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how to improve creative writing skills in English | download pdf free
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Published Date:03-07-2017
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1 GettingStarted MAKINGTIMETOWRITE Oneofthefirst rulestorememberisthatwriterswrite.You shouldwritesomethingeveryday,evenifallyoudowiththe finished piece is tear it up and throw it away. Writing something, anything, every day will enable you to buildupthedisciplineandcommitmentrequiredtoensure that you can produce a complete manuscript in whatever genre you choose. Givingyourselfpermissiontowrite Duetoacommonmisconceptionthatunlessyouareapub- lished novelist, you cannot be considered a ‘real’ writer, novice authors often find it difficult to convince either their nearest and dearest or, indeed, themselves that their desire to write should be taken seriously. However, even the most famous authors had to start some- where, so don’t be put off byoutside pressures. Be assured that your writing is more important than: X mowing the lawn X washing the dishes X cleaning, dusting, gardening 12 / CREATIVE WRITING oranyothersimilaractivitythatwillkeepyoufromyourpen and paper. Lockingthedoor OnesuccessfulMills&Boonauthorstatesthat,onceshehad madeuphermindtobecomeanovelist,sheturnedoneroom ofherhouseintoastudy,lockedthedoorandforbadeanyone to enter whilst she was working. You may not feel you have to go quite this far but it is important to set aside both a space in your home where you can work and make a regular time to write. Makingtime Lackoftimeis,perhaps,themostcommonlyusedexcusefor notputtingpentopaper.Thiscanbejustifiedwithanumber of perfectly credible explanations: X You have a demanding full-time job. X You have a large family. X You have to get those seedlings planted. X You have too many other commitments. X You’re too tired. Perhaps all these excuses can be rolled into one simple explanation: X You don’t think you’re good enough. Buildingconfidence Lackofconfidenceisamajorstumblingblockforthewould- bewriter. There is no easy way round this but if you really wanttowrite,theonlyoptionistogetonanddoit.Takingthe following steps can help:GETTING STARTED / 3 X Set aside acorner in your home solely for your writing. X Keep a notebook in which to jot down ideas. X Select a suitable time to write each day and stick to it. X Giveyourselfatimelimitforwriting,say,anhouradayto begin with. X Writesomethingeverydayandevenifyouthinkit’ster- rible, retain it until the next day. X Beginbyre-readingwhatyouwroteyesterday;atthevery least it will encourage you to rewrite. At best, it will be much better than you thought and spur you on towrite more. X Buy a good dictionary and thesaurus. X Manuscripts intended for publication must be typewrit- ten so, if possible, use a personal computer (PC). The more professional your writing looks, the more profes- sional you will feel. WHEREDOYOUGET YOURIDEAS? Having made the decision towrite, the next step is finding something to write about. Watchingtheworldgoby Watch how people behave in everyday situations, jotting down ideas in your notebook as they occur to you. The next time you go to the supermarket, for example, observe the behaviour of the other customers. Take a few secondstochattothecheckoutgirlortheassistantwhopacks yourshopping.Listennotonlytothewordstheysaybutto how they say them.4 / CREATIVE WRITING Ifyoucommutetowork,useyourjourneytimetostudyyour fellow travellers. Try to imagine what sort of homes they come from and how they might lead their lives. Whatever situationyoufindyourselfinduringyourdailylife,observe the people around you. Notonlyshouldyouwatchbutyoumustalsolisten.Writers are terrible eavesdroppers and will shamelessly listen in on themostprivateconversations.Youcanpickupsomewon- derfulsnippetsthatwilleffortlesslyturnthemselvesintoideas for all sorts of things, from brief letters to your favourite magazine,factualarticlesexplainingtheapparentlyinexplic- able, to lengthy works of fiction. Keepinganeyeonthemedia Perhaps the richest sources of ideas are newspapers, tele- vision and radio. Keep your eyes and ears open for the unusual stories and quirky programmes tucked away between the major items. All kinds of things can capture your imagination. For example, a BBC Radio 4 programme about the poten- tiallydulltopicofmakingawillinspiredmetowriteashort story for Bella magazine’s ‘Mini Mystery’ page. The pro- grammehighlightedthelegalpitfallsfacingpeoplewhowish tomakeunusualwillsandtheideacapturedmyimagination. Having gleaned the necessary technical legal information, I soon had the protagonist, beneficiaryand terms of thewill clearlyformedinmymind.Fromthere,itwasashortstepto writingthestory,sending itofftomyeditorandseeing itin print.GETTING STARTED / 5 Sourcesofideas Ideasareallaroundyou,ifonlyyoucantrainyourselftofind them. Listed below are just a few possible sources: X airports X beaches X buses, coaches, planes and trains X cafe´sandrestaurants X clubs X doctors’/dentists’ surgeries X hairdressers X school playgrounds X shops X stations. Thelistisendlessbutasageneralrule,ideasaretobefound anywhere a number of people gather in one place. WRITINGAURALLYANDVISUALLY Having developed your watching and listening skills, it can nevertheless be quite difficult to set them down on paper. More often than not, a phrase that sounded wonderful in your head looks dull and lifeless when it hits the page. Laterinthebook,wewillbelookingatwaysofbringingyour writing to life and obtaining that vital ingredient, reader identification. You will learn how to stimulate the reader’s sensessothattheyidentifywiththepeoplebeingportrayed, see and hear the sights and sounds you are attempting to convey.6 / CREATIVE WRITING Longdescriptivepassages,nomatterhowbeautifullywrit- ten,canbeverydullwithoutdialogue,actionorinteraction to liven them up. People enjoy reading about people, so eventhemostfactualnon-fictionarticlecanbeenrichedby the inclusion of a brief interview with an acknowledged expertoracommentfromsomeoneinvolvedinthefeatured topic. For fiction, too, there is no better way to convey setting, atmosphere,sights,soundsandscentsthanthroughthereac- tions of your characters. Whatevergenreyouchoose,besureyouknowthetruemean- ing of each word you use, consulting your dictionary and thesaurus whenever you are unsure about the spelling or context of a word or phrase. DRAWINGONYOUROWNEXPERIENCES Oneofthefirstrulesawould-bewriterlearnsisto‘writeabout whatyouknow’. If,however,thisruleistakentooliterally,few writers wouldever gaintherequisiteknowledgetowrite an historicalromance,murdermysteryorsciencefictionnovel. Far more practical is the advice from bestselling author Martina Cole to ‘Write about what you know and if you don’t know – find out’. You don’t need to have lived in a previous century, be a murdererortravelinspacetowritegenrefiction.Thorough researchintothebackgroundagainstwhichyourstoryisset shouldprovideyouwiththefactualinformationyourequire.GETTING STARTED / 7 Expert knowledge is invaluable, of course. Years spent in industry or in the legal, nursing or teaching profession; seeing active service in the armed forces; bringing up a familyonalowfixedincome; workinglongshiftsonafactory assemblyline;runningandperhapslosingyourownbusiness –anyoneoftheseandsimilarexperiencesoffersawealthof informationonwhichyoucandraw,butfactualaccuracyis onlyone aspect of writing. You also have to find a way to breathelifeintothecharactersfeaturedinyour articlesand storiesandthiscomesfromyourexperienceofpersonalrela- tionships, both good and bad. Fromourearliestmemoriesofchildhoodthroughourschool- daystoadultfriendships,romanticattachments,experiences atworkandinourdomesticlives,everythingthatwent into forming our character has a part to play in our writing. LOOKINGBACKINTOYOURPAST There is little doubt that anyonewith achequered past will haveplentytowriteaboutbutmanyofusfeelwehavedone very little in our lives worth committing to paper. On closer inspection, however, this is very rarely the case. Takeyourselfrightbacktoyourearliestmemories.Howdid you feel when: X you were told off for being naughty? X youwerepickedonbyotherchildren? X you missed out on a treat? X your parents argued? X you got detention at school? X you had to have treatment in hospital?8 / CREATIVE WRITING X a family trauma made you realise that nothing at home would be the same again? Thesearejustafewexperiencesmanychildrenshare,buttry goingupanotchinageandseeifyoucanrecallhowyoufelt when: X you left home X started your first day at work X travelled abroad on your own X got your first cheque book X bought your own car. Seeking readeridentification By now, you may be wondering how such very ordinary, everyday experiences can possibly be relevant to creative writing. Surely writing is all about escapism, original ideas, unusual situations, not about opening a ‘Young Saver’ bank account? Ofcourse,you’reright.Originalityisavitalingredientinany pieceofwriting,factorfiction,butthensoisrealism.Without realism, you cannot have reader identification and it is this element that brings your work vividly to life. Observingeverydaylife Michael Green, professional journalist and authorof many humorous non-fiction books, offers the following excellent advice to would-be writers: ‘Observe everyday lifewith awriter’s eye. There liesyour material. Carry a notebook and jot down any ideas that come or incidents you can see.’GETTING STARTED / 9 READ,READ,READ Whatever your writing interest may be, fiction or non- fiction, literary novels or specialist articles, you should read anything and everything in your chosen genre. Readingwithawriter’seye This book is designed to help you understand how to read withawriter’seye,takingthetimetoanalysehowanauthor managestograbyourattentionandholditsothatyoukeep on reading through to the end. Your notebook will become a valuable source of reference. Failure to write ideas down can result in you losing them altogether.Committingthemtopaperhelpscommitthemto memory and stimulate new writing projects. UsethequestionnaireinFigure1toanalysepublishedexam- plesofyourparticularwritinginterest.Whetheryouintendto write non-fiction articles, short stories or novels, you will discover that the same basic principles apply. Asyourcriticalfacultiesdevelop,youmayfindyourreading enjoyment is spoilt by the way technical points you were previously unaware of suddenly become glaringly obvious. Gradually,however,asyournew-foundunderstandinghelps you to appreciate the skills being employed, the sheer plea- sureofreadingsomethingthatisbothbeautifullywrittenand well-constructed will return and increase. By the time this stage is reached, your own writing will be showing a marked improvement.Thefollowingquestionsaredesignedtoprovideaninsightintothe techniquesemployedbypublishedauthorsofbothfactand¢ction tocatchandholdtheirreaders’attention. Yes No 1. Wasthe¢rstsentenceshorterthantheothers intheopeningparagraph? && 2. Wasthe¢rstparagraphshorterthanthesecond?&& 3. Didthe¢rstparagraphtellyouwhatthearticle/ storywasabout? && 4. Whatwasitaboutthearticle/storythatmade youreadon? (a)Youwantedtoknowhowtoperforma speci¢ctask && (b)Youfoundthetopicfascinating && (c)Youdiscoveredsomethingyoudidn’tknow before && (d)Youhadtoknowwhathappenednext && (e)Youwantedto¢ndouthowitallended && 5. Wasthemiddleinformative/entertaining? && 6. Wasitsetoutinalogicalorder? && 7. Dideachsection/sceneleadyouontoread thenext? && 8. Didyoufeelcompelledtokeepreading? && 9. Ifcharacterswereincluded,couldyourelate tothem? && 10. Didtheendbringthewholethingtoalogical conclusion? && 11. Wastheendingsatisfactory? && 12. Wereallthequestionsanswered/looseends tiedup? && 13. Didtheauthordeliverwhattheypromised? && 14. Didyouenjoyreadingit? && 15. Wouldyoureadmorebythisauthor? && Answerstotheabovequestionsshouldmostlybe‘Yes’. Fig. 1. Analysis sheet. 10GETTING STARTED / 11 CHECKLIST 1. Do you read extensively? 2. Have you set aside a time to write each day? 3. Do you keep a notebook of ideas? 4. Doyouhaveagooddictionary,thesaurusandaccessto reference material? 5. Haveyouconsidered how theuse of computersimpacts on your own writing ambitions? 6. Are you writing about what you know? ASSIGNMENT Take your notebook and jot down 10 ideas for articles or stories.Bythetimeyouhavefinishedreadingthisbook,you should have developed at least one of those ideas into a workable outline.2 WritingNon-Fiction WRITINGABOUTWHATYOUKNOW Aswe saw in theprevious chapter,oneofthe first piecesof adviceanywould-bewriterlearnsistowriteaboutwhatyou know. This can be interpreted as anything from factual articles about a hobby, profession or skill to writing your life- story. You can be sure that everyone has experience in oneareaor anotherthatwillbeofinteresttosomeoneelse. CASESTUDY:VALEXPRESSESHEROPINIONS Val is a forceful lady in her mid-fifties. She writes clearly and expresses herself well on paper. She has written several articles complaining about a variety of goods and services which, although important to her, are neither topical nor of much interest to anyone else. She has tried to have her articles published in a number of women’s magazines but to date, they have all been rejected. LETTINGOFFSTEAM Fortheavidnewspaperandmagazinereader,thetemptation towrite a learned piece complaining about the state of the nation or the rising price of a pack of frozen peas can be overwhelming. 12WRITING NON-FICTION / 13 It istempting to try to emulate controversial comment col- umnsinthehopethatadiscerningeditorwillbekeentogive prideofplacetoourwordsofwisdom.Sadly,thisisrarelythe case. Commentcolumnsareusuallywrittenbystaffwriters,well- knownjournalistsorpoliticalanalysts.Thesearetheprofes- sionalsconsideredbythemediatobequalifiedtocomment on ‘life, the universe and everything’. However, as the infamous ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ discovered, there is an outlet for the man or woman in the streettovoicetheiropinionandthat isthroughthereaders’ letters page. Sendingletterstoeditors The letters page in any publication is an excellent way of letting off steam in print. It can also be a way of earning small amounts of cash or gifts for your writing. Ifyouliketheideaofmakingyourvoiceheard,youstanda betterchanceofhavingaletterpublishedifyoufollowafew simple rules: X Write clearly and neatlyor, if possible, type your letter. X Address it to the correct person. X Keep it brief and to the point. X Make it as topical as possible. X Write about something relevant to the publication’s readership.14 / CREATIVE WRITING X A brief word of praise for the publication always helps. X Invite comments or advice from other readers. X Neversendthesamelettertomorethanonemagazineat the same time. These pages operate on the assumption that all letters are from regular readers of their publica- tion. CHANGINGWORKINTOLEISURE Thereareliterallyhundredsofmagazinetitleslistedintrade directories, a large proportion of which potentially offer opportunities for non-fiction writers. Knowingyoursubject Justafewofthecategoriesintowhichthesemagazinesfallare listed below: X animals and pets X arts and entertainment X business and finance X computers X general interest X hobbies X home X motoring X music X sports X trade and professional X transport X women’s interests.WRITING NON-FICTION / 15 Even more opportunities for would-be columnists can be found in local interest publications, parish magazines, local newspapers, club magazines etc. Becominga‘stringer’ If you regularly write to the letters page of a newspaperor countymagazineaboutitemsofimportancetotheresidents in your area, you may be contacted and asked if you will become a ‘stringer’. This involves keeping an eye out for snippets of news and views on local issues and phoning them in to the editor. Manyregularcolumnistsinspecialistmagazinesbegintheir writing careers in this way before graduating to their own regular column. Experts who can express themselves clearly and be relied upon to produce manuscripts on demand are few and far between. Specialist magazines and small local newspapers can offer a wonderful opportunity to pursue your writing interest by sharing information with other readers. Constructinganarticle Writingaboutsomethingyouenjoycanbeareallabourof love. If you have the ability to impart your enthusiasm and expertise to a like-minded reader, your pleasure will be increased immeasurably by seeing your words on the pages of your favourite magazine. Constructingareadablearticleis,however,notaseasyasit looks.Firstyoumuststudyyourchosenmagazineandfamil- iariseyourselfwiththelengthandstyleoftheirarticles.Your16 / CREATIVE WRITING opening sentence should give aclear indication of what the articleisaboutandonceyoubeginwriting,keeptothepoint and don’t get sidetracked. If,forexample,youarearecognisedconnoisseurofrealales andyouwanttoexplainhowtoassessaprize-winningpint, youmightopenthearticlewithsomethingalongthefollowing lines: With the growth in popularity of real ale, brewers are becoming highly competitive. Brewing a prize-winning pint takes skill and dedication but by following a few basic guidelines, you can find yourself up therewith the front runners. Anyone reading the article would be in no doubt as to its contentandhavingcaughttheirattention,younowholditby taking them step by step through the promised guidelines. Yourclosingparagraphshouldbringthearticleneatlyback to the beginning, finishing with something like: Follow these few principles and before long, your ale will takeitsplaceonthelistofhome-produced,award-winning real ales. You could add to this a list of competitions and national events open to real ale brewers and drinkers but very little more would be needed other than some captioned photo- graphs to illustrate the piece.WRITING NON-FICTION / 17 Asimpleframeworkofanarticleissetout inFigure2.The main constituents are: X a good, attention-grabbing introduction X amiddle,arrangedinalogicalorder,which keepsto the subject and delivers the information promised in the introduction X anendingwhichroundsthearticleoff,bringingitlogically back to the beginning. INTRODUCTION Introduce the subject, go straight to the point, e.g.: (Beginning) ‘With the growth in popularity of real ale....’ CONTENT (Middle) Keep to the point of the article, dealing with each relevant item in a logical order, e.g.: X How to assess the quality, i.e. ‘Points to look for...’ X Tips for brewing your own prize-win- ning ales. X List of quality brews. X Where to find good ales. Round off article by bringing it back to END the beginning, e.g. ‘Follow the basic principles and before long, your ale will take its place on the list of home- produced award-winning real ales.’ Fig. 2. Framework for article.18 / CREATIVE WRITING Ideally,youropeningsentenceshouldbeshorterthanallthe rest and should grab the reader’s attention by immediately tellingthemwhatthearticleisabout.Themoretechnicalthe magazine, the more factual your article should be. Illustrations in the form of colour slides, photographs or diagrams are always useful. These should be sensibly cap- tioned,sothatitisclearwhatsectionofthetexttheyrelate to, something like: Ajudgesamplesmylatestbrew. Expandingyouridea From one article ideacan spring several more. Perhapsyou could follow up the first article with an interview with a brewerandthisinturnmightleadtoavisittoabeerfestival andyetanotherarticleaboutthat.Beforelong,youcouldfind yourselfbecomingaregularcontributortoawholerangeof magazines. RELATINGYOURLIFE-STORY Onepopularnon-fictiontopiccreativewritersliketoembark upon is their autobiography. Almost everyone has a tale to tell, many of which are fas- cinating,evenvergingontheunbelievable.Thosewhohave lived through some prettyamazing experiences understand- ably want towrite them down, both for theirown personal satisfaction and to provide a written record for future generations. Examiningyourmotivation Beforeyoubegintowriteyourlife-story,however,itisworthWRITING NON-FICTION / 19 examiningexactlywhatyourmotivesare,soaskyourselfthe following questions: 1. Do I have a fascinating tale to tell? 2. Is my story unique? 3. DoIneedtoconfrontmypastinordertomoveoninmy life? 4. Do I wish to leave my family a record of my life? 5. Do I want to give hope to others? 6. Do I want to have my autobiography published? Beingfamous Iftheanswertoquestion6is‘yes’thenextquestionhastobe ‘AmIfamous?’Unfortunately,ifyou’renot,thenthechances of having your book accepted by a publisher are very slim indeed. Thefactisthatthemajorityofautobiographicalbooksbeing publishedatthemomentfeaturecelebritiescurrentlyinthe news, be they supermodels in their early twenties, sporting personalities, leading politicians or famous names from the world of film and television. Comparedtoyours,theirlivesmayhavebeenextremelydull beforetheywerepropelledintothepubliceyebutit’sthehere andnowthatmattersandintoday’sthrowawaymedia,fame is everything. Informingthepublic Many successful autobiographies do more than tell the author’s life-story. They also provide a documentary