In this post, we explain how students in Years 9 and 10 should be approaching creative writing.
Creative writing is an essential part of the HSC. While the English syllabus for the HSC is changing, this skill will remain part of assessments. In fact, the new English Syllabus includes the module C unit “The Craft of Writing.” This module increases the focus on creative writing and composition. For this reason, it is essential that younger students begin to develop their writing skills before reaching the senior years. Students don’t need to be the next JK Rowling or Virginia Woolf, but they do need to be able to develop complex and compelling narratives. In this post we will look at the expectations of The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and some of the skills you should begin developing to meet them.
NESA has designed years 9 and 10, known as Stage Five, to aid students in developing these skills. Let’s see what they say about creative writing in the Stage Five statement:
[Students] apply their knowledge of the elements that shape meaning in texts…. They conform to or challenge an audience’s preconceptions and expectations about content and form, and they evaluate the effectiveness of each approach. Students display a developing personal style in their personal, imaginative, critical and analytical compositions. They work through the composing process, including planning, researching, drafting, conferencing, editing and publishing. Students reflect on their composing process and how it has affected the final version of their text.
Let’s break down what this means for you.
You need to learn how to replicate what they see in narratives in their own creatives. This means that you need to incorporate the literary techniques and structures you have studied into the narratives that you compose. By the end of Stage Five must be able to recognise techniques like metaphor and irony, and utilise them in your own writing.
You need to learn how to utilise narrative form and perspectives. This means that they need to understand the differences between first, second, and third person perspectives, and practice writing narratives from these different points of view. Utilising different perspectives develops meaning in different ways. A third person narrative paints a broad picture, while a first person narrative is intimate and subjective.
Finally, you need to understand how drafting works, and practice it diligently yourself. The drafting process begins with planning narratives, mapping out their plots, and then developing characters in detail. From this plan, you should produce a first draft and revise your original ideas and features. The drafting process teaches students to perfect their narrative by producing increasingly refined versions of a text. You want to use successive drafts as an opportunity to add depth to characters, fix plot holes, and tighten up the language that you use. The text of the final draft might well be entirely different from the original version.
Let’s have a look at the fundamentals needed for a good first draft.
Effective narratives need four things: Character, Plot, Dialogue, and Techniques. Your markers will be assessing your narratives to ensure that these components are present:
Characters drive narratives. Readers want to feel a connection to the people in their texts. This means that they need to be more than a name. It is important that readers get a holistic understanding of your characters. Give them names and describe their appearance. This will give the reader something to latch onto. You must also develop the characters’ motivations and characteristics. How do they act? Are they outgoing or reserved? Why do they do the things that they do? Asking and then answering these questions will help you flesh out realistic figures in your creatives.
Your narrative must have a plot. Audiences require structure so that they can orient themselves in your world. A plot will embed a structure into your narrative. This means that the first part of your story must develop the characters in it. You need to introduce them and the world you have created. The second part of a narrative is where you should confront the characters with an issue or problem. This develops the characters by placing them in a difficult situation that they need to resolve. The final part of a narrative is where the characters attempt to resolve the problem that has arisen. They don’t need to solve it, but they need to work towards a resolution. It is perfectly fine to conclude a narrative by posing a further issue of complication to the characters.
People communicate with each other by talking. Your narratives need to be able to represent this. This will help them seem realistic. However, writing dialogue is hard. What we expect when we read dialogue in novels and short stories is quite different to how dialogue sounds in the real world. When we talk, there are pauses and awkward moments. We often fill our sentences with “umms” and “ahhs” and interjections such as “like” or “yeah..nah.” These don’t work so well on the page, they seem stilted and forced when over used.
Effective dialogue will develop a character. Do they use slang? Do they talk formally or casually? Do they switch between formal and casual registers depending on who they speak with? These questions will depict their class, their social milieu, and their age. Dialogue develops relationships. Writing a conversation where one party cuts off another and interrupts them regularly will demonstrate a power imbalance and present one character as rude or one as meek. Dialogue drives plot, too. Rather than trying to write a backstory for a narrative, you can use dialogue for exposition. Characters can discuss events that have happened in the past. This does more than explaining events that have occurred in your world, it allows you to represent how characters have reacted to these events.
While dialogue is hard to master. You must learn how to use it.
Literary techniques help you represent things to your readers. One of the skills you have been learning throughout school is identifying literary techniques. Literary techniques allow us to represent things effectively to others. By this stage you should know what techniques like metaphors, similes, symbols, motifs, and irony are. When you are writing narratives, you need to apply these techniques yourself. Literary techniques allow us to “show” rather than “tell.” When we “tell” in a narrative, we are explaining in detail what a character is doing or thinking.
Jack was angry that he needed to go to the shop, his flatmate Jill had eaten all of their the food again.
This sentence conveys narrative information, but it is doesn’t engage the reader’s imagination. We know Jack is angry and that Jill has eaten everything, but we don’t forge an emotional connection. Consider instead,
Jack’s blood boiled as he surveyed the wasteland in the fridge. His traitorous flatmate Jill had left them on the brink of starvation.
“Why must I always do the shopping?” he asked them empty refrigerator.
In this example, we still find out that Jack has to go the shops when he doesn’t want to because Jill has eaten everything. However, we now get a better idea of the intensity of his anger from the metaphor of “boiling blood.” The diction of “traitorous” signals his disgust with Jill and the poor state of their relationship. The lack of food in the fridge is represented by calling it a “wasteland.” The hyperbole of referring to them as “on the brink of starvation” represents Jack’s hunger. We learn that this is an ongoing problem in the question Jack asks the fridge – “Why must I always do the shopping?”
In the above example, all four pillars of narrative are being put to work. Jack is a character who gets angry, he has depth. We even learn a little about his perspective of Jill, a traitor to their household. He has a motive for this anger – a continually empty fridge. The empty fridge is a plot complication: Jack must undergo a quest. Dialogue helps us understand both the previous events of the narrative and Jack’s exasperation.
Applying these pillars to a creative is not an innate skill. It is something you develop through practice. If you want to develop your creative writing, you need to practice these skills. So get writing!
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