To help you meet the challenge, some of our most successful novelists and scriptwriters will be explaining how they set about writing a page- turning narrative.
This week, Frank Deasy, author of the BBC TV drama series Looking After Jo Jo, starring Robert Carlyle, and the film Captives, with Tim Roth, tells Nicole Veash about his approach to storytelling.
`I feel drawn to these lives'
"Films either fall into my head almost complete, or come to fruition painfully slowly over a long period of time. What usually comes first is the situation; a life sentence prisoner falls in love with a member of staff in Captives; a young thief discovers heroin in Looking After Jo Jo.
"I start to feel drawn to these lives, wondering about them, daydreaming really. I make notes - snatches of dialogue, small moments between people, looks and glances. If a theme emerges from these notes I sense there is a film to be written. It starts to feel as if the story has already happened - I just need to learn about it.
"Once the story has taken shape I spend a lot of time talking to people who inhabit the world I am writing about. In Captives, the member of staff was a dentist, so I spent three days in a dental hospital, wearing a white coat.
"Screenplays are immediate, written in the present tense, so the craft of screen-writing owes a lot to oral story telling. For people who want to write for children or young people it is well worth asking: `is this how I would tell the story to a child?' I build scenes, giving the actors and director the same cues we use to read each other in daily life.
"What holds any scene together are the undercurrents - the ever-present past, the bonds being formed and betrayed, the endless calibration of power between people.
"I tend to write about people who are losing or appear to have lost their humanity. As I write I want people to keep reading, to see what happens to the characters but also, on a more spiritual level, to see where their humanity goes. How brutalised can the spirit become? How far down these roads can compassion still be found? Questions like these keep me writing and because they move me I hope they will move other people. There is a moment where the knife meets the wounds and I suppose I keep looking for that, partly to witness it and partly to see if it can be undone."
Story of the Year 6 offers a pounds 2,000 prize for the winner, with pounds 500 each for two runners up. The top 10 stories will be published in an anthology by Scholastic Children's Books. You are invited to submit stories of 1,500-2,500 words which must arrive on or before 28 February 1998 at: PO BOX 21302 LONDON WC1A 1PE. You may enter only once and entries must be made by the writer, not on his/her behalf. Entries must be typewritten, double-spaced and on one side of the paper only. We will not accept stories with illustrations. Manuscripts will not be returned, so please keep a copy. All entries must be unpublished, but published writers may enter with new material. Each entry must be submitted with both a cover page and title page. The cover page must feature the story title, and the entrant's name, address and telephone number. The title page must feature only the title of the story. The story should start on a new page, and the author's name must not feature on any of these pages, so that all entries can be judged anonymously. The winning story will be published in The Independent subsequent to the final judging of the competition which concludes on 22 May 1998. The top three stories and up to 10 others will be published in the autumn, in the anthology Story of the Year 6 by Scholastic Children's Books.
The competition is not open to employees of, or relatives of employees of Scholastic Ltd or Newspaper Publishing plc or anyone connected with the competition. Proof of posting cannot be accepted as proof of delivery. No responsibility can be accepted for entries which are delayed, damaged, mislaid or wrongly delivered. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Entry grants to Scholastic Ltd the exclusive right to publish an entrant's story in all formats throughout the world for the full legal term of copyright. A copy of the form of the contract may be obtained on application to Scholastic Ltd. By submitting an entry an entrant agrees to be bound by the terms of and to sign this agreement if called upon to do so. Any story chosen for publication in the anthology that does not win one of the top three cash prizes will receive a fee of pounds 200. Any entry not submitted in the form specified will be deemed invalid. If your story is not published in the anthology or in the newspaper by the end of December 1998, these rights revert to you. Entry into this competition implies acceptance of these rules.