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English 11-12

How to Survive HSC English Paper 1: Acing the Creative Writing

Paper 1 Section 2 isn’t just measuring a student’s way with words – it’s actually assessing a whole range of skills and knowledge, that with sufficient preparation, any student can master. Here are our top tips for acing the Creative section of Paper 1!

A new English Advanced Syllabus was implemented in 2019, so the HSC English Paper format has since changed. Please refer to this more recent article to learn how to write a creative for the new Module C: The Craft of Writing.

How to survive Paper 1: Acing the creative section

Some people seem to possess the gift of imagination, able to weave lyrical sentences out of the air the night before a creative assignment is due. And then there are the great majority of us, for whom the word “creative” conjures up feelings of existential dread…

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that some people aren’t natural writers. There’s also no reason that these students can’t do really well in the Paper 1 Creative section, despite not possessing a natural affinity for creative writing. 


Address the rubric

Need to write a Discovery story, but not sure where to start? Try looking at the discovery stimulus! It sounds obvious, but just like with any English essay you write, your story needs to address the elements of the syllabus in a clear way. Like your essay, your creative should have a ‘thesis’ or argument about discovery that you express throughout the work.

Make sure your text deals with at least some of the syllabus’ central themes. For example, is the discovery in your story sudden or a result of careful planning? Does your story explore personal, physical or emotional discovery? You also don’t need to explicitly use the language of the syllabus (or the word ‘Discovery’) in order to address its concerns – show, rather than tell, your engagement with the theme of discovery.

If your story doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the syllabus, then you should consider altering it, so that it more directly deals with aspects of Discovery.


Techniques, Techniques, Techniques!

When composing your story, write as if you expect your work to be analysed. Your marker will be looking for examples of sophisticated language techniques and strong theme exploration in your story, just like English students search for these elements when studying a text.

For those of you for whom creative writing doesn’t come naturally, as a starting point try to think consciously about three or four techniques you want to include. For example, before you sit down to write your story, you might decide to include a motif, sensory image to describe the setting and personification of your character’s feelings.

By explicitly focusing on using a variety of techniques, you ensure you don’t end up filling your story with the same figurative device. Writing a story with endless similes is much less impressive than demonstrating that you have mastered the use of multiple techniques and know how to vary them to deepen the complexity of your story, and accentuate its themes.



Keep it simple! Although using a variety of techniques is crucial, be careful not to ‘overwrite’. The best creatives will subtly and sparingly weave in imagery, without overloading the story with empty adjectives. Instead of bombarding the marker with adjectives and adverbs, try to reduce the volume of description and replace it with a stronger verb to “show” the reader what you mean, rather than merely telling them.

For example, if you are trying to describe a character’s sense of frustration and resignation, instead of saying “She angrily took off her shiny red shoes, that glistened like waxy apples at Woolworths, and with great frustration, sat down on the cold black leather couch,” use stronger verbs: “She kicked her shoes off and slumped onto the couch.”

Struggling with Module C?

Learn how to write a Module C creative in 5 days with our Year 12 Module C Bootcamp. Learn how to structure, plan, and write a creative for Module C. Learn more.

Focus on one scene

The KISS mantra similarly applies to your plot. Since students must complete the HSC creative within a 40 minute period, most students will only be able to write 700-900 words. As such, your creative writing should have a relatively simple plot line, where you focus on developing your characters rather than rushing through lots of action. It may be helpful to think about your story like one or two scenes in a movie (NOT the whole 3 hour film!). You want your story to contain not too many events, but believable characters and interesting angles to draw in your audience.


Avoid clichés

If something sounds really familiar when you are drafting your story, it may well be because it is a cliché – a commonly used phrase that many people, including your marker, will recognize. There’s nothing like a cliché to destroy the narrative voice in a story, and while you can use one or two, using too many will jar your reader out of the story.

Another negative thing about clichés is that by using them, some students feel they can avoid using descriptive or figurative language to describe a character’s state of mind or setting. Instead of using sensory imagery to describe a character’s fear, students might write: “Her blood ran cold and a shiver ran down her spine.” Instead of personifying silence in order to describe an awkward moment, a cliché might be: “the silence seemed to last an eternity.” Try to be as unique as possible with your use of language. Practice combining words which don’t often work together, to see if you can create your own imagery.


Practice integrating stimuli

While you might have one story really well-prepared for the exam (although we definitely recommend having a back-up story!), part of what you will be examined on will be how effectively you use the stimulus provided. NESA (formerly BOSTES) can choose to provide you with one visual or written stimulus, or a range of stimuli for you to choose from. The best way to get comfortable integrating a visual or written stimulus into your story is through practice. The NESA website contains past Paper 1 Advanced English exams, which you can use for practice with integrating stimuli into your stories.

You should also be aware that for a written stimulus, you don’t need to use the quotation exactly. There is some leeway to alter the wording slightly (e.g by changing the personal pronoun from ‘he’ to ‘she’), but be wary of straying too far from the stimulus provided!


Refer to the stimulus multiple times

Beware of referring to the stimuli once and then moving on with your story. One of the main reasons stimuli are provided in the section is to prevent students from going into the exam and simply copying out a pre-memorised story. As a rough guideline, try to refer to the stimulus at least three times throughout your story, roughly in the beginning, middle and end. That way you will show your marker that you have not just inserted one sentence about the stimulus and then proceeded to write your own story, but have actually thought about how your story might link to the stimulus, and more broadly to Discovery.

If you can, use your (visual or written) stimulus in a metaphorical way. The way you integrate a visual stimuli does not have to be literal: just because there is a maze in the stimulus picture, doesn’t mean your story’s plot has to revolve around thorny hedges. Try to integrate the stimulus in a figurative way. For example, you might use the image of a maze to create a sense of the character’s disorientation and lack of direction. If your story uses the stimulus image as a metaphor, then you’ve demonstrated that you can write well on the spot, and shown you haven’t just copied out a pre-memorised story.


Struggling with Module C?

Learn how to write a Module C creative in 5 days with our Year 12 Module C Bootcamp. Learn how to structure, plan, and write a creative for Module C. Learn more.

Written by Allison Kim


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