New! Story Starters with Guest Artist, Hayley D


Just when we thought that we couldn’t be more blown away by our talented young Spilling Ink writers, Hayley, D., age 13, sent us her photos. She has a great eye for unusual objects and thought-provoking scenes. In other words, her pictures make perfect Story Starters. So, welcome Hayley, as our first guest Story-Starter artist. We’re proud to have you on the blog.

This time, however, we’re not writing the captions. We dare YOU to come up with them. Leave them in the comments. When we get a bunch, we’ll post with the pictures.  And, oh yeah, don’t forget to write a story from these amazing pictures, too! We’ll be working on ours…

Love, Ellen and Anne 



StoryStarter 1:

photo by Hayley D


StoryStarter #2:

photo by Hayley D


StoryStarter #3

photo by Hayley D

StoryStarter #4


 StoryStarter #5

photo by Hayley D

StoryStarter #6



Great Beginnings

While we were selecting the winning entries, we noticed a lot of amazing opening lines. They were just too good not to publish. We'd like to give a shout-out to the young writers who crafted such tantalizing beginnings. They make us want to read more! We hope they'll inspire and intrigue you, too.  -- Anne and Ellen



As childhood moves along, everyone eventually gets to middle school. To some, this is fine and wonderfully entertaining. I, Avery, know my middle school story is nothing of the sort.  

--Meredith, age 12


I drop my body down into my seat. THUMP! Thumping sound that combines with the squeaking sound of the new bus seat. I look past the raindrops that look splatter painted onto the window. All I see is dark trees and roads and the occasional light from a house with a person living in that likes to be up at six thirty in the morning. The bus jerks to a stop and the door opens seconds later. A tall kid who must be in eighth grade because off his size steps on the bus. He walks to the back of the bus and goes right pass me. This is only my first day of sixth grade so I sit in the tenth seat back. I go back to staring out the window watching everything go by. About thirteen stops later the sun is almost fully up and I notice the bus is stopped at one of my friend’s house. He walks on the bus and sees me. He walks over and drops in the seat just as I did. He takes his backpack off and sets it on the ground next to mine. We wave to each other, but don’t actually talk. He must be as nervous as I am. I stare at the bus seat for another five minutes until I look over at him and try to start a conversation.

“What class are you in?”

--Ben, age 11


I sit with Grandma under the old willow tree. Today, she is silent. I am about to tell her a story, one she told me, three years ago. I think she’s smiling. She likes this story, I do too. But no one can tell for sure what Grandma thinks anymore. I lay my head on her cold, stone shoulder. If only Grandma could still speak. I begin.  

--Kayla, age 12


It started like most things: an idea formed out of pure human creativity. Unless the idea comes from a child, then the idea is probably made more from the kid’s twisted sense of humor more than anything else. From that deep dark area of a kid’s brain were things are created by mutilation and mutilation is caused by things.


This idea seemed like a good one from the eyes of a fifth grade boy, tired of the summer’s heat and slowness. We were all sitting around at the schoolyard, boys and girls popular and not when Timmy Comache had the world’s most fantastic, stupendous, and overall completely ridiculous idea. He talked to the kids with a mad fire in his eyes finally he convinced and the dare war was decided.

--Aidan, age 12



I am Curt Courtesan. I am writing to you today so you can save MY  LIFE! Let me tell you about my story of what happened to me before this catastrophe and how I am involved in this trouble! I got in trouble by stealing food from a bakery at 10pm yesterday... well it looks like you are still reading so I can trust you to help me. Now let me tell you my true story.  

--Nkosi, age 12


“Stop!” I screamed. The shadow figure disappeared in the cold autumn night. Tears trickled down my tan cheek.


‘’Help!’’ “Help!” I cried out. But no one answered. The wind blew a breeze through the night. The ground turned cold and the trees swayed on the grass; but no sound was to be heard.

--Sophia, age 12


“Ummm…miss, what are you doing?” asked the librarian. I quickly snapped out of my daydream of riding a blue rhinoceros though a mine field, epically dodging the bombs as things exploded behind me.

--Kae, age 12


The howling wind whistled through the trees as if sending a message. It was a cold, December night in the old village. The portal would open in just five minutes. Everyone was waiting in the town square, circling the fire they had started.  



I watch them, continuously kicking the ball back and forth through the frosted window. They play outside, in the small patch of greenery in front of our small suburban house. Soon they get tired of the bitter cold, and stumble inside.  The smiles on their faces and the worry that flashes their eyes snap me back to reality, as I try to make sense of what my life has come to be. An empty pit that can only be filled by his presence, but no longer can I really feel safe in his arms. He can no longer be in our lives. But yet, I still see him every day, haunting my dreams, in pictures, even in their little faces I see the deep blue eyes that they got from him.  

--Jaidyn, age 12


The early morning sun was shining through the window of Cassandra’s room.  All was calm; all was perfect except . . . she was invisible.  The night before Cassandra went to bed pondering upon what it would be like if she weren’t there.  Now she would find out.

--Ava, age 10

Congratulations to our Winners!!


We were thrilled with the high quality of the entries for this 8-12 year old writing contest. And we're especially proud to publish the three winning entries below. We think their imagination, story-telling gifts, and originality speak for themselves. So without further ado...our winners! P.S. Show them some love in the comments!

P.P.S. We're going to have a surprise follow up blog to this one, to highlight some of the great writing we found.  love, Anne and Ellen


First Prize:

The Bigger Badder Wolf

By Chloe G., age 12


Let me introduce myself: my name is Wolfimina, but most people just call me Betty. You may know me as “the big bad wolf,” but I find this name quite insulting. Firstly, I am not that big (I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last six weeks, so cut me some slack!). Secondly, I’m no meaner than the little, old lady in line at the supermarket.

Anyway, you might know me from the famous and completely erroneous Little Red Riding Hood story.

In that story, I am a dude (certainly not the case) and I’m supposed to be like, really old, but I’m only twenty-five...ish. In that version, I attack an old lady and Red Riding Hood (aka Red), eat the old lady, try to eat Red, but before I can, the woodsman comes in and slaughters me.

Well, I’m still here, so he obviously didn't kill me and Red wasn't even going to visit her grandmother!

This is how it really went: last week I decided to give Red what she had coming to her. She had been sitting at home watching the Real Housewives of Ever After, and all I was going to do was rip off her satellite dish and maybe just nibble her a bit, as a snack for the road. But just then, her perfect stud of a lumberjack boyfriend told me to get lost! How dare he be so rude! He then chased me out of the house, carrying an axe over his shoulder. This incident had both embarrassed and traumatized me so much, that I had decided to make an appointment with my therapist.

Ms. Godmother was by far the best in the business and I had been seeing her ever since she had traded in her fairy license, having decided that being a shrink was a more noble profession. I had just finished telling her what had happened at Red's when she spoke for the first time:

“Honestly, when will you and Red make up?” she asked, looking down at me through her half- moon spectacles.

She was sitting across from me on a brown, leather chair that matched the chaise longue I was on. The room was a boring shade of beige, lined with wood bookcases.

Ms. Godmother's stare penetrated as she waited for a response.

I had been coming to Ms. Godmother ever since I was a child. She knew me pretty well and this was a long-standing row with Red . It had started in seventh grade: she started hanging with the “populars,” became a spokesperson for Red Hood Chic and it all went to her head. Her insults could get pretty bad: from saying I had facial hair, to making fun of my weight, to saying I had doggie breath. I mean, where did she get that from?! The tug o' war of insults and cruel jokes had just gotten worse as we aged.

 Ms. Godmother tapped my leg gently and I was brought back to reality with a jolt.

“I don't think we'll ever make up Ms. Godmother. It's just...” Right then, I was cut off as Ms. Godmother cleared her throat and pointed at the little bronze sign on her desk. It read:

“Mrs. F. Godmother.”

I had forgotten. In the real story of Cinderella, the fairy godmother had magicked her feet to be the same size as Cinderella's, so when the prince came, her foot had fit perfectly into the glass slipper.

Ms. Godmother had recently married Prince Charming.

“Sorry, Mrs. Godmother. I just think that Red has done too much damage. This means war!”

“You know, I think you and Red should try to see what it's like for the other person. Put yourself in Red's shoes,” Mrs. Godmother said.

“Ha, I’d never fit into Red's shoes because her perfect feet are a tiny size three!”

“You know what I mean! It would be good for you both.” Mrs. Godmother replied.

“I- I don't know. Even if I agreed, you'd never get Red on board.” I was making excuses. I really didn't want to make up. But something told me that Mrs. Godmother saw right through me.

“Well... she might not have a choice.” Mrs. Godmother said with a cheeky smile.

At this moment, I honestly thought my trusted therapist had gone completely off her rocker!

She pulled a sparkly pink wand out of a drawer in her oak desk, muttered a few words I couldn't distinguish and before I knew it, I had ended up...

...HERE! Where I was, I didn't know. It appeared to be a quaint, one-room log cabin. On one wall was a four-poster bed with many brightly colored quilts. On the next wall over was a flat-screen TV and the front door. There was a dresser in the far corner and a mini fridge parallel to it. There were dozens of pictures covering the walls, all of one person: Red!

I had ended up in Red's house. She was not going to be happy about this! But where was Red? I looked around and decided to sit on the bed while I thought of what to do next. I watched my legs sway, but my feet weren't hairy and barefoot: they were hairless, small and wearing red ballet flats! Wait... red ballet flats... it couldn't be...

I ran over to the mirror on top of the dresser and let out a shriek... I had become Red!

Put yourself in Red's shoes... it'll be good for you...

The words rang in my head over and over, like church bells on Sunday morning. If I was Red, did that mean...? There were three huge thuds on the door and it was blasted off its hinges. The hulking figure in the doorway was me... well not me (I was Red), but it was Red who now looked liked me!

I expected her to look angry but instead, a smirk spread on her face and she said in my usual deep, gravelly voice, “You attacked me once. Now it's your turn!”

There was a moment's pause as I stood thinking that her boyfriend would never believe her if she tried to explain and he'd undoubtedly be on my side!

With supreme confidence, I returned the smirk and replied

“Come and get me, doggie breath.”

The End 



Second Prize:

The Servant of Death

By Morgan H., age 11


If you are just reading this now, you had a 50/50 chance of living. Good job. Just let me warn you. Don’t leave your house, under any circumstance, please don’t leave your house. And don’t go into the forest.

Are you not listening to me yet? Okay. If you went in there, you would die. Are you listening now? If not, allow me to describe what would happen to you if you went into the forest. You might go in there looking for someone, or just be drawn to it like a bee to a flower. But once your train of thought is set to walking there, you can never think about anything else until you are dead. You know she’s there, but you don’t. Your soul knows, but the rest of you is not aware of it. You are drawn to evil and don’t know it.

It will get foggier as you go through the forest. And once the fog is up to your chin, she can find you even easier. Once she finds you, you cannot go back. She’ll approach you, and she will seem like the average young girl, still in the plain dress she wore when she found me. You’ll know it’s her once she says her phrase.

“I carry the flag,”

Her eyes will disintegrate and fall out of her skull like grains of sand. You will see her pinkish-red, snake-like tongue with bits of purple slither out of her mouth like it’s a living thing on its own. She will reach out, and you might see a glimpse of a cloaked figure walk past. That’s me. Her fingers will brush your shoulder, and you are dead.

You may wonder what she means by, “I carry the flag”. She actually has no flag, it’s entirely metaphorical. She means that she supports me. She supports me and works for me. The girl only says it to let you know why. Why she is standing in front of you with her pale face and empty heart. Nobody understands it though.

If you’re wondering why, it’s because of me. I am Death. I was lonely when I found her. She had wandered into the forest, looking for a stray cat she had followed. With all the new medicines and new ways to live longer, I wasn’t getting as many people as I used to. I turned her into a spirit servant, which took over her mind to make her want to kill anything that enters the forest, and sent her out to do my work. I was happy when she came back with her first victims. A dog and a little girl. She told me the dog wandered into the woods under her trance, and then she killed it. The little girl, not knowing the danger that lurked in the forest, obviously followed the dog in there. I took their souls and kept them with me. I was happy.

After the dog, it was a chain reaction. Girl follows dog, mother follows girl, father follows mother, villagers follow father, etc. I loved it. I craved it. I was addicted, and couldn’t stop.

She has been getting into it too much lately. She has been traveling out of the forest and terrorizing the village. I was getting too many souls. I couldn’t handle them all, and in the beginning, I had just asked her to get some more when I needed more. She has started killing for enjoyment. The girl has developed a mind of her own. I can’t stop her. I have been trying to set the souls free, but every time I do, she shrieks and kills them again. I don’t like this anymore. You and your husband are the last two villagers left.

You need to stay alive, but the only way to do that is to leave town. Build a new village and have children. Encourage those children to have children as well. Keep your village thriving, but stay inside your house. Only go outside during the daytime. Make sure the children know these rules too. Arm yourselves with salt, the only way to keep away my servants. I want the human race to stay alive and live natural lives, because if they are gone, it will be impossible for me to retrieve any spirits at all.

You might say, can’t you get rid of the servant yourself? I can’t. You cannot kill Death, or his servants, but she knows a way to rid the world of me for a long time.

And that is why I have left this note with a large sack of salt on your doorstep. Keep my precautions in mind, be careful, and just leave this village forever.



Third Prize:


By Paige S., age 11

The day was cold for November. The wind toyed with the few remaining leaves clinging desperately to the trees limbs. The sun was hidden behind the clouds and seemed to be making no attempt to shine through.

I walked down the sidewalk, avoiding the cracks. This was the worst day of my life. Nothing could ever be worst then today. But it wasn’t like this day was very different. I wiped the blood from my nose with my sleeve. Afterschool, some girls came over to me. They teased me about my glasses and called me four-eyes. I had tried hard to keep the tears from coming, but it was no use. I cried right in front of those bullies, not making my situation any better. The oldest girl pushed me and I fell right on my face. Thankfully, I managed to slip away while the girls were laughing. Now I felt the tears coming back.

I guess the sky decided to cry with me because it began to rain. I looked for somewhere to take cover. The only place was an old antique shop owned by an equally old man, Mr. Jenkins. He was never known to be especially friendly but I doubted him turning away a girl in the rain. I hurried through the doorway before I got too wet.

An odor met me when I walked in. It seemed that some of the old books had began rotting. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling, barley illuminating the vast collection of artifacts. I walked over to a book stack. Disturbing the thick layer of dust, I picked up the top book. In doing so, I knocked over the stack. I bent over to pick them up, coughing because of the dust. I gathered a couple in my hands but a glint of light from one of the boxes caught my eye. I crossed the room to the light source. It turned out to be a locket. It was gold with a matching chain. Holding my breath, I reached out.

 “What are you doing,” yelled a rusty voice. I whipped around and sighed. It was just Mr. Jenkins.

Mr. Jenkins wasn’t the grandpa type of old man. He had more hair coming out of his ears and nose then around on the crown of his head. His face was completely wrinkled, along with his hands. Mr. Jenkins wore brown slacks, a crisp shirt and shiny shoes.

“I said, what are you doing in mah store,” he repeated.

“I was just uhh…,” I stuttered helplessly.

“You were..?”

“I was just looking for a present for my mom’s birthday.”

It wasn’t my mom’s birthday but I didn’t think Mr. Jenkins would let my stay if I wasn’t going to buy something. He grumbled and walked behind the counter.

“What can I get yah,” he said clearly annoyed.

I pretended to look around. Then I causally walked over to the part of the counter where the locket’s box sat.

“How much is this?” I asked.

Mr. Jenkins quickly slammed the box. He drew it toward  him. “Not for sale.”

“Why not,” I asked.

“This isn’t just an ordinary locket. It’s special. When you open it,” he hesitated for a moment before going on, “you see yourself in a different way. You see what you would looked like if you were…perfect. Utterly flawless. But some cannot handle the power it holds. My own wife…She…,”

I saw a tear roll down his scarred cheek. One thing I knew out Mr. Jenkins, is that his wife had died. But I didn‘t know how.

Suddenly he snapped to attention. Mr. Jenkins roughly wiped away the tear. He slammed the box into a filing cabinet and locked it. He placed the key in his shirt pocket. He yelled at me:


Startled I ran out the door and padded down the damp road. I didn’t stop until arrived home.

That night, while I lay in bed, I thought in my head:

I was going to get that locket.


  That night, I snuck out of the house. In the faint light of the moon, I crept onto the sidewalk. The wind whistled by me. It sent a chill up my spine and an eerie feeling in my stomach.

Trying to forget the creepiness of the night, I walked down the street. I walked until I came to my destination. Mr. Jenkin’s store. I checked to make sure no one was watching before I quietly opened the door. The store was even scarier at night.

The stacks of books and broken chairs made shadows in the darkness.

I felt along with my feet but my toe found the corner of a dresser. I let out a small shriek before I covered my mouth. I waited and heard nothing. Then I walked over to the stairs. Mr. Jenkins house was attached to the store.

I was careful to skip the steps that looked they couldn’t possibly hold my weight. Even with my caution, I made some noise. Finally I came to the top of the steps. The upstairs seemed even smaller then the downstairs. I peeked in all the rooms, until I came to his bedroom. I heard the loud, steady snores coming from the bed. Crossing the room, I went over to wear he laid his work clothes on a chair. I dug around until I pulled the key out of his pocket. Then I creaked downstairs.

I walked over to the cabinet and unlocked it with the key. I took out the box and held it in my shaky hands. I opened that box and grabbed the locket.

I studied the golden object. It felt smooth in my calmly hands. Tiny engravings wound around it. Then I felt for the latch. This is it, I thought. I am going to know what the perfect me looks like. I opened it.

But all I saw was my reflection.




mad countesses, invading Vikings, strange dolls: NEW! story starters for 2012

Our New Year's gift to you: some story starters to get your imaginations revved up. Use the photos and the captions to write any story you please. Or take off in your own direction! As usual, photos by Anne Mazer; captions by Ellen Potter. Happy writing! love, Anne and Ellen


photo by Anne MazerWhenever things got rough, Uncle Herbie put on his rose-colored glasses. Poo! Much good it did for him in the end . . .



photo by Anne Mazer

Have these summer campers been invaded by actual Vikings sailing through a time portal?



photo by Anne Mazer

Is this guy making his escape from a mad Countess? Or perhaps he’s a young crime scene investigator called in to examine ancient bones found in the castle's turret?



photo by Anne Mazer

Maybe the strange arrangement of the dolls was left as a clue? Hmmm.


Anne and Ellen's Top Tips for Young Writers

photo by Anne MazerWe've been giving a lot of writing advice over the last few years, so this week we put our heads together to come up with some of our top tips for young writers. Here they are. Hope you find them helpful! -- Anne and Ellen 

Anne Mazer:

Get out of your reading comfort zone

If you’re serious about writing, every writer will tell you to read as much as possible. If you love paranormal romances, dystopian novels, or science fiction, you are probably gobbling them down like popcorn and thinking that, as an extra bonus, this will help your writing. True. Whatever you read will feed your writing. But it’s important to stretch a little now and then.  If you only read one kind of book, your understanding of books, writing and language will be limited.

When my mother was young, she had to memorize poems and passages from Shakespeare, among others. By the time I was in school, we weren’t reading Shakespeare, much less memorizing him. Imagine having that language in your blood as a young child. It would never leave you. It didn’t leave my mother; it gave her a lifelong love of words and literature. Even if she only understood one word in ten, she still had the rhythms of his speech in her head. What a great training for a writer! I envy it.

Not that I’m telling you to memorize Shakespeare - unless you want to, of course. But once in while, crack open a book you wouldn’t normally think of reading. Tackle fiction that challenges you, or that seems out of your league. You’ll build your reading and writing muscles.


Take it s-l-o-w-l-y.

 Over the last few years, Ellen and I have noticed that many of the kids who write to us seem to want – or even expect – success as a writer to come immediately. Before they’re even out of their teens, they want to produce professional quality work. Hey, everyone, what’s the rush? Writers take a long time to develop. In fact, if they hatched in the wild, they’d have one of the longest gestation periods in nature. Not only that, but ideas are slow hatching, too. I’m working on one right now that I’ve had for over twenty years. Many writers begin to hit their stride in middle age or even later. So if you’re not an international success by the time you’re eighteen, there’s still hope for you. Nice thought, isn’t it?


Do lots of things other than writing

 If you want to be a writer, you have to write. But if you only write, will it make you a better writer? In my opinion, no. It won’t make you a happy camper, either, to shut yourself in your room, taking breaks only for meals and the occasional shower. Living a full life can include writing, but it shouldn’t exclude anything or anyone you love.  Like friendships and family, or following your passion for tai chi, raising llamas, clay ovens, permaculture, ancient languages, or volleyball. Everything that you do and love and experience will flow into your stories and make them richer.  Nothing is wasted in writing. Which makes it one of the most eco-friendly activities around.


Ellen Potter:

 Treat your story like a birthday wish 

If you tell someone your wish, it won’t come true, right? When you are writing a story, try to keep it to yourself.  When you tell someone your story before you write about it, it can take the excitement out of working on it. Also, you open yourself up to negative reactions, or the wrong kind of responses, which can discourage you from writing.  If you need to show your work to someone before it’s finished, be very picky. Choose someone who is sensitive to the fact that your work is still in a rough stage. Choose someone whose opinion you trust and who has your best writing interests at heart. Give your story a chance to “come true” just like that birthday wish.


Don’t worry about getting published

Write because you love to write. Really, it’s that simple. Write because you can’t get that certain character out of your head. Write because you want to take readers on a wild joyride of an adventure. Write for any reason at all . . . but don’t write because you just have to get published. It will paralyze your creativity.

True, seeing your name in print is thrilling. But when you are worrying if your story is publishable while you are writing it, you are getting in your own way by preventing yourself from being totally immersed in your story. You’ll keep second-guessing yourself, as in “Has this been done before?” “Will editors think the storyline is exciting enough?” It’s hard enough to write a story without your inner voice pestering you every three seconds.

Once you have finished your story, and if you still feel a burning need to publish, you can submit it to magazines or web sites that specialize in publishing the works of young writers (have a peek at the Inspiration Library on our web site for some ideas:

Or enter a writing contest for kids. Here’s the latest Spilling Ink contest posted on our site: