Creative writing aims to express ideas and ask questions. It is different to other academic styles, because unlike essays or reports, where the purpose is to make an argument or put forward a key message, creative writing dramatizes and represents real or imagined ideas, people, places and contemporary and historical moments in inventive ways. Creative writing includes novels, short stories, poems, screenplays, memoirs, graphic novels, plays and other forms.
While you might not need to research a creative piece as you would an essay or report, imagination and thought inform creative work. Some aspects of writing and revising you should keep in mind include the following questions:
Is your work original?
While you might base your work on a real event or person, the way you represent your ideas in your writing needs to be original and captivating. In addition, and just like other kinds of academic work, you should maintain your integrity by not claiming someone else's ideas as your own. Effective creative works present something new and unique to their reader.
If you are considering writing something like fan fiction, where existing worlds and characters are reimagined by the writer, then you should check with your course convenor as to whether this suits their requirements of originality.
What form and genre are you writing in?
First you should know what kind of form you are working in. For example, is it a short story or a poem you are creating? Within your form, think about genre, which exist within each form. For instance, novels can be crime, fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, romance, the list goes on! When you are writing you should consider what makes the genre unique, the conventions that make up the genre, and whether you will follow those conventions in an original way, or subvert them.
What kind of world are you trying to build with your writing?
Any kind of creative work aims to create an atmosphere and an experience for its audience. This mood is evoked through a combination of things like characters, setting, action, narration. It helps to think about this from the beginning so that you can start to build the world as you write. Remember: nothing happens nowhere.
What is the best way to express your ideas?
In creative writing there is an abundance of options in terms of how you express yourself - the opportunities are endless! So when you are making choices about your piece, such as which style of narration to use (1st person, 2nd person, or 3rd person), and how to convey the events (chronological order or through employing flashbacks), and what type of language you'll use, you should consider your options critically. You will want to contemplate things like what is practical, what is typical of your genre, and what style feels authentic to you.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
Some people write with a plan in mind which lays out exactly what will happen in their piece (planners), while others prefer to start with an idea and see where it takes them as they write (they fly by the seat of their pants - so pantsers). This may vary from person to person, but also between pieces. It might also be that you work best when using a combination of plotting and seeing where something takes you.
By figuring out which option works best, you can tap into your creative side more easily, enjoy your writing, and get your ideas down on the page.
Are you aiming for clarity or mystery?
Generally with academic writing you are aiming for clarity; you want to express yourself in a clear way to convince your reader of your argument. But when writing creatively you might not want things to be absolutely lucid in the same way. Perhaps you are obscuring certain details from the reader until they find them out later (like in crime and mystery stories) or perhaps you want everything to be vivid from the beginning.
It is worth thinking about what you want your reader to know and understand then approach your writing accordingly. Remember: readers want to be pulled along by your narrative through the desire to know what happens next, but they don't want to be so puzzled as to no longer care what happens next!
Do you know how to edit?
When you're writing you want to be in the flow of your creativity, but it's also important to go back later and reread what you've written. Whether you are a pantser or a planner, anything you write benefits from an editorial eye and a closer look. Editing involves thinking about precise images, concision, and details significant to the story, but also the bigger picture, things like structure and pacing.
Are you open to feedback?
While your writing is your own and only you can decide what is best for your artistic vision, feedback from other readers is invaluable to the writing process. Readers might catch something you didn't spot or suggest something you would never have considered. Just as important as the editorial eye you take over your own work, someone else's reading brings new thoughts and angles to your writing.
It is worth thinking of feedback as constructive and encouraging rather than disparaging, as all great work benefits from help along the way. Most of all, the more you learn how others read and understand your work, the more you will be able to internalise that sense of audience, and write with enthralled readers in mind.
Do you know what the marking rubric is asking of you?
Creative writing is inventive, freeing, and expressive, but it also needs to fulfil the purposes set out for it. If it's a short story, perhaps its purposes involve building a plot and interesting characters; if a poem, then having an image or strong feeling to express.
When writing creatively for an assessment it is still important to keep in mind what the course convenor is asking you to show them. This could mean working within a certain genre, demonstrating principles of creative practice, or showing your editing process.