*YNCI songs helps accelerate their agreement. It works even faster when you sing all of the songs off-key.
When your friends hand back the revisions that they have made (of course, the people that you followed around all day while singing off-key are more likely to throw the papers at you and then run away), read over their suggestions carefully. Give deep thought to all of the suggestions and corrections that they make, because even if you can understand the meaning of what you have written, it might not be easily understood by the majority of your readers. You might need to change a word or rephrase a sentence to make the meaning more understandable.
Now, before you go ahead and submit your story to the Neopian Times, take a one last quick look at TNT’s Guidelines and make sure that your submission fits those requirements. Also check that your story is in the proper format. It should be single-spaced, and there should be a full empty line between each paragraph. Make sure that your indentations are consistent though the story: auto-formatted indentations sometimes copy-and-paste incorrectly into the submission form. If you are unsure over the correct formatting, take a look at the other stories in the NT and check to see that your formatting is similar to theirs. Bolded and italicized words must also be identified with the proper HTML tags—check TNT’s HTML guide if you are unsure of how this works.
* * * * *
Your story has been imagined, planned out, written, proofread, and formatted. After all of that hard work, it is now ready to be submitted to the Neopian Times. Copy and paste it into the entry form, cross your fingers, and click “Submit”. Kudos to you! You’ve just entered your very first story into the Neopian Times competition! Take pride in all of the hard work that you’ve put into writing and perfecting your story.
After you have successfully submitted your story, expect to wait at about a week or so for a reply from The Neopets Team. With any luck, you will receive a wonderful email from TNT which says, “Dear (your name), Thank you for submitting to the Neopian Times. Currently your submission (story’s title) is being held over and may be considered for future publication in the Neopian Times... ” If you get this message, you can expect to receive another email within a week or two: It will read “Dear (your name), Congratulations! Your entry (story’s title) has been selected to appear in a future issue of the Neopian Times. A shiny trophy has been added to your user lookup. Thank you for contributing to the Neopian Times!”
However, not all stories are accepted with your first submission. If TNT rejects your story, they will send you a Neomail with the reasons why your story was not accepted. The most common reasons why entries are rejected are probably spelling and grammar mistakes, along with incorrect formatting. Even experienced authors will have their stories rejected occasionally because of these reasons (I speak from personal experience). But don’t take this rejection as a personal insult; instead, treat it as a learning experience. By fixing the problems that TNT cited as the causes of your story’s dismissal, and then resubmitting it, you too can receive that wonderful congratulatory Neomail, shiny gold trophy, and instant fame!
Let’s quickly review some the most important key points:
- Find an idea: Do lots of things which might give you inspiration to write a story. What are you going to write your story about?
- Create your characters: Plan out their names, descriptions, and personalities. How does their physical appearance and behavior represent their inner personalities?
- Choose a setting. How will the setting affect the storyline?
- Develop your plot: What happens in your story? Will these events be interesting to read about?
- Begin writing: Start at the middle of your story and work from there.
- Revision and proofreading: Have several different people read over your story looking for errors, and arrange your story into the correct Neopian Times format. Are you now absolutely confident that your story is as perfect as it will ever be?
- Submit your story to the Neopian Times! Relax and take a well-earned break as you wait for your response from TNT. If your story is accepted, congratulations! If your story isn’t accepted, fix any remaining errors and send it in again.
I hope these Six Simple Steps have brought you one step closer to getting your very first story published into the Neopian Times!
Author's Note: I would like to give a special thank-you to Krissy (fabulouskrissy20) and Shelley (no1dale) for proofreading my article and giving me some great suggestions. A writer is only as good as his (or her) editors, and I would never have been able to get as far as I have without their help. Thanks guys!