Young Writers Course

Lesson 4: The Rest of RIBBITS

The first three letters in the RIBBITS The first three letters in the RIBBITS Writing Formula stand for RETAIN the reader, INTRODUCE the main characters and setting, and BUILD the main story line. Here are the last four elements.


B = BRIDGE to a critical choice.

Now that you’ve hooked the reader with your great writing, it’s time for someone in your story to make a critical choice. Here are a few examples to help you get a better feel for this important story-writing element.
  • Sonia has spotted someone cheating in math class. Critical choice:inform the teacher or risk being called a tattletale.
  • There’s a new boy at school. Critical choice for classmates: reach out and show acceptance or stay “cool” in the eyes of the peer group by giving the new kid the cold shoulder. Critical choice for the new boy: try and make friends or just stay out of everyone’s way.
  • At home alone one evening, Tyler hears strange noises coming from the basement. Critical choice: sneak downstairs and see what’s going on, call the police or his parents, or use earplugs.
You can see that many true stories will find the protagonist/s (the main character/s) and others arriving at a point of critical choice. Will every true story feature  a critical choice? Not necessarily, but at least figure out if yours should!


I = INCORPORATE  the main point.

“INCORPORATE” is just a fancy way of saying build your story’s main point into the story line—don’t tack it on at the end.

Here’s an example of a horrible ending:

Jacob picked himself up and checked himself for broken bones and bruises. Thankfully, the bike crash had done more damage to his ego than to his body. Jacob learned that day to never disobey his parents by riding his bike after dark.

See how that “lesson” got tacked onto the very end? Don’t do that!

Here’s an ending where the main point, or lesson, got incorporated, or built into, the story without preachiness:

Oh, brother! Jacob thought. I should’ve known sneaking out like this would end up in disaster! The last thing I need to hear from Mom or Dad is “I told you so!

Or, if a buddy had joined Jacob in this ill-fated trek, the ending could go something like this:

“Man, are you OK?” Bryce worriedly asked Jacob.

Jacob checked himself for broken bones and bruises. “I don’t think anything is broken,” he responded. “But when Mom and Dad see my bike, they’ll know for sure that I disobeyed them.”

Don’t “tack on” a preachy ending to your story! Incorporate, or build in, the main point you want your readers to get.


T=TWIST the story’s ending.

You can make your story’s ending (sometimes called “resolution” stand up and sing by bringing a “twist” into it. “Twisting” the story can take different forms. Whatever form you use (see below), at this point your story should reflect a surprise element. If the story’s critical choice already included an element of surprise, including one here may be unnecessary. If not, this is the place to include a surprising twist. Here are a couple of ways to include a twist toward the end of your story

  • Show the result of the critical choice in action. In other words, the person making the critical choice has somehow changed. If the change was for the better, you might gently surprise the reader by showing this new behavior in action, such as a thief returning a stolen item. On the other hand, the thief may have made the critical choice to plot an even worse crime. Of course, in the latter case, we’d still need to make sure the reader understands the likely bad outcome of such a lousy critical choice.

  • Try a surprise element. If you’re a comedy fan, you probably know the best jokes are often those whose punchlines were totally unexpected. In a similar way, you can “blindside” your readers by providing them with a twist that catches them completely off-guard. Again, with a true story you will need to be sure not to make up stuff just to get a laugh or surprise the reader. Here’s an example of a good story twist:

The next day, Vivian seemed to be her usual angry self. “Meet me behind the gym right after school, Nicki,” Vivian demanded. Nikki expected the worst, was shocked when Vivian gave her a crudely homemade friendship bracelet!

Do you see the twist? Nikki, along with most readers, reasoned that

Vivian wanted to meet her behind the school so she could beat the stuffing

out of her. But nothing like that happens. Instead, Vivian befriends Nikki! That’s a good twist!


S = SEAL the story with an unforgettable last line.

Just as with the opening of your story, you want the reader to leave with a memorable “closer.” There can be a great deal of creativity exercised in doing this. Here are just a few thoughts for consideration:

  • Keep it short and punchy. For example, if something dramatic took place in an eerie setting, this could work: “The swamp knew, and it wasn’t talking.” 
  • “Echo” (repeat) a catchy line or phrase from the story. 
  • Use a contrast. Example: “Hector had shined the bright light of love into a very dark place.” Just don’t be corny.
  • Ask a question. Example: “Why would Indigo want to choose anything different?”
  • Try a clever word twist. Example: “The former thief had stolen my heart.”

By the way, if you’re writing for Guide or another Christian publication, it’s usually best not to close with a Bible verse—it comes off as preachy.

Randy Fishell

About your 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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