Introduction to Creative Writing Techniques
In this century, ideals no longer have as much control over reality as it was taught to have been by great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle. Emphasis these days has shifted from what “ought to be” to “what is”.
Consequently, a thousand and one media now exist, all transmitting and disseminating information but with little communication. Little communication because everyone has become a media in himself/herself thus the conventional mass media though have great impact still, but are only chosen according to each man’s self-augmenting needs.
In this era world over, socio – economic systems no longer reward anybody for his/her labour, rather every one sells himself and his abilities out to get him/her rewarded.
You are therefore, daily accustomed to seeing young men and women carrying gadgets of social communication, including laptop and note book computers, enabled telecommunications handsets that do not only allow easy and efficient accessibility to business partners, consumers and clientele, but also serve as ready modems to the World Wide Web.
The challenge every individual must face now is how to be relevant in the stiff competition that has arisen from modern trends, in order to make his/her ideas and personality sell. As it must be insinuated from the scratch, that no one makes your point for you if you fail to make it; you are simply left out.
On this note, when you hear, read about or actually know someone personally who you assume is asserting the rights of the less privileged, wisdom demands that you look again, as you will see that they are only agitating for their share and more of what the “system avails”.
Furthermore, in this century, one can’t ignore the fact that his level of exposition to relevant information determines his/her level of transformation, which in turn, determines his/her overall success.
It is undeniably glaring therefore, that to stay above the floods and hold sway in his/her field, everyone must, in these times, must necessarily acquire skills in self-expression. This is what makes it important for everyone to understand the basic techniques of creative writing.
So, whether as a student with huge interest in skill acquisition to critique, create and analyse creative writings, or perhaps your interest lies only in the appreciation of a particular genre for pleasure, this article is baited to improve your outlook, as it contains a concise, yet elaborate practicable guide as well as academically sound perspective to self-development in creative thinking that will prune your writing skills.
What is creative writing?
The term “creative writing” suggests the idea of making to exist by writing. However, the process of creative writing goes beyond the incubation of ideas to create a notable world. As a field, it encompasses every acceptable technique and methodology of self-expression, by which your creation achieves beauty and at the same time, achieves meaningful communication in reflecting human situation as universally empirical.
However, while being empirical in science may mean a pattern of strict adherence to a prescribed process of understudying phenomena, in creative thinking, this refers to the fact that whatever world you create by your writings must be similar with human experience enough to stimulate desired emotional response in a dimension that everyone who has had a similar experience would be able to identify with the characters and social situation created in your works.
Based on the above, creative writing may be seen as a means/tool of presenting in a manner to achieve pleasure/entertainment, inform or teach a lesson informally and to achieve beauty without undermining the universally accepted standards of and devices of self-expression and presentation.
That creative writing is creative alone disqualifies the word structure in its literal meaning. Not that it has nothing to do with its physique, but structure in creative writing is deemphasised from the physical form of having a head up, hind limbs behind and trunk at the centre.
Here, what it implies is that there are ideal features a creative piece must have, and not the order of occurrence of these features.
Broadly, every creative work of art has some type of the following:
• Introduction – a catchy, interesting beginning that must say what it is all about, why it is important and possibly how it is presented. In complex works, you may need to detail introduction to include explanations to certain functional concepts.
• Connection – were we to compare this to an animal, connection should be a neck, as it links the introductory with the body of the piece. This could be a maxim, figurative expression or connected sentences that accurately serve as build up to introduction and foundation to the body. Using connective terms here always makes it easy for digestion.
• Explanation – the body of your creative piece accommodates all details. The devices used must all be weaved together to create a beautiful image with lasting impact.
• Conclusion – this may just be a couple of sentences tied in to the piece and corroborating the entire work from alpha to omega, or may be a quote, a short story or whatever device your creativity dictates.
For the purpose of emphasis, take it again that the order and style of these rely extensively on your creativity as a writer. It is your duty to choose a style most suitable to your work.
Elements of construction
Achieving creative masterpieces requires a writer as creator of worlds and scenarios to know understand and adhere to the elements or techniques of writing. These elements discussed here are what make or unmake your writings.
• Universal standards/landmarks: like the creative writer of the Stone Age, the modern man must recognise the existence of certain acceptable standards that are practised all over the world. In as much as the arts have no formulae, there are yardsticks that will make your piece either good or bad. Believe it or not, not minding your mechanical accuracy, people know when work is good or bad and they will tell you by the way they react to it.
Telling a good and interesting story alone does not make your work fit for eternity but to these, you must synchronise the ancient landmarks of the profession.
If for instance, your genre is poetry, not minding the incidence of the “free verse”, landmarks should be seen as opportunity to express yourself beautifully and meaningfully rather than an obstacle to avoid. You can try to imagine what poetry would be without figurative expressions and the use of such devices as rhyme, rhythm, and meter etcetera. The poet must know the basic types of poetic designs that have been identified and their respective features, as his/hers must fall into one category or another.
Otherwise you will end up writing chopped -up prose for poetry.
This also goes for all other genres; the creative writer must identify the archetypical landmarks and standards in the field and play by the rules.
• Functionalism: the creative principle of functionalism does not imply similar meaning as the sociological philosophy that everything plays a specific role in society. Creative functionalism means that there are functions or roles that literature as a mother field for creative works, is expected to perform. For your work to be seen as creative, it must fulfil at least one of these functions of literary scholarship:
a) Preservation and refreshment of language and culture – it is the duty of literature as a way of life to preserve the language we speak, cultural values and practices. Language here does not mean dialect, not that literature does not preserve or refresh dialect, but the emphasis should be on its ability to retain expressions that were used thousands of decades back for generations yet unborn.
It is also the most articulated means by which to know the history and culture of every group, whether written or passed by word of mouth. Also the manner and style of literary presentations makes otherwise ordinary language interesting, lovely and tasty in the mouth and ear both to the speaker and the one who hears. Therefore, as a creator of worlds, when you put your world together, it is necessary that you provide refreshment to expressions.
For example, you could say in your writing that “it is now obvious that Dennis and Juliet have a relationship beyond casual”. Another way of offering same rendition is this; “it stares you in the face that Dennis’ hand shake with Juliet is well beyond the elbow”. The two statements share the same meaning but one of them, the latter, is more pleasurable to hear and to say. Also, it says more volumes than the former.
b) Entertainment – more than anything, people patronise creative works for their entertainment value. This is not to scare, but to hint that the fastest way to buy audience’s/fans’/consumers’ hearts as well as their pockets is giving them entertaining pieces that are interesting enough to relax the nerves.
In the past, research has shown, people read more in the past than they now do. Why? Because the shift of emphasis to material accumulation has left majority of people with no time to read, as books require full attention to decipher.
Audio music on the other hand, receives more patronage because it in itself creates room for one to combine with financial and other activities. For this reason, the streets like the offices are alive with men and women whose ears are plugged with one audio device or another -simply because the audio media allows you to receive entertainment while working, driving or sleeping, which the book does not permit. This singular point poses a greater challenge to the creators of music, without undermining other branches of creative writing. As the world designates lesser time for entertainment by the day, the challenge is to continue to meet the entertainment needs of targeted audience.
Simply put, your work must entertain if it is creative enough so if you are wondering how to write creatively, one way is to dwell on subjects, ideas and characters that have entertainment values. More so because the world of today is too serious pursuing money that without creative writer to cushion the effect of hard labour, many will go nuts, as “all work and no play…”
c) Standpoint – majority, if not all creative works are a response to a particular social situation. Script writers for audio, video theatrical productions as well as poets, novelists and playwrights build up illusionary worlds with their characters and scenarios, simulating real life situations and suggesting ways of either solving or worsening identified problems.
This ties us in to the function of literature to teach, inform and educate. And this role is not done through the usual school type of pedagogues’ teaching but done using creative ways.
Your creative work will only be truly creative when it makes a statement about a given human situation. This is the secret behind the world’s greatest literary works.
The film “Helen of Troy” like “Romeo and Juliet” seems to make a statement that love is greater than every sentiment and so deserve any sacrifice made for it. So also does the science fiction film “Matrix” makes a statement that the creator of the universe has destined everything to be as it will be, and there is nothing to change it, not even the combined effort of all enemies, human and spiritual.
Read any book, watch any movies or listen to any music. Any work that has no stand point, something that it is advocating, teaching, encouraging, discouraging or informing about cannot pass for a creatively master piece. So when you write, isolate a situation and address it.
It is not expected that creative work must be prescriptive, the point is in having a viewpoint to pass across about a chosen theme, which must not necessarily be consistent with expectations of real life but is a product of imagination curdled by creativity.
• Style: self explained as this may seem, it is one of the trickiest aspects of creative writing especially for those whose duty it is to review creative works. This is so as there are no formatted creative styles from which one would choose. Rather one’s style of presentation depends on his/her creative abilities. Good news is everyone has a style, deliberately manipulated or accidentally discharged.
The advice however, is that one should always take into cognisance the audience in choosing a style to adopt.
You can choose to tell your story from the middle, the end or from its chronological beginning. You may even choose to mix poetry with prose at some point, use hanging sentences, slangs or any other device. If yours is poetry or song, you can decide to rend lines evenly or otherwise, inject rhythm or meter. All these must be dictated by three primal factors, namely: your understanding of your audience, the subject/style suitability and your creative ability to maximise use.
• Diction: once again, be reminded that this is a generation of busy people. Even unemployed youth are busy staying idle so your aim as a creative writer should be to communicate sufficient volume within limited time given to you piece and for every audient’s time spent on your work should be well rewarded in enjoyment derivable from the work.
Furthermore, creative writers for novels, newspapers and magazines need be mindful that many people read while in transit and at such times, dictionaries are not handy. Also video and stage productions get offensive if those watching have to break every minute to either write down a word or punch the “pause” key to go get a dictionary.
However as earlier said, literature has a duty to teach and refresh language so while it is recommended for creative writers to use easy flowing language as much as possible, it is equally recommended that to avoid leaving a piece flat and over watered, the diction should be mature and well balanced.
This again should depend on the audience, the subject matter and author’s ingenuity in language construction. Whatever you do, mechanical accuracy should not be taken with levity.
Only suitable figurative language and relevant idioms should be used and the language should be allowed to flow, except when intended to create special effect by a particular pattern of presentation.
• Representing Universal Reality: creativity is beneficial in relation to the expression of human situation. The best masterpieces are those that arouse empathy, and with which people can identify. This is why you often see people cry while watching a movie or reading a book.
If the subject matter is crime, it should be an edge from which human experience can testify to its reality (or the similitude of reality). If it’s about war, famine, death, love or rite of passage, your inevitable assignment is to see to it that the piece should be able to attract a personal empathy or identification from a higher number of targeted audiences who must be of right thinking people.
• Conflict: it was stated in previous pages that entertainment must be achieved in creating a world through writing. Closely related to this entertainment value of creative pieces is its degree of conflict which raises suspense, tension and sustains interest.
A good manipulation this translates into enslaving your audient, who takes up your work and cannot keep it down to go ease up or to eat until “the end” shows up. Thereafter, he/she spends a good chunk of time wondering about, and digesting details and possibilities of the work.
Luckily, human societies as well as individual relationships are connected by conflicts of varying degrees. Thus, whatever subject matter takes your fancy, creating a conflicting situation the escalation or resolution of which characters play out would hugely be rewarding.
When using this technique, your ingenuity must be the sole dictator of the position of your conflict and with it, suspense. It is the proper management of this element that places James Hardly Chase’s works above all peers. Whether you choose to dispatch your message using the climactic plotting or it’s opposite, the line is that there must be enough conflict to make your creative work a masterpiece.
• Domesticating Inspiration: the hub of everything said and yet to be said in this essay is inspiration. Everyone creatively minded or not, receives inspirations from different sources and by differing means. For the creative writer, the great icons of the era have called this source the Muse. To many, this is God; to some it is nature and yet to others, an atmosphere.
The challenge here is that because what puts one person in connectivity mode with the source of his/her inspiration may ironically put another off. So really the onus is squarely on you to identify, woo and domesticate/personalise/configure yours.
The implication is that if you discover that unusual ideas come to your head each time you are in a noisy environment, you should place yourself in such environment more often. If on the other hand you discover that you think clearer creatively speaking, when on your bed, it means you need to create more time to lay on it more often.
The point therefore, lies in the creative writer’s ability to identify what kind of environment and mood causes inspiration to flow and to make deliberate efforts to court such conducive atmosphere and haven done so, protect each flow from unnecessary interruptions that would result in the Pablo Picasso’s “Man from Pollock” experience.
• Unblocking the block: one of the most daunting challenges to creativity is how to “unblock” the initial blockade of one’s creative faculties. Quite often, many a creative talent die with pent-up uncreated worlds simply because they did not know how to start writing. To beginning writers, initial apprehension, explained as “terror of blank page”, may result from inability to tune one’s system to a suitable frequency from which to download inspiring thoughts.
When this is the case, you have wonderful ideas in the head but are not able to put pen to paper to preserve them so they go away and find someone else more receptive.
The practical tested way of overcoming initial apprehension is to start writing. Your first few lines or perhaps may not be worth being kept, but just write and leave that to the pruning process. Once you have started, you’d see that the process flows more spontaneously than you had expected. Thus you may set out to write a few lines, a scene, a couple of lines or a page but end up writing volumes.
As many ideas as knock at the door of your creative mind, not necessarily in any particular order or in their “perfect” state. Just collect the fish together with the prawns and snails so you can sieve and synthesise later.
The word Perfect is placed in quote here because no work of art is perfect. Why? Because there are no formulae in the humanities; creativity with flexibility is the watch word.
To elaborate on this, i tell you the story of three blind men who went to a games reserve to “see” animals. After visiting elephant’s pen, one of them who had touched the ear said “Ah! So this is what elephants are; flabby, soft and flat.” Another said, “Elephant is so long and hose like”. He had touched the trunk. Yet the third exclaimed, “goodness me! Is that how an elephant’s body is? As strong as steel rod.” He had touched the elephant’s tusk.
Now each of them was right in his description of the elephant. Yet this was from each man’s point of view, and according only to each man’s understanding and perception.
Similarly, the field of creative writing is bigger than anybody and so it is impossible to paint a perfect picture, as what you see as perfect may be to another man, terrible. So if one may ask, whose definition should we take as most suitable and thus, perfect? However, there are archetypes and ingredients that make your work a masterpiece by popular opinion and these, this essay has offered.
Stages in the creative process
While the following stages may not necessarily occur in a particular order, they are stages every creative thinker goes through in passing across his ideas. These include, but are not limited to:
• Elaborate detailing
• Pruning/editing and
This refers to the process of receiving inspiration to write. That time when you begin to put your strands and bits of thinking together towards making a whole story that would be meaningful and appealing. This largely happens within the creative sphere of the mind but may often be triggered by external factors.
External factors that may motivate the ideation of a creative thought or stimulate the flow of inspiration include personal experiences, witnessed experiences of things which did not happen to you but which you witnessed happen to another. What you see with your eyes equally play a huge role in stimulating your inspiration. Others are things, people and places you love or hate.
Simple and effortless as creative flow of ideas may seem, it is what stops majority of people from thinking and writing creatively, as it requires attention and servitude. Hard as they try, some have complained that they are never able to make any meaningful coordination of their thoughts, left alone putting them in black and white.
Ideation to most creative writers happens slowly and intermittently at the initial stage but grow frequent, spontaneous and often aggressive with passage of time aided by constancy of practice. (See more of this discussion under domesticating inspiration in subsequent pages).
This entails registering the ideas as they drop into your creative thoughts as they come. This may just be sketches or main ideas, leaving the nitty gritty for much later. Outlining is like laying the skeletal foundation of the world you have received in your imagination to build.
Because inspirations come in flashes, they get very elusive if not penned down and experience has shown that the best of inspirations come uninvited and if lost, are not easily reincarnated.
Creative mapping and the previous point (ideation) go concurrently mostly, but some experienced creators who find that the process of mapping interferes with inspiration flow may choose to keep the head down and store up the flow to write them later. But without experience, this may not come easily. Frankly, it may be a sure way to lose precious ingots of ideas.
The outlining stage of creative process helps to preserve ideas for this stage. An initial mapping of a creative piece, be it a song, poem, prose or play may look very unattractive and meaningless. This stage therefore, entails providing connected sentences, lines, paragraphs and detailed description/elaborate intriguing of the world as it exists in your head.
The creative writer must always be conscious that his writing is his creation and the life of its people as well as their resources, natural and human, depends on him. Where you create for instance a wonderland, real people would leave this busy world of ours on vacation to serve tourist term in your world. Otherwise, it falls flat among worlds that are never candidates for permanence.
Elaborate detailing is the stage where the nitty gritty is put together to make the work beautiful.
Albeit this begins with ideation and runs concurrently through the process, it is presented last on the list here because as it is important, so is it inevitable. This is simply editing of all sorts and may be done at every point in time, as the aim is to present you virgin world a master piece.
Editing only ends with the publishing of your creation to its intended audience once this is done, except for subsequent editions/revisions, whatever errors there may be, whether failure in aesthetics or mere grammatical failures would stay on forever like a child born of unwanted pregnancy.
It is advisable for you to give other people chance to edit, even possibly critique your work prior to its publishing, as you will discover that you overlooked very ignoble errors but which are big enough to ruin your work.