Writing a Winning Spooky Story (by Farrar Williams and Miles Orvetti)

A lot of revisions!

A few weeks ago, my son Miles saw News-O-Matic’s spooky story contest and decided to write his own entry. This week, we found out that he won. It was especially rewarding to see Miles’s story illustrated and published in the News-O-Matic Halloween edition. However, it took some hard work to get the story ready to submit, so we thought we’d write together about the process.

We’re a homeschool family. I often give Miles time to write whatever he wants during our school day, but he was so fired up about the contest that he sat down to write this story in the evening. Miles, how did you get your idea?

I had the idea of someone saying, “Ready for your operation?” for a while. I figured I’d use it for the contest because it’s spooktastic and creepy. So I built the story off of that.

It was certainly a scary line! Once Miles finished the story, I know pestered him about it a little bit. Miles wanted to submit it, but I wouldn’t let him right away.

I don’t like revising things because it’s long and tiring. I’ve written longer stories that have more than a thousand words and I still haven’t finished revising them, so I guess I thought revising this story would take a long time. But it didn’t and my work paid off!

I think it’s hard to revise things because when you write words, you pour yourself into them. You do all that work, and it feels like changing those words or cutting them hurts or means your work wasn’t good enough. I remember that I loved to write when I was a kid but also hated to revise. I had to learn through years of writing that revision is worth it and how to accept criticism and feedback from teachers and peers. When I teach writing, which I’ve done at a number of different levels, it’s hard not to want a student to have already learned to appreciate the revision process. And when they don’t, it’s hard not to nag or change a student’s words. But I want Miles to learn to add more details and look for places to make the story stronger.

When Farrar wants to change my story I want to scream at her.

It’s not that I want to change Miles’s story! It’s that I want Miles to change his own story to make it better. How did we work out a better way?

We changed it by Farrar asking questions and me answering them. Once I had an answer, I tried to incorporate it into the story. She asked things like what the nurse looked like and how did the narrator feel.

Miles and his winning spooky story!

I typed up what Miles had written and printed it out. Miles picked out a green pen and I covered the whole story in questions. Miles answered them in a red pen then we typed up what he had written. Miles didn’t answer every question, but I thought it was much improved.

After we revised, we checked the word count… 400 words! I had to cut some out because of the contest limit. We cut out the simplest words. At the beginning, it was supposed to begin, “It was a dark and stormy night,” but we had to cut that out. I was annoyed.

But cutting actually made the story stronger too. Miles added lots of detail, and then together we went through it and figured out what were the most essential parts that made the story make sense and feel really spooky. I highlighted places we might cut and he picked them. While Miles had to cut some parts, many of the details he added when he answered questions, such as how that nurse wore a nurse’s cap, stayed in the story.

When I won it felt great! I loved the way News-o-Matic read my story in the “read to me” button! It sent a chill down my spine!

By Farrar Williams

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