A creative writer is used to multi-tasking, juggling various strands of the process, eg, dialogue, plot, setting, character creation, and understanding how each contributes to the overall project. In order to give their work a sense of authenticity, creative writers may need to base their imaginative scenarios in fact: what is the correct procedure for a criminal investigation; what was it like working in a flax mill in the Industrial Revolution?
Part of the creative process involves knowing how to use the most appropriate details to ground the fiction in reality. Creative writers will continually evaluate their work-in-progress and look at it with a critical eye to make sure it is working.
They are also evaluate their own work-in-progress within its cultural and commercial contexts. These are all approaches that will extend to the creation of other types of written material. Creative writers understand the need to write in a way that makes readers want to keep turning pages. The particular type of writing will vary — a writer of commercial fiction may have a different style from a writer of commercial fiction, and so may a horror writer and a crime writer — but in each case the writing will appeal to its readership and show a deep understanding of what they enjoy and respond to.
This gives a creative writer an edge when it comes to other kinds of writing. No matter what you are writing, from academic thesis to long-form journalism, it is important to ask: Who is your reader? Knowing your audience is vital if you are going to create work they will want to read. Who are they? What are their interests? What do they want to know? Every creative writer aims for a unique voice that makes their work different from that of any other writer. This can be applied to any other kind of writing.
Think, for example, of film critics: each one will have their own style and approach even if the material they cover ie a particular film is broadly the same. If you have an original voice that readers recognise as yours, it will give your writing, and you, an edge. A reader will decide whether to stay with your writing or move on to something else by the way they respond to the beginning.
The storytelling aspect of creative writing gives its practitioners the tools to entice a reader to stay with the story. A good creative writer can create an impression by carefully placing a detail in their writing. What does it say about a person that their tie, for instance, is red, or that they are carrying a particular type of bag, or wearing a certain style of shoes? All writing, fiction or non-fiction, has a beginning, a middle and an end, and needs lead its reader to a satisfying conclusion.
Readers respond to stories and the best non-fiction will include storytelling elements and take the reader on a journey from setup to resolution. Cliffhanger endings to scenes, conflict between characters, raising the stakes, contrasting internal and external conflict, withholding information and making your reader ask questions are all appropriate devices to create tension in your non-fiction and journalism.
Once you have an idea for a piece of non-fictional writing that would benefit from creative writing techniques, start by outlining some key ideas in your notebook or in a new document, just as you would if you were planning a piece of fiction. Jot down the ideas that occur to you in note form and give yourself enough time to add thoughts to expand the ideas. For instance, you decide to write a piece of creative non-fiction about a significant time in your life. So you might make a note about place, significant characters, how you the main character developed as a result of the central incident you want to write about.
This will give you a basic outline, and an idea of the key themes that will be in your story. As you make notes, further ideas will occur to you and the content of your piece will start to take shape. Now note down any key scenes that you will write about. At the very least, note the beginning, middle and end points of your story. Think about where the tension will be and how you will create it. This structure will ensure that your piece has the thrust of a narrative. Next, make notes about the various scenes and characters.
Are there any colours, sights, sounds, smells, that you associate with that memory? Who are the most important characters in this particular story? Were there any particular songs on the radio? What were people wearing? What do you remember people saying? If you think about that memory, what colours do you associate with it? Write it all down.
When you start to craft your writing, you can use these notes not just to spark memories, but to help you shuffle the material into a coherent, readable narrative and select the key pieces of language and description that will bring your piece to life. As you begin to shape your narrative, think about the language you are using and the choices of words you are making.
At this point, start to play around with the language and see if there is a better way to say something. Try different ways of saying the same thing — colloquial, impressionistic, using an extended metaphor — to see what works best and creates the best effect. Editing is your friend, and can be as creative a part of the non-fiction writing process as the actual writing. A good creative writer will never be afraid to experiment and try different approaches, and if you regard your first draft as raw material you can edit it in different ways to see which one makes your non-fiction material read best.
But to do this, they need to leave their loved one behind. What do they decide? The ending is the impression your readers are left with. It leaves a disproportionate effect on how they feel about your book. So it needs really careful thought. The climax is the high point of the action — say, when the hero says goodbye to his lover, or the evil antagonist dies.
Time to process events. It just means giving a sense of closure, to ease the reader out of the story world. Think about how you want your audience to feel when they finish reading. But the very last sentence and paragraph have a disproportionate effect on how readers feel on leaving the story. I once heard a radio play about a curmudgeonly old judge who seemed to have a difficult relationship with his wife.
In a single word, he redeemed himself. The author left us with a feeling of hope about the characters. It was a tremendously powerful choice. That way, the story can stir questions in the reader, and resonate on in their minds. For example, a departure is the start of a new journey. Closing a shop opens up a new phase of life. One of the most powerful creative writing techniques I teach is how to use objects in your fiction. Objects big and small are a great way to bring a story to life. Whether big objects such as houses, cars, sofas or trees, or small objects such as rings, books, feathers or eggs, they can have great power.
Why objects are powerful in storytelling? For example: both characters want the ring with equal passion. Or, one character wants to protect the egg, the other to break it and eat it. One character can read the secrets in the book. Try starting a story just with an object and two characters.
Choose an object and brainstorm verbs that characters can use to interact with it eg throw, lose, break, discover…. Maybe these actions can bookend the story? Using objects with verbs like this is a way of dramatizing internal conflict.
Think of the movie The Piano and the way the piano is used in different ways, broken apart, floating, and even played as an instrument! Objects can also be used in rituals. Rings and birthday cakes are classic examples. So are gifts, crowns, and many kinds of clothing. Familiar rituals are useful because they can act as a handy shorthand for the status quo. We all know what a typical birthday or archetypal wedding is meant to be like. Look at the objects associated with familiar rituals and see whether you can disrupt their use in a new way.
Beginning, middle, end This is a well-worn writing mantra, but what does it really mean? Writing a strong start Creative writing techniques often mention story hooks. And then a direction of travel or transformation — from x to x. Mighty middle Creative writing techniques for the middle of stories are hard to pin down.
Structurally, this kind of story is more like a report or anecdote. Writing endings The ending is the impression your readers are left with. If the high point is the climax, think of the ending as the afterglow. Read the endings of your favourite stories and analyse them. How do they make you feel?
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