Most of our Winterwood students will have seen this sample story already, and discussed with their tutor why it is effective and what they can learn from it to help improve their own writing. I wrote this as an example of the type of stories that entrance exams are looking for, and below it is feedback from another tutor, and examples of what they would allocate marks for.
The air smelt strange when I woke up. My nose twitched, and my long silky whiskers shivered in the chill winter air. I was used to the scent of frost and damp earth. Of darkness and earthworms, and the pleasant smell of my distant larder of nuts and seeds. Slowly I sat up, stretched my paws out into a large yawn, and opened my eyes. Shadows surrounded me, but a trickle of silvery light crept between them. I sniffed the air again, and was suddenly wide awake, my thoughts racing. “Could it be?” I whispered to myself.
I leapt out of bed so frantically that the sheets twisted and knotted around my ankles. I sprawled across the floor, bruising my elbows where they struck the hard earthen ground of my burrow, but my enthusiasm could not be dimmed. “Spring” I murmured to myself, then louder: “SPRING! Spring is here!” I rubbed my fur into place in front of a large cracked mirror, huge dark eyes staring back at me like deep pools of ink. Then I was off. Tearing along corridors, bouncing off the walls and floor and ceiling of my twisting warren.
Suddenly I exploded out of my front door. It wasn’t really a door, but rather a small, dark hole amongst tangled tree-roots, but I called it my front-door nonetheless. The brightness of the sunlight was blinding, and my vision turned white for a moment. Slowly my sight returned, and I gasped in horror. Snow. Beautiful, terrible, ivory snow still blanketed the ground, glittering coldly as it mocked my false hopes. “How could I have been so stupid?” I moaned to myself, and collapsed to the ground.
I heard layers of frozen ice crystals crunch beneath me. Had I dreamt the spring? Was I going mad? Perhaps I had eaten a bad nut, and it had made me hallucinate. I would have cried with misery if it had not been so cold, but my tears froze before they could trickle down my cheeks. Scrabbling to my feet, I began to trudge forwards. Little holes appeared in the snow as I walked, and my tail left a narrow, sweeping trail between them as if a starved snake was following me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a vivid patch of yellow. It was like a splash of paint on a blank canvas, and I could not help but be drawn towards it.
A sweet, delicate perfume reached me, and I began to bound forwards in excitement. “A daffodil! It’s a daffodil!” I yelped, delighted, and other eyes and twitching noses appeared from their own dark holes. I reached the spring flower, its golden head still bowed, but bright green leaves were forcing their way through the snow with determination. Spring really had arrived.
- Personification: We know that the subject is an animal from the very beginning, as it has ‘whiskers’ and ‘paws’ and seems to feed on earthworms, nuts and seeds. However, this creature thinks like a person. This personification brings us closer to our subject and makes the story engaging.
- Structure: This story has a clear main event, or ‘problem’: the thought of spring, and its possible delay. The mouse seems to be thwarted in the main event paragraph (a problem) but this is then resolved when the mouse sees the yellow of the daffodil at the end of the resolution paragraph (hope). This is confirmed in the conclusion, which finishes with a description. This can be a good way to end a story.
- The Cold: The cold and the winter are real enemies of the mouse. Even his tears freeze. But there are other dangers. The mouse’s tail leaves a trail like a ‘starving snake’. Hinting at threats, real and imagined, can make a story much more powerful.
- Pace and Action: Powerful verbs are used throughout to suggest movement and action. The mouse does not ‘get out of bed’ – it ‘leapt’, ‘so frantically that the sheets twisted and knotted’. This close description of action is exciting and adds a lot of pace and energy to the story.
- Unusual images: The mouse is a strange creature. He fears at one point that he is ‘hallucinating’, he ‘explodes’ in haste out of his front door, and he finds the snow both ‘beautiful’ and ‘terrible’. The mouse sees the world in an interesting way. A good character, with an interesting perspective, can add a lot to a story.
- Metaphor and Simile: This story is alive with imagery. The daffodil is personified, its head ‘bowed’, struggling, and yet at the same time its green leaves are ‘determined’ to force their way through the earth. This powerful metaphor symbolises the struggle between winter and spring.
Exams will often provide a title that students must use to inspire their story, so below are a few examples of the titles this story would work with:
- Spring Morning