Elements of Good Creative Writing Help
Introduction to the Elements of Good Creative Writing
The novelist Andre Dubus III said in an online interview with Random House:
I think what I love most [about writing] is that feeling that you really nailed something. I rarely feel it with a whole piece, but sometimes with a line you feel that it really captured what it is that you had inside you and you got it out for a stranger to read, someone who may never love you or meet you, but he or she is going to get that experience from that line.
Although as Andre Dubus III admits, every line you write won't achieve perfection, there are simple things you must do in your writing "to get something out" in a way that a stranger reading it will have the experience you are writing about and engage in reading it, whether it be a happy or a sad experience.
Show, Show, Show
When you offer readers information they can take in through their senses, you offer them a world they can enter and experience. That is true whether you are writing from your imagination, your memory, or what is in front of you right now. Replace language that tells readers how to feel or how to judge something—words like beautiful, ugly, wonderful, and frustrating—with sensory images that offer them the experience to feel for themselves. Describe a couch as the color of mud pies, for instance, or a morning you awake happy as one with song birds on every branch of the tree outside your window.
Avoid Using Clichés
Most of the time, avoiding clichés improves writing because clichés are overused phrases that form a kind of shorthand communication that once again tells readers what they should be experiencing without allowing them to do the actual experiencing. Clichéd phrases are the words in our vernacular so overused that readers no longer picture the content in them (it's raining cats and dogs, for instance) but instead quickly jump to supplying an editorializing word or phrase (the weather's lousy) that sums things up instead of evoking feeling (what it is like to be in heavy rain).
In 1946, George Orwell wrote about "dying metaphors" in his essay "Politics and the English Language." "A newly invented metaphor," he wrote:
…assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed.
The phrases Orwell notes and others writers today use without thinking, such as "gotta have it" and "that's another story," replace particulars that provide vividness. When you come across this kind of cliché in your writing, consider it a placeholder, language that comes easily but sits on top of something much more interesting. Your job as writer is to lift this kind of cliché off of your writing, like a layer of frost over ice cream, and reveal the full flavor beneath it.
In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell also wrote about "verbal false limbs." These, he said:
…save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun Constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.
Write clean. Don't use more words than you have to but make sure the words you use are lively and do the work you want them to do. "To" is usually better than "in order to." "Unique" does not require "very" in front of it.
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