DREW’S CLUES TO CREATIVE WRITING
By Penny Warner for Elizabeth Dulemba
I always wanted to be Nancy Drew. She’s the one who set me on the path of writing mysteries. In fact, everything I know about writing, I learned from reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I thought I’d share her writing tips with you today.
1. Create unforgettable characters: “You know Nancy.” All agreed she possessed an appealing quality, which people never forgot. ~ Clue in the DiaryAll stories are based on interesting characters—there are no exceptions. Introduce us to your character a little at a time, using action and dialogue (showing), rather than a thumbnail sketch (telling). Create realistic characters without using stereotypical traits, and include some surprises about the character that are believable. Finally, give the characters conflict—happy characters make dull characters.
2. Use dialogue: Suddenly the young sleuth snapped her fingers. “I know what I’ll do! I’ll set a trap for that ghost!” ~ The Hidden StaircaseDialogue makes a story come alive. It also helps move the story along, increases pace and creates drama. Listen to real conversations for realism, then edit and tighten them to make the dialogue readable. Keep attribution simple—use action or “said,” rather than adverbs and euphemisms for “said.” Finally, read your dialogue aloud.
3. Set the scene: Many Colonial houses had secret passageways. “Do you know any entrances a thief could use?” ~ The Hidden StaircaseA vivid setting pulls the reader into the story. It also intensifies suspense and becomes a character in itself. Show the setting through the character’s eyes and include all five senses, telling details, and occasional metaphors.
4. Add mood and atmosphere: Nancy had heard music, thumps and creaking noises at night, and had seen eerie, shadows on walls. ~ The Hidden StaircaseGive a sense of foreboding through description. Mood and atmosphere give the story depth and stimulate the emotions of the readers. Use foreshadowing to give the reader a feeling of unease.
5. Outline your plot: Ellen was alarmed. “We must do something to stop him!” “I have a little plan,” Nancy said. ~ Quest of the Missing MapBefore you begin writing, outline your plot so you know, generally, where the story is headed. You can keep it simple and just jot down the major plot points of the story—where the story takes a surprising turn and how it ratchets up the suspense. Or you can write a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, with the option of veering off if the story requires an alteration.
6. Start the clock ticking: “Hurry, girls, or we’ll miss the train to River Heights!” Nancy knew being on time was important. ~ Secret of Red Gate FarmBegin with the inciting incident, which starts the clock ticking. Include not only the situation, but where it takes place, and who’s involved. This is where you ask the story questions: What if….? Think about your goal as you start the story and where it will lead.
7. Create conflict: Nancy struggled to get away. She twisted, kicked and clawed. “Let me go!” Nancy cried. ~ Secret of the Old ClockThere is no story without conflict. The protagonist must come up against an antagonist, which can be a person, an idea, a corporation, or some kind of evil. Conflict helps reveal the protagonist’s needs, values, and fears, and causes her to confront her demons, challenge herself, and become a hero of sorts.
8. Pack it with action: “How do we get in?” “Over the top, commando style,” George urged. “Lucky we wore jeans.” ~ Clue in the Crumbling WallToday’s reader wants action, so give your protagonist opportunities to do something physical. Give her a choice between fight or flight, and when she fights—make her strong but still vulnerable.
9. Spark reader’s emotions: Nancy was too frightened to think logically. She beat on the door, but the panels would not give way. ~ Secret of the Old ClockCrank up the reader’s involvement but increasing the character’s emotional risk. This way the reader will care about the story. If she can relate to the protagonist’s emotional jeopardy, she’ll be hooked on finding out what happens.
And there you have it—The Mystery of Writing Children’s Mysteries, solved, by the Girl Sleuth herself!
Penny Warner is the author of the award-winning series, THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB, and the award-nominated guide, THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK. She can be reached at www.pennywarner.com and www.codebustersclub. Here is her favorite writing spot:
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