The finishing line

11th May 2007 at 01:00
Predicting the end of a good book is always enjoyable. Now, budding writers are being asked to create their own conclusions to five exciting stories. Nick Morrison reports

There are not one, not two, but five mysteries that have been puzzling readers for months, but at last the final pieces of the jigsaws are about to fall into place. Soon, the how, what, why and whodunnits will become clear - although not always as their original authors intended.

Since the start of the year, the teacher-run Scriblist website has been conducting a nationwide search for new writing talent. The site asks visitors to contribute a chapter to one of five stories running simultaneously. Readers can then rate each of the possible instalments, before one is chosen to carry on the story and the process begins again.

So far, four chapters are in the bag for each story, chosen out of the entries submitted by more than 150 writers. Now, the deadline is looming for the bumper final chapters, bringing each of the stories to an end.

Delia Higgins, an Advanced Skills Teacher in English at Tuxford Technology College, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, read about Scriblist in The TES Magazine and set her Year 10 pupils the challenge of writing a chapter as part of their coursework.

"Rather than say we were going to do a story about this or that, I wanted to leave it as open as possible and leave it to their originality," she says. "For some, the motivation is having an audience, and for an emerging writer that is important. It's not just going to be the teacher reading it; it's encouraging them to put their work out there."

Some of the class submit more than one chapter, and as well as writing their own, some post their comments on the website. "The idea that they can comment on each other's stories gets them talking about writing," Delia says.

The school had an early success on the site, with a chapter written by Catherine Old, 15, chosen to start one of the stories. Catherine later appeared on Simon Mayo's Five Live radio show to talk about the site.

Patrick Horne, assistant headteacher at Harrogate Grammar in North Yorkshire, who set up Scriblist with David Wade, a teacher at Haberdashers' Aske's School in Hertfordshire, says they are delighted with the response.

"There are people who went on at the start because it was fun, and they got something out of it. There are also those who are really keen and have submitted lots of stories, where you can see their writing improve over time," Patrick says. He says they are still hoping to find a publisher for the book of winning entries, but if not it will be self-published.

At the close of this competition, the site will launch a new competition for fantasy and science fiction stories, and they are looking at running the original Scriblist again from the next school year, with possible changes in the format.

"We will have more stories with fewer chapters. We're learning all the time, and we've found the more chapters there are, the harder it is for new people to get involved. We would like it to be embedded in the classroom so teachers know it is coming up every year, and maybe when the book is published we will see it being used in the classroom."

How it works

The first four chapters of each of the five stories have been chosen, and visitors can now submit chapters five and six in a bumper package. The combined final chapters can be between 2,000 and 8,000 words and should conclude one of the stories.

The deadline is May 20. Visitors can read and rate the final instalments, and the winning entries will be published on the site.

The five winning stories will be published in a book in July, with each of the authors getting 1 per cent royalties from every copy sold. As the final instalments combine two chapters, the authors of these will receive royalties of 2 per cent of the price of each copy of the book sold. The book will be available from www.scriblist.com.

The stories so far

Story one A brutal murder has taken place and Max, the only witness, doesn't understand what he has seen. Will Max inadvertently lead the authorities to the killer or will the murder go unpunished?

Story two How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Story three During a riot in Kabul, two street urchins steal an unguarded suitcase. The boys soon find themselves in deep trouble - what could possibly be in that case?

Story four Tom enjoys an idyllic childhood in Africa with his sister Tara and his best friend, Ze. But tranquillity is shattered as the children grow older and the family is ripped apart.

Story five: It is the year 2050 and the world's resources can no longer support its population. The Prime Minister's radical solution - euthanasia at the age of 70 - will shortly result in his father's death.

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