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Character, location, setting

Writing Starter by Oisin McGann

I’ve been writing and illustrating stories since I was about six or seven. Back then, most of them were about me and my friends saving the world, or even the universe. Later, I decided I wanted to be a zoologist.

After finishing school, I gave up on zoology and went to Art College instead which is probably why I’ve never had a proper job. As well as working on a fish counter, Ive been a pizza chef, a DIY salesman and a security guard (though not all at the same time, obviously). Most of the time though, Ive worked as a commercial artist in publishing, advertising and animation.

I was first published in 2003 with my first two Mad Grandad books and have since published nine more books, including five novels. I now get to spend most of my time writing and illustrating my books, so I feel spoiled rotten. My latest novel is called Ancient Appetites and is published by Random House. You can visit my website at

Writing Starter

You need three basic things for a story:

  1. Characters that people will care about and remember.
  2. A convincing location or setting for your story.
  3. A problem your characters have to solve.

Discovering the solution to the problem (or better yet, problems) is what keeps people turning the pages. Dont describe too much at the start, get the reader involved first and tell them more as you go. I like to know the ending for a story before I start writing so I know where Im headed. I can change the ending if I want to, but Ill know why Im changing it.

Heres an idea to get you started: A boy and girl come in to their school one morning and find it empty. Its a big school, with loads of corridors, stairs and different kinds of rooms. All the pupils books and schoolbags lie discarded in their classrooms. A teachers coffee is still warm. When our puzzled pair tries to get out again, they discover all the doors are locked. So are the windows. They cant break the glass. They cant escape. The phones are dead. Looking out of the windows, they see a thick fog settling over the school

Over to you.