THIS IS the first in a series of articles about creative writing. Great ideas are swirling around in your head and you're feeling creative. Now what? The next step is to focus your ideas. Understanding what makes a story will help you shape your ideas before you start writing. The six main elements of a story are characters, plot, setting, conflict, climax and ending. Let's take a look at them. Characters Strong characters are essential in a story. Through their eyes, actions and thoughts, they lead the reader through the story. A story doesn't need to have many characters, but they must be believable. Just like real people, characters want things and they're not perfect. Think about the main character in your favourite book. Write down his/her strengths and weaknesses. Then jot down three things you like about the character. Plot The plot is everything that happens in a story. It involves character, setting, conflict, climax and resolution. A plot has three main parts: a beginning, middle and ending. As a story develops the tension should rise to the point of climax and then fall. Write a one-or-two- line plot summary of your favourite book. Setting Setting is the time and place during which your story happens. The setting of a story can affect a character's behaviour and how the story develops. For example, a character living in a remote mountain village may have to struggle against the natural elements and that may make him/her aggressive. Find a description of a setting in a book you like and jot down the details of the setting. Conflict Writing about a character that always gets what he/she wants isn't going to grab the reader's attention. To make a story interesting, you need to make life difficult for your main character. Every story needs conflict - something the main character wants but can't have. Your character may get what he/she wants in the end, but not without overcoming a few obstacles along the way. Think about three books you've read and list the conflicts that each of the main characters faced. Climax The climax is the highest moment of suspense in a story - the worst obstacle a character faces. This is the all-or-nothing scene where the character succeeds or fails to get what he/she wants. Re-read your favourite book and identify the climax. Ending Some stories end at the moment of triumph while others include a scene that rounds off the events and reduces the tension. It doesn't matter where you end your story, as long as the main character has either managed to get what he/she wants or has found a way to do without it. Re-read the endings of three books you like to see how each story ends. Now that you understand what makes a story, you're ready to develop your own ideas. It's a good idea to develop a plan. A plan provides a guide for you to follow while you write. To plan your story, try answering the following questions: Who is my story about? What happens in my story? Where and when does my story take place? What does my main character want? Why can't he/she get it right away? What crisis forces him/her to succeed or fail? How does my story end? Once you've finished your plan, it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of writing. Enjoy!