What is a story?
According to the OxfordDictionaries.com, a story is “an account of
imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment”. For this
reason, precisely, you have plenty more freedom to write, as you can
make up most of the story. But just like it happens with every other
type of writing, a story must follow a particular structure which
makes sense to the reader. So let’s move on to the different parts
of a story.
Parts of a Story
A story can roughly be divided into the following parts:
• Title: The title should either summarise the whole story
(without spoilers!) or have something to do with the main theme.
Exposition: This is the beginning of the story, where the
characters and setting are established. It serves as the
introduction to the next part, the action, and the so-called
conflict of our story.
• Action: In this part, the characters deal with conflict and do
things to solve it.
• Resolution: This is where the conflict is resolved and the story
concludes with an ending, normally without any loose ends.
In the example above you can see the different parts of a
story very well defined. Just like with emails or letters, your
story should be visually appealing. For this reason I recommend the
• Write your title in capital letters.
• Leave a clear space between paragraphs.
Expressions to use in your story
In this section, we are going to focus on different expressions you
can use in the different parts of a story. While the vocabulary
used in the story will vary completely, depending on the topic, there
is a set of expressions which you can make use of quite frequently if
you memorise them beforehand. Let’s take a look:
Beginning a story
When you start a story, if the first sentence isn’t given to you, you
can use phrases like these:
• It all began…
• When I first…
• At the beginning…
• It was a hot/cold summer/winter day.
Just to be clear, these are only some simple examples which you
can use, as there is no right or wrong way to start a story. That’s the
beauty of it!
One of the great differences between writing a letter, essay, article
and so on, and writing a story is the need to pay careful attention to
the time over which the story develops. In order to define the
order of the events in the story, we must use time expressions or
time phrases. So let’s see a few:
• After that
• Not long aftewards
• As soon as
• Some time later
• A little later
• ____ minutes later
• a moment later
• Later (that morning/afternoon/day/night…)
• Just then
It is essential to use these expressions properly. Otherwise, it won’t
be clear exactly how the story develops.
When writing a story, the aim is not to inform or to convey
information; the real purpose is to entertain the reader, just like
when you read a novel you expect to be entertained. For this reason, a
story should aim to do so: entertain. And a cool way to entertain is to
create suspense, which we can do by using some of the following
• All of a sudden
• Without warning
• Just at that moment
• Out of the blue
• Out of nowhere
• Right away
• Straight away
In every story there are characters and they usually interact with
each other, so it is always good if you know how to use direct speech,
that is, reproduce the words the characters actually say or think.
The tricky bit about this is the punctuation and the verbs to choose,
because it’s good to use some verbs other than “say”. Let’s take a look
at some examples:
• “I’m coming with you,” she said.
• She said, “I’m coming with you.”
• “Do you like it?” he asked.
• “Don’t do it!” he screamed.
Pay close attention at where the comma (,) or other punctuation
marks go (?, !). Also, don’t forget to use inverted commas (“…”) to
enclose the direct speech. In British English we normally use single
inverted commas (‘…’), but it’s not important so choose the one that
suits you best.
Finishing your story
This paragraph, the resolution, should be separated from the rest,
and it’s a good idea to start it with one of the following expressions:
• In the end
• When it was all over
• After everything that happened
Again, these are just a few examples. There’s no right or wrong way
to conclude a story, as long as it makes sense with the rest of the
piece of writing.
One of the reasons why stories are particularly challenging for B1
students is that they tend to take place in the past, which makes it
necessary to use a range of past tenses appropriately. The main
three past tenses you should really try to use are the following:
• Past simple (-ed/irregular form)
• Past continuous
• Past perfect
If you take a look at the example of Writing above, you’ll see how I
used these tenses in combination, when possible:
• Past simple and continuous:
It was midnight and I was trying to sleep.
• Past perfect and simple:
I had completely forgotten it was my birthday.
• Past simple:
This time I picked up the phone quickly and shouted, “Hello?!”.
So that’s how you should try to tell your story. Please avoid a simple
succession of past simple tenses alone, like:
I woke up and got out of bed. Then I went to the kitchen
and made some coffee.
It’s not wrong, but it’s just not good enough for a story.
Now that we know what expressions we should be using when writing
a story and how to combine the different tenses, let’s take
another look at another task and a sample answer:
In the story above you can see different things:
• Well-defined structure: 3 clear paragraphs.
• A variety of past tenses: past simple (was tired, didn’t want,
etc.), past continuous (was getting off, was sleeping, etc.) and
past perfect (had broken, had stopped, etc.).
• Time expressions: in the end, when, a few hours later.
• Suspense elements: all of a sudden, without a warning.
Top 5 Tips for Writing a Story
1. Learn, memorise and use some of these expressions. Make
sure you already know a set of expressions to use in your next
story. This will not only avoid you making mistakes, but also it
will make your story so much better! It will give you points to
use those expressions.
2. Write a well-structured and visually-appealing story.
Organise your piece of writing, to make sure not to write an
incoherent story. Also, remember that punctuation matters, so
be sure to separate your sentences with stops and commas and
don’t write sentences which are too long.
3. Brainstorm before you write. Before starting to write your
story, brainstorm a couple of things and write down some ideas.
This can include vocabulary related to the topic, connectors,
time phrases, etc. Also, decide before writing how the story is
going to end.
4. Revise, edit and improve. Don’t write all at once and then move
on. Once you have finished your story, go over it. Look for
possible mistakes. Look for ways to improve it, maybe adding
adjectives here and there. You can save many points by simply
reviewing what you’ve written.
5. Experiment at home, be conservative in the exam. Homework
is the best chance to be creative and experiment with stories.
So make sure you try your hardest to keep improving when you
write at home. On the other hand, when you’re doing an exam,
don’t risk trying out new words or expressions, as you may be
making a terrible mistake. So be safe in your exam and stick to
what you already know works.