Win pounds 2,000 and have your story published
The Independent/ Scholastic Story of the Year Competition, now in its sixth successful year, aims to encourage top writing for the very difficult to please six to nine year old age group.

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, Robert Harris, author of the international best-sellers, Fatherland and Enigma, tells Nicole Veash about his approach to telling a story and developing characters.

'I just love all the twists and turns'

"People always say 'write what you know', but I have never written about anything I have experienced directly. For every 10 facts I know about the world I am writing of, I might only reveal three, but I think the reader senses you know more and that helps give depth to a book.

I usually start writing the book quite early on into my research, and then I throw all those pages away. I suppose I feel my way in and then there comes a moment when everything works and the novel comes out quite fast. I only write one draft, make the necessary corrections, then send it off. I can't understand how some writers can go back and totally re- write their books.

Character, character, character - it might be a cliche - but character is really the most important thing. If the main character does not engage, then the book is not going to work. My characters all come from my head. I don't base them on people I know, apart from the odd visual characteristic.

Characters should do unexpected things, like in real life. There is no denying that characterisation is very hard. In fact probably the most mysterious thing in the whole business is how to write a rounded character.

I like my characters to do things and see things. They should go to different places, so you get a sense of breadth.

Dialogue is fantastically important. It should carry the story forward, of course, but it should also delineate irony and reveal something about a character with subtle undertones. I always read my dialogue aloud to see if it works.

Plot is very unfashionable just now. No matter how beautifully a book is written it doesn't work for me unless the story is going somewhere. I just love all the twists and turns of story-telling.

Making the book a page turner is something I seem to do naturally, but there is a basic level of craft. Each sentence should end with a mini climax, as should each paragraph and each chapter. You should always provide something to keep a reader going."

competition Rules

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.