A story has five elements: Setting, Protagonist, Goal, Obstacles and Resolution. 

If you miss any one of these elements, you will not have a complete, or satisfying story to tell. They are the ‘bare bones’ of any story and if you had to ‘pitch’ your story idea to someone in just a single paragraph, these elements would succinctly tell them what your story is about.

For example, my teen novel FREEN: The First Truth is set in (setting) Eastbourne and is the story of fourteen-year-old (protagonist) Gem, who discovers that her necklace is the key to an ancient secret. She and her friends (goal) want to reveal the truth to the world, however, (obstacle) Government agents are after them and they must (resolution) decide if the truth is worth telling.

SETTING (time period and/or location) – is the story set in a specific or recognisable time period, geographical location or other world? This should be clear and will affect the direction, style of writing and possibly, the word-count.

PROTAGONIST (the main character) every story needs a main character, i.e. the character whose point of view (PoV) is most prevalent and that your readers can become emotionally invested in.

GOAL – What is your protagonist trying to do? They need a goal, a wish, a desire or a need that makes the ‘story’. This could be; escaping from a bad relationship, finding a lost treasure, discovering their true identity or, even simply getting through year five at school – but that goal should be clear because the reader needs to be rooting for them to succeed.

OBSTACLES (or events)Who or what is stopping, or making it difficult for the protagonist to achieve their goal? Obstacles can come from a single or multiple sources and can even be some aspect of the protagonists’ character that becomes the obstacle. Without an obstacle, a story would not be much of a story.

The RESOLUTION – How does your protagonist achieve their goal, despite the obstacles? Perhaps they don’t achieve their goal but, the resolution is their acceptance of this fact.

Exercise 1

Pretty much every story can be summarised using the ‘five finger pitch’.

Test this theory out: consider a few books and/or films you have recently read or watched and see if you can identify your own answers to the following questions (in bold). Remember to think about the overall picture, rather than the specific details:


Film/Novel title: ET (science fiction film by Steven Spielberg)

Setting: Suburban California

Protagonist: the story is from the point of view of Elliot, the young boy who finds the alien.

Goal: Elliot is trying to get the alien (ET) back home

Obstacles: The government agencies who want to capture the alien

Satisfactory resolution: ET goes home



Children’s stories still have all the same five key elements, but without the complexity that an adult story/novel might have. 

Novel title: Mog, The forgetful Cat (a children’s story by the much loved Judith Kerr)

Setting: Mog lives with Mr and Mrs Thomas and their children in an ordinary house England.

Protagonist: Mog The Forgetful Cat

Goal: For everyone to love and appreciate her.

Obstacles: Mog is forgetful, and that gets her into all sorts of trouble with her owners.

Satisfactory resolution: Mog alerts the family to a burglar and becomes a hero, which makes everyone appreciate her and love her more.

Exercise 2

You are going to use a Five Finger Pitch to plot and then write your own short story of around 500 words, using one of the improbable scenarios listed 1 to 5 below. Remember to describe what you see, how you feel and any smells, sounds or sensations you might experience too.

PROTAGONIST You are the main character.

GOAL You have an important meeting that you must attend, this afternoon – your future depends on it.

SETTING When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t in my bedroom…..

Now select an OBSTACLE from numbers 1 to 5 below. You could randomise your selection by throwing a dice (create your own scenario if you throw a 6).

1 … I was clinging to the branch of a tree, in a jungle full of dangerous creatures and poisonous plants.

2 … My bed was a boat and I was in the middle of a choppy ocean, surrounded by sharks.

3 … I was on the moon with a broken spacecraft and a rather angry alien.

4 … I was trapped in a cage, hanging from the ceiling of a castle, surrounded by guards shouting, “Off with their head”.

5 … I was running through a network of underground tunnels, being chased by angry trolls. 

RESOLUTION How will you get out of your predicament and arrive at your meeting on time?

Remember, this is your story and you can write your way out using absolutely any escape plan you can think of – be imaginative – crazy even – push yourself to be as daft and inventive as possible.

I would love to hear your stories, please do feel free to post them in the comments below.


Hello and welcome to my Creative Writing Course: GET STARTED. 

This first course is aimed at anyone who wants get writing and improve their skills. There are twelve fun and easy to follow, weekly lessons with downloads and videos, all based on the ‘live’ classes I teach in Eastbourne (UK).

If you have any questions, do feel free to put them in the comments.


Do you mean, someone who makes a living from writing, or someone who writes for pleasure?

If you want to make a living from being a writer, then there is a huge amount you should learn about ‘The Business of Writing’ and there are lots of websites and YouTube tutorials that can help you, but first, you need to get writing – because the way to get good at writing is to write – A LOT.

Why? Because writing is a craft, and like any craft – the more you do it, the better you get. Just take a look at the very first novels of many well-known writers. Quite often you will see a marked difference in their ability, style and confidence.

Writers also:

  • Subscribe to writing magazines, such as Writing Magazine (www.writers-online.co.uk) or Writers Forum (www.writers-forum.com) which are both UK magazines, or The Writer magazine in the USA
  • Attend local Literary Festivals – most towns have them and they are great places to chat to other authors and people in the business of writing and publishing.
  • Join Facebook groups for writers and writing groups, which provide excellent support, information and useful resources.
  • Attend a writing group. There may be several in your area, so try them out and find a group that is a good fit for YOU, because they each have different ‘personalities’.  

But most important of all,

Write. A lot.


I would encourage you to use a computer, rather than paper and pen because it allows you to edit more easily and if you are looking to publish, or self-publish, your writing will need to be typed. 

However, if you only like pen and paper, then by all means keep using it.

Personally, I use Microsoft Word because it has everything I need to produce my self-published books but, there are specialist writing software packages that have good reputations, if you wish to invest in one.


Before you get started, it is worthwhile noting that there are certain, pre-set expectations (from both readers and publishers) for the word-count of different genres or types of book. Numbers vary slightly, according to source, but are approximately:

Standard Novel80,000 to 100,000
Young Adult Novel45,000 to 80,000
Science Fiction Novel100,000 to 125,000
Literary Fiction55,000 to 100,000
First Chapter books4,000 to 10,000
Middle Grade Fiction (ages 9-12)30,000 to 55,000
Novella17,500 to 39,999
Novelette7,500 to 17,499
Short Storyunder 7,500
Flash FictionUsually under 2500
Flash 500500
Twitter story280 CHARACTERS
Zines (hand-printed A5 magazines – you can see lots of examples on Etsy.com – great for poetry.)About 24 x A5 pages
Articles for magazines100 to 750 – or more
Blog postAny length but around 2000 is preferred by readers.

Whether you are considering self, or mainstream publishing, it is worth sticking within these guidelines until you are established.


My course is listed by week, but not everyone has the time to dedicate to writing each week, so please don’t feel bad if you replace weeks with months or longer – the main thing is that you are writing, which means your writing WILL be improving.

Keep everything you write (even if you hate it, or think it is terrible) – all the exercises you do so that you can look back over them and improve them as your writing skills increase.

Don’t be discouraged if you do not get on with a particular exercise, or it isn’t something you want to write. By all means write something entirely different – as long as you are writing, that is a good thing. However, I would encourage you to step out of your comfort zone from time to time because you may find a new genre, or technique that you didn’t realise you loved until you tried it.

Enjoy your writing and be proud of it, whatever level you are starting at and know that every time you write, you will understand the craft of writing better.

Read more and look at the books you read from the point of view of a writer and ask, why did the author do it that way?

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