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Sarah Driver on Starting a Story

It’s time to use your senses of curiosity and adventure to track a story through the wilds of the imagination!

The first thing I would say about starting a story is to bear in mind that every writer works differently, so never feel intimidated by the creative processes of other writers. What works for one may well not work for another.

Another thing to do before you start creating is to vanquish the bully that is self-doubt – you know, that mean little voice in the back of your mind that tells you nothing you write is ever going to be good enough. Like all bullies, self-doubt relies on intimidation and feasts on fear, but has no grounding in reality – it talks utter rubbish, basically, and it’s not your job to listen. Shut out self-doubt and let yourself enjoy your creativity.

So, at the very start of drafting The Huntress: Sea (my first published story), the main things I needed to do were daydreaming and freewriting. These ‘techniques’ let your imagination run riot! While I was daydreaming, the idea popped into my brain as an image of a young boy standing on the deck of a ship. It was nighttime and the stars were out and he was singing. Soon after, I started ‘hearing’ the voice of my main character, Mouse, telling me all about her family and her life aboard her trading ship, the Huntress (although I didn’t know the name of the ship at that stage!) It was a bit of a braggy voice, to be honest, which is fairly typical of younger Mouse when she meets someone new. I realized that the boy in the image was her little brother, Sparrow. I wasn’t trying to force an idea – I think being relaxed and allowing ideas to flow is the best way to coax out creativity. I also think that when story voices or pictures appear in your head, it’s nice to pay attention to them – that’s just good manners.

If you’d prefer to be a little more deliberate in your approach, you could also try thinking about what story you’d like to read: if you could pick up any book in the world and read it, what would that book be? Use different colours to scribble words and ideas that you find exciting, and if a story begins to flow, let it out. Here are two other easy exercises you can try for kick-starting a story:

  • If you were a character living aboard the Huntress (a trading ship sailing through the fantastical, dangerous world of Trianukka) what would you have in your pockets? You can apply this activity to getting to know any character better, or even inventing one from scratch. The pockets can be as deep as you want (perhaps they’re part of a magical cloak or a backpack filled with adventuring supplies.) When you’ve chosen the items, chances are you’ll have learnt a bit more about the character they belong to, and could start a story based on that character, or one of the objects in their pocket.
  • If you were a character living in a magical world, what would your special power be? There are loads of powers we already know about, like shapeshifting and telekinesis, but you can also invent your own and use it to start a story. In my books there are powers of dream-dancing, whale-singing, even a power of lightning shooting from someone’s fingers…the sky isn’t even the limit with this one. Let your imagination soar, and happy writing!

Sarah Driver attended Bath Spa University for the MA in Creative Writing for Young People. After finishing her masters in 2014, her first novel for children, The Huntress: Sea was published by Egmont in the UK, and also by Rizzoli in Italy and Carlsen Verlag in Germany.

The Huntress; Storm is published by Egmont on 31st May 2018.