Back to Basics Works

I recently conducted a writing workshop that led me back to basics. You see, my group ranged in ages four to fourteen, and I had thirty minutes to teach them how to write a story. At the same time, I happened to be reading Stephen King’s
On Writing, the best advice I’ve seen on the craft. When I looked back, my simple “lesson plan” contained striking similarities to the master storyteller’s guidance, so I thought I’d share what I learned.

I hope my students took away my main point, which was also my number one takeaway from King’s book.

I finally picked up On Writing because I found myself in a writing rut. Nothing seemed to work. When I wrote my first novel, Believing In Horses, I simply sat down and wrote. Luckily, people liked it. But since then, I’ve been studying writing, reading blogs, attending conferences, and driving myself crazy trying to follow all the experts’ advice on dialogue, language, plotting, structure, character development – you name it. The more I read, the more inept I felt. I decided to go back to basics and read a book that some of the first people who spoke to me about writing had recommended I read.

The epiphany came when I re-learned what I knew as a child: it’s all about the story.

Now, that would have made for a very short writing workshop, so I added some additional guidelines, which hopefully can help writers of any age.

  • Remember, it’s all about the story. At a minimum, every story should include the following:
    • Structure – a beginning, middle, and end
    • A main character
    • A setting
    • A problem
    • And a resolution.

I added one additional criterion for my students, since they were attending summer camp at Loftmar Stables: the stories had to include a horse. The kids wrote amazing, creative stories following the five simple steps above. No 6 + 1 writing traits, or the other state-mandated lessons taught in school — just imagination and a good story. They made it seem so easy. Both Stephen King and a group of energetic young writers helped get me back on track with a strong reminder to get back to the basics. And now, I’m fully focused on writing my next big story.

Update March 7, 2013:  I’m sharing this post today with Kid Lit Blog Hop #11 – please stop by and see some of the great posts at:







  1. Thank you, Katie, and very quotable: “Story is paramount.” I think I’ll use it in my next workshop! 🙂

  2. Thank you, Renee. Your blog hops are so friendly, and I’ve made some great new friends here and learned along the way. Appreciate the invite to participate.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. You’re right: dialogue, structure, etc is important, but story is paramount.
    Thanks for sharing with the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  4. From a book blogger perspective, I couldn’t agree with you more – it is all about the story and I like how you simplified this in your points above. I can especially tell with my children when I read a book aloud whether or not they, quite simply, like the story. Thank you for sharing this post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I’m sure others will enjoy it as well. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Julie, for stopping by and I look forward to seeing you “around.” It’s happy to say that the I just completed the manuscript fo the book I mentioned in that article, and it’s with the potential publisher now. Yes, kids sure can teach us a lot. 🙂 Thanks for co-hosting the Kit Lit Blog Hop, Valerie

  6. Hi Valerie
    Thanks for a great post, and how wonderful that you were able to spend that time teaching the kids. A great takeaway message and one that I have to remind myself in my own book. Great to have you on the Kid Lit Blog Hop, cheers Julie Grasso

  7. I can start if you like. Baja the horse you see in the picture is a dear frnied of mine. He is the laugh at the parrty in the kids camp. He is always having fun and wanting to play. When it comes to the finger painting he gets serious. He holds still for the kids to put their designs on him so that they can be proud of their work, Baja knows this is an honor to be painted by them and he holds as still as he can for them. I love him very much and he is dieing, I won’t have him with me here much longer, he has cancer. He is teaching me a lesson, love each day as it were your last, and enjoy the little things in life, They might make the difference that some one needs, He inspires me, and so does my other horse Willy who has over come the odds. They are my teachers and I never forget to be thankful for them touching my life. They make me try harder and never give up. Same as my first horse Digalow.

  8. Amy and I just started volniteerung with HEART, and just two days ago filled out membership forms. Every day we are there is a joy. I cannot believe the welcome we received from Judy and Mark when we first showed up. This is a couple with a huge heart for horses. Their knowledge about horses is incredible. Everyday we are there is a day we learn somethings new. Amy and I already own a bay quarter horse and we also share the same love and respect for horses but we are green. It is amazing just how busy they are but they will always stop to explain something if needed. If you watch Judy as she speaks about each of the horses you will see in her eyes the love she has for each and she has a story for each one of them. Amy has fallen in love with one of the horses named hunter, what a great horse and we hope to welcome him as a new member of our family soon. There are still great horses waiting waiting for the right family to love them to, til then I know Judy, Mark, and all the members and volunteers of HEART will be giving them plenty of love.

  9. Thank you for the kind words, and I think your blog demonstrates that you are ALREADY writing. Small world – you live in Spain, and my trip to Spain riding Andalusians inspired me to buy my horse Lucky, a half-Andalusian, and the “star” of my book. Keep writing and riding!

  10. You are an inspiring writer Valerie! I would love to write professionally as you do. It is a struggle for me getting started. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Hello.This post was extremely remarkable, particularly since I was searching for thoughts on this matter last Tuesday.

  12. Back to Basics – or what I learned from Stephen King and a group of kids #amwriting