writing skills

writing skills

Story writing is a mixture of two things:

1. imagination (bucketloads)

2. understanding how to be a skilled wordsmith (knowing how language can be used for effect)


Being a skilled wordsmith is about jiggling with words and shuffling around phrases until your writing literally sparkles on the page.  And the key to being a brilliant wordsmith lies in four simple letters: SLIP.

S - Starting sentences in different ways

start sign

Look at this paragraph and sigh at is boringness:


I got up at five this morning.  I crept down the stairs.  I made sure no one was awake.  I tiptoed out of the house.  I climbed my favourite tree.  I watched the sunrise.  I saw the world before everyone else had woken up.


Now take a look at this paragraph following the same chain of events as the first:


At five o’clock in the morning my alarm went off.  I blinked into the darkness then pulled on a coat and slipped out of my bedroom.  Tentatively, I crept across the landing and tiptoed down the stairs.  Pushing the front door open, I stepped out into the garden.  All was still and quiet.  I sped across the lawn and climbed up the gnarled oak tree.  And then I waited.  Minutes slipped by – and then it happened.  Like a giant gold coin, the sun stirred beyond the horizon.  I had the sunrise to myself that morning, before the rest of the world had even woken up…


Why is the second paragraph better than the first?  Because the writer varies the way the sentences start.  Here are six Starting Sentences Tips:


1. Start your sentence with an adjective (a word that describes a noun)

Dusty cobwebs clung to the bannisters.


2. Start your sentence with an ‘ing’ verb (a present participle). The sentence must also have a comma in it to make sense

Pounding through the undergrowth, the beast made its way towards me.


3. Make your sentence as short as possible

I froze. My heart thumped.


4. Make the sentence into a question

Why had he sent me here?


5. Start the sentence with a simile, a metaphor or personification

Like a shaking animal, the girl huddled in the shadows.


6. Start the sentence with an adverb (a word describing a verb, often ends in –ly)

Gingerly, I crept across the courtyard.


Dice game

Write this sentence at the top of your page: With trembling hands, I opened the chest.  Then find a dice.  Each number on the dice corresponds to one of the six ‘Starting Sentences Tips’ above.  Roll the dice and whatever number it lands on, you must write a sentence following that tip: so if you roll a 6 on the dice, you must start your sentence with an adverb (ie: Slowly, I stepped into the room). You only have one minute to write each sentence – then you have to roll the dice again.

L - Length of sentences



A well-placed short sentence is one of the most powerful tools of a wordsmith.  Longer sentences are great for creating a setting or for building up to a point but it’s the short sentence afterwards that sends your writing out with a punch.  Take a look at these examples:


‘Too late, I felt the talons sink into me and I realised this was nothing to do with Hector’s disappearance, nothing to do with me being unable to spell, or read or write.  This was nothing to do with my father being headmaster, or my mother, or even the hens in our back garden – no, this was to do with an altogether more worrying matter.  It was about the moon man.’ (Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner)


‘At last he became aware that the thundering had turned to echoes – and that the echoes were getting fainter.  The World Spirit was striding away into the Mountains.  The sound of his footsteps faded to a hiss of settling snow…  Then a whisper… Then – silence.’ (Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver)


You can even have a ‘One Sentence Paragraph’ for a moment of suspense: And that’s when I saw him.  


Short Straw game


Get into a group of five people.  Find five plastic straws and cut one of the straws to a smaller length.  With their eyes closed, everyone in the group has to pick a straw.  Whoever picks the shortest straw is in charge of the Short Sentence for the group.  Using the situations below (or any others you come up with), your group must write a short paragraph consisting of four sentences that build up the tension (each of the four people with long straws must write one sentence) and then one final short sentence (from the person with the shortest straw) to send out the PUNCH!


  • someone entering a graveyard at midnight (do they see or hear something terrifying?)
  • someone running away from a captor (are they caught?)
  • someone swimming in the sea (what do they come across?)
  • someone waiting for another person to give them bad news (could the other person try to avoid answering the question first)

I - Imagery

trees mist


As moontrug explained in ‘Creating Settings’, a range of similes, metaphors and personification can help to create a really dramatic atmosphere.  Make sure the imagery you use fits with the atmosphere though.  If you are creating a terrifying forest, you could say: ‘the branches coiled around me like splintered hands’ but you absolutely definitely completely could NOT say: ‘the branches coiled around me like tons of spaghetti.’  Ummmm, no…  The imagery you use must enhance your atmosphere.



Compares one thing with another thing of a different kind (often using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’). Example: ‘At its foot, guarded by a solitary yew tree, was a cavern of darkness like a silent scream’ (Wolf Brother, by Michelle Paver)



Compares one thing with another thing of a different kind (without using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’). Example: ‘My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic’ (My Name Is Mina, David Almond)



Giving human characteristics to non-living things or ideas. Example: ‘wind rushed down the hill and into his room, billowing the curtains’ (A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness)


Imagery game


Visit the National Geographic website (Click Here). On the right hand side of the page there are links for different categories of photos: animals, nature and weather, landscapes, people and culture, travel, underwater etc.  For each photograph you like, write a simile, metaphor or personification to describe it.

P - Punctuation



A wordsmith must use standard punctuation, like full stops and commas, for their writing to make sense.  But they can show off with exclamation marks, ellipses, colons and semi colons.


Exclamation mark!

When is it used? At the end of a sentence or a short phrase to expresses a very strong feeling.

Example: ‘I am not going in there!’ cried Felix.



When is it used? 1. to indicate an unfinished thought or a trailing off into silence. 2. to suggest that something bad is going to happen


1. I just don’t get why…

2. Below him, he heard the bear getting closer…



When is it used? 1. to introduce a list. 2. to introduce or quotation. 3. to add emphasis to a point by having a single word on its own


1. I want you to buy the following: one scooter, two puppies and four bananas.

2. In the play, Romeo says: ‘Juliet is the sun!’

3. There’s only one word to describe you: fabulous.


Semi colon;

When is it used? 1. to indicate a small pause which is a bit longer than that shown by a comma. 2. to separate two clauses of a sentence when they are closely related. 3. to separate items in a list when the items are long phrases


1. I wanted to run; I wanted to cry.

2. Elephants live in hot countries; they cool off by bathing.

3. Writing stories opens up doors into magical worlds: frozen lands; enchanted forests; mystical skies; magical seas and hidden caves.


Punk it

Jazz up these sentences with some interesting punctuation – exclamation marks, ellipses, colons and semi colons.  You can change the words to make the sentences more exciting, too.


1. The tree was large. I climbed it.

Example answer: The tree was gnarled and crooked; I scuttled up its branches.


2. ‘No.’ I screamed.  ‘You can’t take my father away from me.’


3. It was windy. I tugged my coat on.


4. I ran across the road to buy a few things like fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.


5. No one could have foreseen what happened next.


6. ‘I’ll never give up.’ the walrus bellowed.


7. I need to take so many belonging with me like bags, coats, shoes, jewellery.


8.The figure was still behind me – and he was running.

P - POW words



According to the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,019,729 words in the English language and the average person uses only 12,000.  So push the boat out a little and explore the INFINITE variety of words out there.  Here is moontrug’s alphabet of POW words:


A – austere                 (severe, strict)

B – belligerent           (hostile, aggressive)

C – colossal               (huge)

D – derelict                (run-down, abandoned, deserted)

E – eerie                      (creepy)

F – furtive                   (secretive)

G – gingerly               (carefully, cautiously)

H – haggard              (appearing worn or exhausted)

I – irate                       (very angry)

J – jovial                     (cheerful, friendly)

K – klutz                     (clumsy person)

L – lethargic              (very tired)

M – malevolent         (evil)

N – nauseating         (make [someone] feel sick)

O – ornate                  (made in an intricate shape or with complex decoration)

P – petulant               (childishly sulky, bad-tempered)

Q – quagmire             (land with a soft muddy surface, boggy)

R – regal                     (royal, magnificent)

S – sinister                 (suggesting or threatening evil)

T – tentatively           (uncertain, hesitant)

U – unrelenting        (refusing to take pity or relent)

V – vile                        (loathsome, disgusting)

W – whorled              (to spiral or move in a twisted way)

X – xanthippe           (an ill-tempered woman – struggling with x….)

Y – yowled                 (to make a long, loud cry)

Z – zeppole                 (a variety of doughnut – well, why not?) 


Alphabet game


Make up your own alphabet of new words.  There is only one rule: the words for X and Z have to be ridiculous.


So GO GO GO wordsmith!  Let’s see what you’ve got…


‘I do not want to just read books; I want to climb inside them and live there.’ (Anon)


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