Creative writing is a mode of literary composition – including both fiction and non-fiction – that centres in varying degrees on narrative, character and aesthetics. The “creative” element in question, then, serves to demarcate such writing from academic, technical or other modes of composition with a persuasive as opposed to poetic purpose. This distinction is important. While an essay seeks to persuade readers, creative writing looks to transport them, to emotionally “move” them. Thus a successful piece of creative writing needs to be able to tap into the reader’s emotions. You are not trying to build an argument; rather, you want to conjure a scene which evokes certain sensations. This can be difficult because the creative process is highly personal, meaning there is no clear cut method of advance. One therefore needs to establish what particular mode suits one’s sensibilities and style. Accordingly, the creative writing student needs to absorb as broad a range of influences as possible; they must read widely, noting what resonates for them. Isolate passages which you feel are effective and try to deconstruct the component parts; attempt to figure out the literary mechanics of effective writing. By understanding means of effect, you are more likely (though not guaranteed) to be able to reproduce that effect. This will probably begin as mimicry; this is only natural. In time, with practice, however, your own style will emerge from these seeds of influence.
Despite the highly personal nature of creative writing, there are broad general rules which will help you to improve. Consider that such composition requires that you deal in emotion; this is your currency and it must be used economically. “Big emotions”, said Hemingway, “do not come from big words”. Rather, powerful effect comes from thoughtful use of the right words. Verbal economy is the goal, finding the most efficient way to summon the required effect. For example, Hemingway’s “six- word novel”: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Here, the emotion springs from the implied death of the child, which is suggested by the shoes having never seen use. The death in question is not spelled out. We infer it because the context suggests it. Thus what is not said is just as important as what is said. You do not need to be overt. Subtle intimation is an asset to the creative writer. In composition, it is useful always to think about how your text can suggest without stating. You want to be able to express powerful emotions tersely. This will come from exigent editing. Be ruthless. Cut anything that is not essential to the meaning of the text. Remove any word that does not add to the effect. Also, you need to be mindful of the reader and their emotional journey. Creative writing done well has a musical quality; each note complements the next. Your composition needs stylistic consistency if its tonal alterations are to come off. You do not want to jar your reader. Finally, good writing is rewriting. Achieving the right tone, style and effect will take time and dedication.
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