Ann Shoket: 5 Secrets to Writing an Amazing Story

Ann Shoket is the editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine, so she knows what she’s doing when it comes to writing for teens. Here, she shares five insider tips for writing a relatable, interesting story for Seventeen‘s My Life feature. Each month, Seventeen runs a two-page article spotlighting a real girl and a life-changing experience she’s had. Sound like something you’d be good at writing? Check out the instructions for submissions at the bottom of the post!

And if you haven’t entered the Seventeen Magazine Fiction Writing Contest
. . . what are you waiting for?! The prize is a chat with Maggie Stiefvater, author of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and The Scorpio Races. Oh, and a cool $5,000.


Hey, you know that it’s FUN to be 17—so write like it!

Set the scene.
Start with a moment that has a lot of impact. It will draw the reader in and make them want to what happens next. Dig into the emotion so it connects with the reader.

Then give the step-by-step.
The rest of the story should be told in time-order. No jumping around! And use markers like “two weeks later” and “the next day” to orient the reader.

Connect with one girl.
Make her feel like you’re talking directly to her. It’s so important for her to know that you get all the tiny details of her life. We want her to say “OMG! that’s exactly what I was thinking. How did you know that?!” So every word has to connect with her life as a 16-year-old.

Write it like you’d say it to your best friend.
You wouldn’t try to impress her with your wit or ability or alliterate or to turn a clever phrase . . . you just want to give her the info in a way that says “I know you so well and I know why you need this info!” Don’t use unusual words more than once (if at all!)

Read it out loud. 
The only way to truly know if your story flows is to hear it. Read it out loud to yourself or someone else. Change anything that sounds clunky.

Want to pitch a story to Seventeen? Here are the deets:

All girls who are featured in the My Life column must:
-Be 16-21 years old
-Be living in the U.S.
-NOT have had any other national media coverage (TV, print, online)
-Be willing to use their first name and photo (Seventeen sends a photographer!) in the magazine; if they’re under 18, a parent must be willing to sign a release form
-Have a story that every girl can relate to, whether it be about themselves or a friend

Seventeen isn’t looking for sensational or wildly edgy stories, and they don’t cover health stories in this section, either. The experience must be something that could happen to any girl, regardless of her background. Recent examples have included stories like “I Escaped My Kidnapper!,” “I Thought a Nose Job Would Stop the Bullying!,” and “A Tornado Destroyed My House—While I Was In It!”

They are looking for girls with a message of inspiration and empowerment, who’ve come out stronger because of the experience. They don’t cover damsels-in-distress or helpless victims. And, with few exceptions, they try not to do stories that are incredibly gory or involve death. The story/incident must have taken place within the last 18 months; the more recent, the better.

All pitches for My Life must include:
-The featured girl’s name, age, city, state, and 2 photos
-If you’re writing about someone else’s experience, a quick summary of how you found her/her story, and whether you’ve already contacted her and confirmed consent
-A paragraph or two outlining her story, and the take-away message

Please send all submissions to

If you think Seventeen‘s writing advice is good, you should see their style advice! Check out Seventeen Ultimate Guide to Style, in stores now!

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