Writing Hints and Tips

Members of the English department at St Aloysius’ College use a variety of tasks, triggers and tips to inspire and guide writing among their pupils at all levels. We have included a few of these on this page: many are very simple, and can be tried at home as easily as in the classroom.


Opening sentences:

 The opening sentence of any piece of writing should aim to grab the reader’s attention, and sometimes, if you think of a striking enough opening sentence, you will start to find the rest of the story taking shape in your mind. Again, to help you, you could set some strict parameters, e.g:

  • Come up with five opening sentences that contain a contrast.
  • Come up with five opening sentences that mention a person, a place and an event.
  • Come up with five opening sentences that start the story on a moment of action or extreme tension.


Setting plot parameters:

 Plan a story whose plot hinges on one of the following situations:

  • A character has an epiphany
  • Hidden or mistaken identity
  • Then and now / Learning from the past
  • A character faces a challenge
  • Dramatic change in circumstances



As early as you can in a narrative, you should introduce something to give the reader a reason to want to continue to read what you have written.

The following are the opening words of some famous pieces of literature.  Try to identify the hook in each case:

Mr Jones of the Manor Farm had locked the henhouses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.  With the ring of light from the lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs Jones was already snoring.

As soon as the lights in the farmhouse went out, there was a stirring and a fluttering throughout the farmyard…

(George Orwell: Animal Farm).

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen…

(George Orwell: 1984).

The story so far: In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move…

(Douglas Adams: Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.  The telegram from the home says: Your mother passed away.  Funeral tomorrow.  Deep sympathy.  Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday…

(Albert Camus: L’Etranger).

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his sleep into a gigantic insect.

(Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis).


5 tips for successful, controlled story development: 

  • Maintain clear and consistent narrative point(s) of view and tense.
  • Include no more than two or three major characters.
  • Keep the plot simple – focus on characters.
  • Make characters’ thoughts, emotions and reactions believable.
  • Description of settings or people should be precise, but concise.


Multiple perspectives: 

Choose a news story that you have read recently, and think of at least three people who would have an interest or involvement in the story, and who would all have different perspectives. Try writing around 300-500 words from each different narrative perspective, thinking about the different registers and different attitudes and motives each narrative voice would have. You do not have to cover the whole story in each narrative but there should be some overlap.


Thoughts and feelings: 

Imagine a constricting, nerve-racking or tense situation, and try writing a first person interior monologue of around 500 words responding to being in that situation. Possible situations include waiting for a job interview or the results of a test, preparing to break up with someone, recalling an unsympathetic or misguided remark, or finding out that someone has lied about you or been disloyal. This does not need to be taken to a conclusion: focus simply interested on how you create the narrative voice and think carefully about language choices.


Conflict and relationships: 

Think of a situation between two or three people that produce an argument, sense of resentment or other moment of conflict. This might be between friends, or classmates, or parent and child, or teacher and pupil, or boss and employee, or any relationship where there is a balance of power. Write a short drama script focusing on this situation and its potential repercussions. In writing your script, keep the following advice in mind:

  • Try to hint at, or at least have in mind, some bigger ‘backstory’ or underlying issue or tension that is affecting one or more of the characters, or one of the relationships;
  • Use stage directions to set scene and add depth and realism to characterisation and setting through movement, expression, tone of voice, lighting, background noise, etc.
  • Try to develop character through word choice, tone, actions and omissions (what is NOT said / what is avoided).
  • Avoid ‘filler’ dialogue – ‘natural’ or ‘realist’ does NOT mean the same as ‘tedious’. Every line should be there for a purpose (this should be true of any writing that you do).


Different ways of seeing / describing: 

Read Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ (you can find this online). Now use the same structure to write a poem about one of the following: a sunset; a musical instrument; ice cream; the heart; your pet; or anything else that comes to mind.