Tales & Tails: The Winners are...
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Many thanks to all those who sent in their stories. It wasn’t an easy assignment, but several people managed to give a creative twist to an otherwise incredibly bland story line (shops, bread, home). Ideas included: a run-down, urban setting in which the main character is mugged; a stressful trip to the supermarket battling Christmas shoppers and Black Friday bargain hunters; a wacky tale in which the bread comes to life and threatens to wreak revenge on its creator; a dystopian world in which bread is regarded as a luxury item. Titles included: Jam (amusing); The Bread Thief (apt); Breadpocalispse (inventive); The Bread Line (a pun…if you know it).
As well as interesting story details, I observed many descriptive and original uses of language. In this blog, I present some of my favourite snippets – you may recognise your own contributions, but a lot can be learned from reading the equally imaginative contributions of others. Each is outstanding in some way and is accompanied by a brief commentary. The overall winner shall be announced in a separate blog tomorrow. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the following examples of outstanding creativity.
WARNING: This post is quite long but is packed with valuable tips & ideas for the budding writer.
NOTE: The author of each piece is given as an initial letter & age (e.g. D9)
There’s nothing like a bit of personification to kick start your story, and G (age 9) did that admirably: The merry sun danced into my room.
Dialogue is another interesting way to begin a story. It can show us a great deal about the setting and characters. The following example is provided by K (age 10):
“Barney!” his mother called. “We can get bread now – it’s been a week.”
Here, we learn that there are two characters (mother and son) and they seem poor.
I particularly like this opening paragraph by E (age 11):
It was a calm sunny morning down on Coral street. Hopeful looking flowers stood proud, golden leaves were dancing to the wind’s music, and an 11 year old boy was sleeping in his warm bed.
I like the imaginative street name (it makes me think of sunshine) which matches the tone of the story. Notice also the stunning use of personification to describe the outside world, then the change of scene as we zoom in on one boy asleep in his warm bed, all within the same sentence. It's an original way to introduce the main character.
I was really pleased to see people pushing themselves to make their writing as evocative as possible. In general, you should avoid bland words that tell us nothing except that a character spoke, came, went, saw, took and so on. Instead, use descriptive alternatives that hint at the feeling behind those actions and may even give a clue about a character’s personality.
1) I witnessed an interesting range of reporting verbs:
Stammered – suggests the character was nervous, while ‘snarled’ portrays anger (G9)
Screamed (as in “These people are innocent!” I screamed) – shows urgency (G9)
…while the same word in a different context hints at an unpleasant disposition:
“Get up, get dressed and go to the shops!” screamed Juliet (S10)
2) Verbs of movement also present the perfect opportunity to show off your descriptive prowess.
Some of my favourites are:
My feet thudded on the winding pavement (A11) – indicates a weary traveller
He was picking up speed and started hurtling (D9) – makes me feel dizzy
…, my boots clanking against the hard floor (D9) – vivid, I can imagine this
A rapid succession of footsteps (K10) – I’m imagining lots of people
He ran impossibly faster, taking great big leaps (K10) – He really wants to get away!
I stopped to catch my breath (D9) – phew! Me too.
Other interesting verbs to describe movement included:
sped, dashed, marched, strode, bolted, chasing, sprinted, slid
TASK: Which emotion or additional information (apart from movement) does each of the above verbs convey?
3) Why use neutral words like ‘looked’ or ‘saw’ when you can use:
Glared (A11) - here it was used to indicate disbelief…that the villain was a child
Shot me an angry, dissatisfied look (D9) – I wouldn’t want to mess with this person!
Spotted a note (E11) – suggests a laid-pack personality, that he causally noticed it
Eyed the bread (K10)– he sounds ravenous
Glanced at the other customers (K10) - furtive! This was consistent with the story in which the protagonist plotted to steal some bread.
You may wish to download the following poster. It’s a good idea to print it out, stick it on your wall and add to it often, as a reminder to use descriptive verbs/words when writing.
You should also aim to use plenty of SENSORY LANGUAGE, to fully immerse the reader in your story.
TASK: Which sense is being evoked in each of the following descriptions?
A ray of sunlight hit my eyes (S10) - to describe waking up in the morning
The rustle of leaves (K10)
A11 used a pleasing variety of sensory language to describe an ill-fated trip to the supermarket. Examples include:
The fumes of the rolling creatures stung my tongue.
The rattles of trolleys, the chatters of people and the beep of people scanning items
Beautiful scent of doughnuts
Continuing the theme of mouth-watering treats, E11 wrote:
Warm yum-yums that smelt and tasted heavenly
On these last two items, I would go heavier on the description. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling hungry! The following thoughts come to mind:
Their sugary aroma infused the air
Glazed, sugar coating cracked as I bit into it
A carnival of taste exploded in mouth
The soft doughy interior melted like cotton candy on my tongue
An instant sugar rush that settled my angry stomach
Finally, K10 wrote:
The door clicked shut. - sounds a bit secretive. Can you guess the sense?
I also found an interesting variety of SIMILES:
Like a fox catching and unwary rabbit (G9) – to describe being pounced upon
My belly growled like an angry dog (A11)
Your heart thumped like footsteps (A11)
Sounded like music, with flashing party lights (A11) – to describe the supermarket scanners
The ghost-like silence (E11)
Dashed like a madman (E11)
Bolting at the speed of a bomber aircraft (K10)
Plodded home like a drenched cat (D9) – sounds very dejected
I didn’t find too many METAPHORS. They can be trickier to spot and to use, but a good start is to look out for them when reading. But here’s what I found on PERSONIFICATION:
Rolling creatures (A11) - to describe cars
Golden leaves were dancing to the wind’s music (E11) – very poetic
Hopeful looking flowers stood proud (E11) – a very upbeat tone.
Meanwhile, the vegetation from the following story by K10 depicts the opposite:
The few flowers that remained in this unforgiving city hung their heads
The greyish grass huddled together as if conserving warmth
Skeletal trees grasped at the houses
Grey skies frowned
The last phrase is actually an example of PATHETIC FALLACY in which human feelings (as opposed to any human quality) are attributed to the natural world. It’s commonly used to describe the weather and set the tone of a story.
Last but not least:
An evil laugh strode across the room (S10) – disturbingly interesting…a disembodied laugh
Other RANDOM PHRASES that I enjoyed:
The traffic of customers (A11) – I feel swept along by this.
Carelessly-dropped rubbish (A11) – mindless littering!
Bustling with people (D9) – stress!
Unwelcoming streets (M10) - grim
Close-to-empty shopping aisle (D10) - create your own adjectives by hyphenating a phrase and sticking it in front of a noun
The milk gushed over me (D9) – I feel this!
…completely wrecking my good mood (D9) – I’m not surprised.
Tore the bread packet open (D9) – conveys impatience/hunger
I fumbled for the closest pack (D9) – a clumsy action, in a hurry?
He shot out his hand and snatched the rest of the bread (K10) – better than ‘took’
Carefully clipping and unclipping the fastener (A11) – sounds precious
Arms and legs shot out of its crust and two tiny dots appeared for eyes (G9) – cute!
While vocabulary can help paint a vivid picture, there are OTHER TECHNIQUES that can inject drama and intrigue into your writing.
1) Rhetorical questions:
What was bothering them? (G9)
2) Short dramatic sentences:
Barney smiled. (K10) – the reader is wondering what devious plan he has in mind
3) Sentence fragments:
Four people left. Three people left. Two people. One. (K10) – I’m feeling the tension!
I finally made it, alive, to the bread aisle (D9) – commas can create a dramatic pause
Make sure your ending feels like an ending, rather than you ran out of time or ideas. Ideas included:
1) The twist ending. After a grueling journey, the protagonist got home to find:
maggots in the bread (D9) - gross!
no jam (E11) – humorous/frustrating!!!
2) The comforting ending:
…a nice cup of hot chocolate (A11)
3) The satisfying ending:
We had done it! (G9)
It was a big risk, but it surely paid off. (K10)
4) The unresolved ending:
Or maybe there are...(S10)
5) The ‘what I have learnt’ ending:
…avoid supermarkets for the rest of my life (M10)
Finally, at the risk of information overload, here are some COMMON ERRORS & THINGS TO AVOID:
Telling a story that barely matches the title, or starts off okay but drifts. It’s a good idea if your concluding paragraph mirrors words from the title.
Switching person e.g. you start in the third person then randomly switch to the first person
Inconsistent verb tenses e.g. randomly switch from past to present tense
Telling too many mini-sagas such that there’s no overall focus. Instead, the details should all be building up towards a main climax or purpose for writing.
Repeat words. Even if it’s an amazing word – if used more than once it can look like you only know a handful of words that you use over and over again.
Creating a dramatic effect through CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!!!! – I use these features a lot throughout my blog (you may notice) but that’s because I’m giving instructions and writing notes. These features should be used minimally in creative & academic writing tasks.
Ellipsis endings - because it is overused and can be a sign of having no idea how to end.
…and dream endings - same reason
Don’t write ‘The End’ at the end.
I hope that has given you PLENTY to think about. Thank you again for your contributions. Tomorrow, I shall post the winning entry. I will also provide a link to my own story that I've written in answer to this brief. That's all from me for now. Have a great evening.