How to Tackle Creative Writing
By Cara Forbes
(English Language and Literature tutor at The Edge Learning Center)
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
If you’re following the MYP/IGCSE program in Hong Kong, at some point you’ll have come across descriptive and narrative writing. Often, it seems that the English programs deal mainly with developing critical and personal approaches to English as well as concentrating on analyzing literary and non-literary texts. Students get so used to analyzing the works of others that, when it comes to writing their own, they freeze.
Students read books, poetry, and feature articles of respected authors, they know ambitious adjectives, they know what works, so why do they still freeze? Well, I think it’s because they’re trying too hard to stand out, and standing out is hard.
Many students fall into the same traps. Standing out is hard because it takes a little extra time and extra thought to create something original.
Whether it’s an internal monologue, narrating an event, or describing an image, your aim is to entertain and interest your reader. So how do you do this effectively, efficiently, and with flair…
The importance of a question
Well firstly, creative writing is a distinct discipline. It is important to understand the question that will affect your entire task. You must identify and address the point that’s being challenged and pivot your ideas around it.
The importance of planning
- Content – Brainstorm your ideas before you start and pivot around your question.
- Order of Content – Put your ideas into an Outline to follow as you write.
- Accuracy – Your Outline will help you stay on topic; you must be consistent.
- Time – Pace and manage your content.
Creating a Story Mountain picture forces you to think about the plot.
- Plot – What is the problem? No problem, no plot.
- Setting – Providing description and background.
- Character – Who is your central focus?
- Show, don’t tell – Sensory input: 5 senses.
- Others: theme, POV, dialogue, mood.
Don’t start with the weather
‘It was a bright, sunny day…’
‘It was a dark and stormy night…’
‘It was rather chilly with a brisk easterly wind and a 50% chance of precipitation…’
Nobody cares. I don’t even pay attention to weather reports in real life, let alone take an interest in what’s happening in the sky above fictional characters I haven’t met yet. Start with one of two things, and preferably both: People and conflict. Those two things are the essence of any story. People and conflict will drive your story forward, will be the essence of everything you write.
Keep your words simple
All those fancy words, the complicated constructions, the flowery images… cut them. Pretend you’re still a young child who just wants to hear a story.
An easy way to work out whether you’re overwriting is to count your adjectives. Try to limit yourself to a couple per page. More than one per sentence is definitely not a good idea. Count your adverbs too.
There’s always a better way of SHOWING your story than just TELLING the reader what to imagine by using an adjective or adverb. And the more syllables there are in your adjectives, the more they’re getting in the way of your story.
So calm down with your thesaurus. Nobody’s trying to break the English language into a new dimension. We just want to hear a story.
Write an ending
‘Dot, dot, dot…’ isn’t good enough. If your story doesn’t have an ending, you haven’t written a story. At best, you’ve written a set-up. Having a sense of completion is something that every story should promise and deliver.
“There are no wrong endings, only wrong beginnings.”
– Alexander Mackendrick
But it all boils down to this:
Make every line count – for the story, not for its own beauty.
Challenge every word.
Every. Single. Word.
Practice is the key to success, and success is the consequence of practice and repetition.
Bring your creative English to life this Summer.
The Edge offers diverse English Writing courses, check out our courses here. You can get 10% off if you enroll before May 31, 2017 or if you are unsure, join a free trial lesson with Cara or another IB English expert by signing up here.
About The Edge
The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off a very successful year in which 84.62% of their clients were accepted into one of their top 3 schools and an astounding 48.15% of their Ivy Plus* applicants were accepted. (The general acceptance rate was only 7.61% last year) Check out the rest of our 2017 Admissions Results!