An In-Depth Look at Neopian Times Short Stories
A story is a narrative, a tale, an account, etc. A short story, by Neopian Times standards, is between 1,200 and 4,000 words long. I assume I do not have to define a story, but very well -- a definite story (usually) has a plot, characters, a setting, theme/s, and a conflict. It may be classified into a particular genre or fit several genres, and can be upbeat, tragic, or anywhere in between. For a more general guide to the Neopian Times, click here.
There are countless kinds of stories depending on their content; you can specialize in a certain genre or type, or spread out. Even if we narrow it down to Neopets-themed stories, it's still a pretty wide range, despite the rules (which are tackled over at our generic NT help article up there). So I'll just go over the parts of a typical story, and along the way, give some useful tips and tricks to writing a decent one. Much of this guide is also applicable for series writers, but I'll focus on series in my next guide, I promise.
Beginning and Writing the Story
Characters and Characterization
Characters can be created by you or taken from the site. They can be Neopets, petpets, petpetpets, faeries or basically anyone in Neopia. Humans (as owners) are also allowed, but the focus should preferably be on the natives of Neopia.
Your characters can have special abilities or powers, but don't overdo their strengths. If you want your characters to be believable, give them weaknesses or flaws. Readers usually favor characters they can relate with -- the imperfect ones. Give them personality by adding quirks and points of view, among other things. They can fill any role -- parent, friend, hero, villain, child, sidekick, nemesis, wise old man, damsel in distress, twisted genius -- the possibilities are just endless. So don't be afraid to experiment with your characters by placing them in all sorts of situations. It's fun to think of what a certain character would do in a particular circumstance and put yourself into his, her or its shoes.
You won't believe the situations she puts me in with that twisted imagination of hers...
By the way -- protagonists and antagonists are different from heroes and villains. The protagonist is the focus of the story; it revolves around him/her/it and his/her/its conflict and such. The antagonist hinders the protagonist from his/her/its goal. Thus, a protagonist can be a villain, and an antagonist can be a hero. Besides, who is good or evil is relative to the reader, even if you make it painfully obvious. This is a common mistake made not only by some beginning NT authors, but other people in general. You can thank me for helping you with your English homework later.
Where and when will your story take place? Considering the diversity of Neopian lands and their histories, you can easily weave your own setting and create the ambiance you want for your story. The setting is more than just a diorama where you will be sticking your characters; it is a vital part that also has an impact on your story. For example, if you weave a tale of Terror Mountain, how do your characters deal with blizzards? Will the snow hamper them from reaching their goals? Will some aspect of the land become a plot device later on?
You don't have to point them out in the story; you can leave that for your readers to interpret. More often than not, I don't indicate the exact year and time when my stories take place, but there is an implied chronological order with some of them.
Theme and Plot
What is your story all about -- will it be an interesting yarn of epic adventure, or an emotional heart breaker? Are there any lessons to be learned from your story (even if you don't mean to, you can still wind up hinting at morals)? I typically don't brainstorm on themes much, as they tend to come out on their own as I plan plots and create characters.
The plot is the general flow of your story. Usually, stories have a conflict -- something the protagonist seeks to resolve by the end of his, her or its tale, and the reason why your story must be told. Conflicts can either be wrapped up when you're done or left open.
There is also a climax, the highest point, where the events can go in any direction and in which your readers are holding on to your every word the most. One might say this is easily the most gripping part of any story. But you can have more than one of these, depending on how long your story is and what it is all about.
Honestly, I don't have much to say about the plot, because you're not limited to what I'm rambling on about here (or what your English teachers may have been rambling about for years, but do listen to them; they'll give you good pointers). But I would just like to say that plotting is one of the most fun aspects of writing, whether you're doing a Neopian Times short story or not. So run away with your imagination and take your characters, settings and what have you in any direction; you're the author, after all.
Ending Your Story
Ooh, endings! Notice how not all endings are happy, or tragic, or wrap every last loose bit of the story up in a finished package. Because you're in control of the route your story will take, you're free to decide how to finish your masterpiece. If you plan to write a sequel or related stories, you can try leaving subtle hints that will keep your readers guessing -- and on the edge of their seats! Or worse, a cliff hanger!
Tricks of the Trade
Remember the rules of the site, which also includes the stuff you can never, ever put into the Neopian Times. They obviously apply.
Don't know where to begin idea-hunting? Try looking into your own feelings and experiences. You never know, the stories of your life could provide the foundation for your written work. As you go on with your usual routine, keep a lookout for anything you can use in a story, whether it's something that comes from you or something that you simply notice somewhere. You'd be surprised at what you come up with after, say, a quiet ride on the train. Believe me, I pick up ideas by either letting my mind wander or staring out into the landscape.
Where are we going? Oh, idea-hunting! It's my favorite hobby!
Considering how long people have been telling stories, no idea is completely original. However, you can add your own flavor and thus set your work apart from the others by letting your creativity flow. That's how plot twists are born -- think of your plot and all the possible directions it can take. Once again, you'd be surprised at what you end up writing -- sometimes your finished story turns out to be something you never really expected!
Be a reader as well as a writer. Always read through your work and visualize yourself as your own reader. What do you look for in a story? What makes you want to read it? When you're done, do you feel like there's something missing? Hey -- this is actually part of the editing process. Editing isn't just about checking your syntax, anyhow. If you don't trust your editing skills very much, you can always have someone else look your story over and give you feedback that will help you bring out the best in your writing.
And most importantly, have fun! The road of writing is not always as easy as one-two-three, and you may encounter things like writer's block and rejection letters, but in the long run, you will learn many things that will guide you along the way.
It'll be fun! Don't you believe me?
This article was written by: Kat