August 13, 2021
3 effective ways to improve your creative writing
Creative writing can be an elusive art. Generating ideas, writing good sentences, and formulating a cogent plot is a challenge that many balk at. Some would even argue that you can’t teach good writing, they say – it’s a talent, and you either have it or you don’t. Certainly, no one can teach a person to be the next Toni Morrison or Ernest Hemingway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a whole host of techniques and methods which can effectively improve your creative writing overall.
Don’t believe me? Just take it from Nobel prize winner Sir Kazuo Ishiguro. His acclaimed, best-selling writing career first began with a creative writing course taken at university. So whether you’re looking to begin your first ever piece of creative writing for a class project or embarking upon the writing of your debut novel, here are three effective ways to improve your creative writing!
Read, read, then read some more
Could you imagine a movie director who hadn’t seen a film? An artist who hadn’t been taught about scale, shading and perspective? To be a good writer, you have to first be a good reader. It is through our own reading that we begin to develop taste and an understanding of those all-important aspects of creative fiction: from plot to dialogue to character development. Not to mention, it’s not just good books which help you develop writing skills – but bad ones, too.
Being able to tell the difference between good writing and bad writing will help you in your own creative writing pursuits. It’s recommendable to read widely – from the epic novels of the nineteenth century to thin contemporary volumes of prose poetry (and everything in between) – in order to shape your own stylistic preferences. T. S. Eliot once said that “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Of course, that doesn’t mean plagarising other writers, but fusing the best techniques of the authors you enjoy to produce your own authorial voice which is unique to you, and you alone.
Get to know your characters & make a plan of action
Writers have special relationships with their characters. In order to really sell the story you’re writing, you first have to make the characters who exist in your made up world believable. Many writers find that they know much more about the characters they invent than actually finds its way into their final story. In order to get to know your characters better, try creating a visual mind map which lays out your character’s key traits – from their family, to their background, even to their favorite foods. By using a mind map, a tool which naturally fosters idea generation, you’ll find that even more creative ideas come out of the process.
Using an online app like Ayoa is great for keeping all your ideas safe and also makes referencing back to previous points while writing quick and easy. Plus, with the option to add images and visuals you can create a mind map which is akin to a mood board to set the general tone for the story you’re writing. Once your characters are fully fleshed out, it’s time to outline the actual plot. While some writers opt to plan every aspect of their novel or short story in excruciating detail, others figure it out as they go along. Still, wherever you fall on the spectrum – a mind map can be a useful tool for both organizing and reorganizing chapters as well as a space for exploring ideas.
Show – don’t tell!
The time has come. You’re finally here. You’ve read your books, you’ve got to know your characters, and whether you have every chapter planned from start to finish or just the first inciting incident, you’re ready to make your mark. The tone and style of you writing will depend on the kind of story you want to tell, but one rule persists regardless of genre or format, and that is: show but don’t tell.
This rule is so renowned in writing circles it’s actually become a bit of a cliche, but still, there is great truth to it. In essence, ‘show, don’t tell’ means you should show your reader what is happening in the story rather than overexplaining it. Don’t tell the reader that your protagonist, Michael, is scared, show them that by describing his anxiety through the senses he’s experiencing.
This technique will give your creative writing immediacy, placing the reader in the thick of the story rather than forcing them to listen to cold narration without sensory detail. Of course, all rules have their exceptions and there may be times – such as in passages of exposition – when telling becomes more useful. But by ensuring that the majority of your writing shows, rather than tells, you can avoid creative writing which looks amateurish and truly bring your reader into the fictional world you’re creating.
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