Young Writers Course

Lesson 1: Ingredients of a True Story

Welcome to the world of writing true stories! There’s good news and bad news.
Good news: True stories can make a huge impact on readers.

Bad news: True stories can be harder to write than made-up (fiction) stories.

But it’s worth it, because there’s power in a well-written true story. Guide’s Young Writers Certification Course is a toolbox to help you write great true stories.

So, What Exactly Does “True” Mean?

While nobody can remember every last detail about something that once happened, here’s a definition to keep in mind:

A true story tells about something that really happened and can be backed up by someone else.

Now, that definition doesn’t mean writing about brushing your teeth last night will make a gripping story. Sure, your mom can back it up, but who cares? You want to write a story that someone actually wants to read. To help you do that, here are a few things you need to know.

What’s Generally OK for True Stories

Created dialogue (people talking) that is needed to accurately show relationships and situations, and that helps to keep the story moving smoothly

Important elements such as weather conditions, geographical description, cultural and transportation references, etc.) that help the reader to clearly picture the story in his or her mind.

In other words, don’t make stuff up. Use your good judgment. Nobody wants to read a dull story, but they do need to trust that what they’re reading happened pretty much as written. Get as many facts as you can and go from there.

What’s Generally NOT OK for True Stories

A made-up story line or unnecessary made-up stuff. Again, nobody can remember every last detail of something that happened, so sometimes you’ll have to use good judgment about including what people likely said or did. But the more facts the better. This will help to avoid mistrust (“Why did you say I owned a pit-bull, you dolt?”) and other complications with real-life characters and readers.

A made-up character. Especially for this course, choose a story line where you have the facts about who was involved.

Important elements of setting that can’t be backed up as being part of the real-life story. For example, let’s say you choose to write a historical story. You decide to include a staircase, a springhouse, and a rifle. Unless you were there, which is pretty unlikely unless you are a time-traveler, you just don’t know what the place looked like. Whether a historical story or a story from today, try to base your story on what you actually know about the setting from your research.

Talking objects or animals. Winnie the Pooh is cool, but that’s a whole different story. If you want to earn your true story writing certificate, leave the talking critters for another time.

OK, hopefully you get the main idea about what makes up a true story. Just to be sure, take the quiz.

Randy Fishell

About the Course

The Young Writers Course is designed to help you quickly improve your true story writing. In fun fashion it looks at important writing elements such as choosing a storyline, dialogue, word selection, grammar and much more. Yeah, there are a few quizzes to take, but they’re pretty easy! Taking this course will vastly improve your chances of getting a story published in Guide or on its website.

About the Instructor

Randy Fishell is the editor of Guide, a magazine that has been publishing a weekly magazine full of stories for 70 years. No, he hasn’t been on staff the whole time! He has, however, been on the job long enough to have a pretty clear idea of the difference between stories that make it into print and those that don’t. Randy has also had his own books and lots of magazine articles accepted for publication. One of his first stories to be published was “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” which later became the title of one of his books. “It turns out that believing I could keep every hair on my head intact for the rest of my life was a bald-faced lie,” Randy observes. His very first book was a collection of church skits, including a silly one about a surgeon who tries to operate on a patient with a bad case of “criticulosis”—the habit of criticizing others. Randy’s latest book is The Good Humor Guy, a collection of wacky stories from his long-running Guide column of the same name. The book includes such life-changing stories as “Lover Boy Meets His Doom” and “Oh, That Hurts Good!” “Anybody can be a better writer if they just keep in mind a few simple tips,” says Randy. In this course he covers the writing principles that he feels are most important and suggests the sound a frog makes as a way to remember those principles. Randy lives in Smithsburg, Maryland, where he is often out exploring with his metal detector. (He has found a good number of Civil War bullets and a ridiculous number of worthless bottle caps.) He is a cartoonist and author of the book, Tucker Barnes Digs In. read more

Guide magazine only prints true stories. However, we do publish some imaginative stories on the Guide website. If you want to share your story with our online readers, click below.

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