Write a story with two lead characters. But before you write the story, write a full character development, at least two typed pages long, for each of the characters.

The only place that the fictional world of your story really exists is in your head. The more you have imagined that world — what it looks like and what each of your characters is like — the more convincing your story will feel to your readers.

In “My Mother’s Little Girl,” by 11-year-old Ella Staats, we are dropped into a family in which the daughter is what used to be called a tomboy. She likes her hair short, doesn’t wear dresses, and has no interest in playing with dolls. This puts her in conflict with her mother. So far, we can say, predictable and even boring.

And then something happens. Towards the end of the story the daughter learns something about her mother’s childhood and why her mother acts towards her the way she does. You might say, towards the end of the story the daughter learns her own mother’s backstory. That is when something interesting happens. A light goes off in the daughter’s head, “Ah! So that is why my mother acts the way she does!” And I know, at that point, I found myself rethinking the story from the beginning. The whole story suddenly made sense.

While neither character is likely to change, what I think the story is about is how understanding can replace misunderstanding when two characters, especially characters who love each other, can finally understand where they are coming from.

I don’t know whether the author, Ella Staats, had worked out her two characters before she started the story, or if letting the daughter learn about her mother’s childhood was something Ella thought of as she was writing. Authors work in different ways. For this project, I want you to try working the more methodical way, which is to work out your main characters before you set them down in your fictional world.

First, read Ella’s story, to see a great example of the kind of writing you are trying to produce.

Create a character sketch for two characters who are very different from each other. Think of the sketch as writing a short biography. Do your best to create characters that seem real enough to you that you can imagine several different stories in which they relate to each other. Write down what each character looks like, their family history, and their temperament. What do they each like to do? Let your imagination go. Then, when you have two people who feel real, put them together into a story. Let them interact with each other. You don’t need to share with your readers everything you know about the characters. But I think you will find that, with the main characters so worked out, you will be able to create a story that carries with it an unusual sense of reality.


About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea, and I have continued to publish Stone Soup for all these years.
I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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  1. Anju Kakani November 24, 2016 at 6:49 am Reply

    This is anjukakani a resident of India , my son has writtem a story and wants to publish plz help

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