Write a Story in Chinese


Extensive reading is one of the most effective ways to increase gains in second language learning.

Since most beginning language students of Mandarin Chinese are school children, the content of graded readers designed to foster extensive reading is often geared to childhood. For older teens and adults, missing from most graded readers are plot-driven narratives with emotional content, ethical dilemmas, and subject matter relevant to lives lived independently.

The solution, serendipitously, is also research-backed to foster language learning: comprehensible output. Teen and adult learners of Mandarin Chinese can write their own stories to read and share.


  1. To help yourself learn Mandarin Chinese in a “system” – a term used to describe a synthesis of research on adult second language acquisition,
  2. to contribute to your “interlanguage” – your individualized way of making meaning of what you are learning,
  3. and to assist the universe of teen and adult learners of Mandarin Chinese longing to read a good story that isn’t about school children,
  4. you’re invited to replicate the model offered by Mandarin Companion and write the equivalent of a “Breakthrough Level,” plot-driven story of potential interest to teens or adults using 150 Chinese characters.

Mandarin Companion creates graded readers for beginning students of Mandarin Chinese. The initial “Breakthrough Level” stories use 150 unique characters. You can see the readers here.

On the page describing each graded reader, a Study Resources tab includes a Word List of the Chinese characters used in the book. For example, here’s the page for Xiao Ming, Boy Sherlock.

How basic effective writing techniques in English help with writing Chinese

  • The guidance to “Show, don’t tell” helps writers let characters simply say and do for themselves rather than the writer interfering and describing the action.
  • Declarative sentences foster plot progression.
  • Guidance for writing effective poetry in English is well-suited to writing sentences in Chinese. Using 150 characters to write a story in Chinese can be compared to writing a formal poem with repeated words such as a sestina, a sonnet sequence, or a villanelle.
  • The guidance to “Write about what you love” in English is research-backed to foster second language acquisition.


Collect words.

Begin to think about and collect a set of your favorite commonly used Chinese words and word combinations with multiple meanings that can “count” as one of the 150 words, but can be used in multiple ways. For example: hǎo de, hǎo le, hǎo a, hǎo ba (好的, 好了, 好啊, 好吧). This will be the beginnings of the “Word List” you use for your story.

Decide on a plot structure.

Base your plot structure on your own inner narrative of how you make sense of the world and how you see people relating to themselves and to others.

Here’s a possibility:

set-up > misunderstandings > consequences of misunderstandings > insights, epiphanies, awakenings, awarenesses leading to possibility for change > ethical dilemma > courage of one character to initiate the possibility for change > courage of the another character to respond to that initiative > reasonable resolution of conflict > happy enough ending

Draft a blurb.

Keeping in mind your words and plot structure, write a blurb for the story in English that briefly summarizes the first part of the book, has no spoilers, and entices the reader to continue reading.

Draft a plot outline.

This is where you have permission to “tell, not show.” Make a list of simple statements describing what happens in the story.

Make a list of pivotal sentences.

With your words and plot structure in mind, create a set of sentences in English, Pinyin, and Chinese characters corresponding with each portion of the plot. Each sentence would state the current reality in the narrative and also propel the plot forward.

Since the opening sentence is considered the most important in any story – often determining whether or not the reader reads a second sentence – also compose the first sentence, following the guidance to begin in medias res.

Complete the narrative.

Compose sentences to weave in and around your pivotal sentences, modifying them as your understanding of the story and your Word List evolve.

Consult with instructors, peers, and native speakers.

Discussing and learning about ways to express the ideas you have in mind as you compose your story will deepen and enrich your study of the language.

Prepare a flawless final version.

A plethora of materials exist to study Mandarin Chinese. Many of them contain errors. Errors can harm communication. Contribute to clear, accurate communication by producing an impeccable manuscript.

Share your story.

Consider enriching the reading opportunities of other teen and adult learners of Mandarin Chinese. Consider making your story and your Word List available to others in a book discussion group or to read online, record and read it aloud yourself, share it in snippets as a serial in social media channels, or however you wish.

Last updated 1/24/21