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English 11-12

How To Prepare For HSC English Advanced Paper 1: Discovery Creative

What makes a good AOS creative? In this post, we explain what you need to have to get Band 6 for your creatives.

Welcome to the third post in our Area of Study: Discovery series. In this post, we will outline what the AOS Discovery Module requires you to do and how best to approach it.

The other posts in this series will explain how to approach the AOS: Discovery Module, show you how to prepare for the short answer questions, and how to produce a Band 6 Discovery Essay. If you are struggling for related texts for AOS: Discovery, we have suggestions that you can read in this post,  this posts, and this post that will help you out.

We also have a Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English which steps you through the process of studying HSC English!

First, let’s look at the structure of Paper 1:

English Advanced Paper 1 has three sections:

  • short response questions,
  • creative response, and
  • long response or essay section.

Creative writing is hard. If it wasn’t hard, everybody would be writing novels in their spare time. This post will provide you with some practical approaches to producing a strong Area of Study: Discovery creative.

What makes AOS creatives seem especially difficult is the requirement to focus on discovery. To reduce the stress of producing a first draft, don’t worry about focusing on discovery. You can deal with that later as you redraft. Instead, focus on your characters, your structure, and your plot.

The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA, formerly BOSTES) chooses themes like belonging, journeys, and discovery for AOS because they are universal human experiences. These themes will always exist to a degree in any narrative you write, so the best approach is to finish your first draft. You can then tease aspects of discovery out and amplify them as you redraft your creative.

The purpose of a first draft is to get the skeleton of your narrative. Don’t write a first draft expecting to produce a perfect creative. Instead, aim to have three features in your first draft: characters, plot, and structure.

Let’s look at some strategies for achieving this.



Narratives are compelling because of the people in them. How people are characterised and how they interact is what drives a narrative. When you develop characters, aim to develop individuals who have plausible struggles and aspirations. Characters who are totally good or bad are difficult to engage with because they don’t reflect the reality of human experience and present no mystery for the reader to solve.

If you’re struggling to create a character, take inspiration from the world around you. Consider your friends, family, teachers, public figures, and even other fictional characters and borrow aspects of them for the characters in your narratives. Good characters don’t have to be likeable; they can be horrible and infuriating; they can be ignorant and naïve. If you struggle to develop a nice or good character, develop an evil one to terrorise the good ones.

When you develop your characters, consider the following questions:

  • Who are they? What do they look like?
  • What kind of person are they?
  • How do they relate to other people?

For example, let’s say our protagonist is a young student named Robin. Robin brags to all her friends about how she is a good writer. Robin is very critical of the narratives her friends write. But Robin is not a good writer. She brags and lies about her ability to hide the fact that she cannot write narratives. These flaws make Robin a complex character. Robin’s relationships with her friends develop her complexity and introduces our secondary characters.

Once you have developed your characters, you need a plot.


A plot is a series of events that occurs in a narrative. Effective plots put characters in situations that require them to act or solve problems. How characters react to these situations are the key elements of a plot. Good narratives demonstrate complexity by representing how characters cope with the problems they are confronted with.

When you are developing a plot, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do my characters get along?
  • What do they like, or dislike doing?
  • What is their current situation? How are they coping with it?
  • How can I use this information to make their lives harder, or easier?

Returning to our example, we can create a plot by placing Robin in situation where she needs to write a story for high school. Robin’s reactions to this task will make up the plot: will she continue to lie about her ability, or will she ask her more competent friends for help?

After you have decided on a plot, you need to structure your narrative.



It is important that you structure your narrative so the events unfold logically. You want your reader to be able to follow your narrative. For this reason, at this point of planning you will need to choose the perspective the narrative is told from. A first-person narrative develops a character’s internal experience. A third-person narrative allows for you to develop several characters with a degree of complexity. The traditional three-act narrative structure works by presenting this information in a familiar and accessible manner. The three-act structure takes the following form:

  1. Introduce your characters and their world.
  2. Present the characters with a problem.
  3. Represent the characters’ reactions to the problem. (How do they attempt to solve it?)

You don’t have to solve the problem at the end of your narrative! The world doesn’t work that cleanly, your narrative doesn’t need to either.

When planning the structure of your narrative, ask the following questions:



  • Are you trying to focus on one character’s experience in detail?
  • Is it important to represent how the events affect several characters?



  • What world do my characters inhabit?
  • How do my characters relate to this world?



  • How does my plot affect this world and its inhabitants?
  • What are my characters’ responses to the plot?
  • What do my characters do to try to solve their problems?



  • Do my characters fail or succeed? (Hint: you don’t need to show the failure or success)
  • How can you leave your audience satiated, but wanting more?

Let’s return to the example of Robin. We want to show the effects of Robin’s decisions on her and her friends so we will use a third-person perspective. Our plot involves her doing a task she struggles at – creative writing. The introduction depicts her at school, where she is criticising a friend’s short story. This develops her character and her relationship with that friend. The complication occurs when their teacher sets them an assignment. Robin always receives poor marks for her creatives, and she panics. For fear of damaging her reputation, she is reluctant to ask her friend for help and criticises their work. This situation has several resolutions: Robin could ask her friend for help and receive it; she could ask her friend and be refused help for being a liar or bully; or she could try to write the story on her own.

You don’t need to show Robin submitting the story or receiving her mark. Letting the reader ponder the outcome can be more effective than giving a neat conclusion. It will make the reader ponder the various outcomes. Our narrative’s resolution lies in how Robin and her friends deal with the situation.

Now we have a first draft, we must redraft it to refine it.


Discovery and the drafting process

Once you have a first draft you can begin the drafting process. When you redraft a creative, you are trying to remove the aspects of your narrative that don’t work, and develop those parts that are effective. Your second, third, and, even, fourth drafts should be developing your characters, refining the plot, clarifying your structure, and improving style. It is during this process that you develop the thematic connections to the Module.

Incorporating discovery is a hard step, but NESA provide guidance in their syllabus document. The syllabus outline defines discovery and presents examples of the processes of discovery NESA want students to focus on. For example, NESA states that “[d]iscovery can encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed,” and that “[d]iscoveries and discovering can offer new understandings and renewed perceptions of ourselves and others.” You can use these two points or anything else from the rubric to develop the theme of discovery in your narrative. Let’s return to our narrative about Robin to see how.

The first draft of Robin’s story does not immediately demonstrate discovery. But as we redraft it, we can expand on Robin’s discovery, revealing that lying has put her in a difficult position. We can represent Robin’s friends discovering her secret – perhaps Robin tells them or maybe they find out another way – and this process of discovery develops a connection to the module. These discoveries address the first point from the syllabus. We can convey the ramifications of discovery by representing how Robin’s friends change their perception of her. Conveying Robin’s renewed perception of herself as she grapples with the ramifications of her deception addresses our second point from the syllabus.


What now?

Now you need to write! You don’t want to find yourself in a situation like our protagonist, Robin!

Remember, the most important step is to finish your first draft. A finished first draft will give you something concrete to work with and develop into a Band 6 creative!

Need to level-up your English Marks for the HSC Exams?

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Our HSC Exam Prep Courses cover all the Modules in detail to help you boost your results. Learn how to maximise your HSC marks.

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Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


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