Higher Writing Skills Story Writing
Some Specific Advice from the SQA • The best creative writing challenges the reader, makes her/him do some work – in the same way as you do when you study a short story or a poem in class. You should do more than just “tell a story” – there should be some underlying theme and/or complex characterisation, or perhaps a strong sense of place. • Try to use some of the techniques you see in the literature you read yourself or study in class, for example subtle characterisation, creation of mood and atmosphere, specific narrative technique, effective sentence structures, etc.
Some Specific Advice from the SQA • Your creative writing should be capable of being studied as a “Textual Analysis” piece for a Higher English class! Try to imagine it being “picked apart” by a teacher and pupils – teasing out the “meaning”, praising your imagery, complimenting your sentence structures, puzzling over a “difficult” bit …
Important Advice • Vocabulary is your biggest tool – look for more interesting or expressive words. • Describe events clearly. Remember that there is a movie in your mind that only you can see – you have to let the reader see it. • Similes and metaphors should be used to create interesting images.
Plot • Focus on one main event. • Have a twistor some kind of revelation at the end. • Only cover a short space of time. • Try to bring out a theme in your writing.
Plot • “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson: • A town holds a lottery every year in which the ‘winner’ is stoned to death by the others. • “Here There Be Tygers” by Stephen King: • A schoolboy discovers a tiger in the toilets and lets his teacher get eaten by it. • “Embroidery” by Ray Bradbury: • Three women sit on a porch waiting for an atomic bomb to be dropped. • Behind the Wall Home Delivery The Pedestrian
Plot Development • Opening • Problem/Development • Climax • Ending/Resolution • “The Lottery” (3 hours; 1 setting) • Opening: set scene of gathering villagers • Development: introduce history of lottery while drawing names • Climax: Mrs Hutchinson’s name is drawn • Ending: the villagers stone Mrs H to death
Plot Development • “Here There Be Tygers”(10 mins; 2 settings) • Opening: schoolboy needs to go to the toilet • Problem: finds a tiger in there who eats his friend • Climax: his hated teacher comes to find him • Ending: the boy lets the tiger eat the teacher • “Embroidery” (5 mins; 1 setting) • Opening: set scene of women on porch • Development: discussion of a big event that will soon happen • Climax: the countdown to the big event is over • Ending: the “embroidery” of the women is unpicked
Narrative Style • Choose carefully: first or third? • First person narrators can make interesting characters on their own. • Third person narrators are able to comment on all characters.
Effective Openings • Should be exciting or interesting and immediately grab the reader’s attention. • It might raise a question: • The guy’s name was Snodgrass and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy. • (What crazy thing is he going to do?)
Effective Openings The opening might reveal something about a character … • Moira always joked that it was no coincidence that her name had the same first two letters as “mouse”. She was a quiet, scuttling creature, made nervous by the smallest things. Like the digital camera her son bought her for Christmas. … or situation. • It had been three years since the divorce and Peter and Mary were now tentatively trying polite contact: that is, Christmas cards and monthly emails.
Character • Give all characters some kind of personality. • Characters need an interesting flaw or quirk – something that makes them stand out. • DO NOT describe their height, eye/hair colour, or any other mundane detail unless it adds to the character. • In a character-driven piece, the character must learn something or change somehow.
Exciting Description - Character If it’s a character description it should reveal something about their personality. • Mr Donald was only medium height, but pretty stocky. He had hair the colour of flint and always wore a shirt and tie – very neat and proper. I always got the impression that he didn’t think girls could do Chemistry and so the boys got more of his attention. This meant they got shouted at more of course. That voice! Never exactly quiet, a voice built for ricocheting off of the back wall, it reached an impressive crescendo when he was really angry. If you looked out of the window whilst he was shouting, you could see the avalanches starting on the mountains which lay in the distance.
Developing Character • Why is it important to create an interesting character in a short story? • There are various ways to create a well-rounded character in a story. Can you name them? • The greyish-white skin was drawn so tightly over his bones that his face looked like a skull. His black hair was roughly cut and a long strand of it flapped over his sunken red-rimmed eyes. Deep lines curved down from the sides of his nose and joined the sad creases at the edge of his mouth. from Buddy by Nigel Hinton • What can you notice about this description that makes it interesting and what techniques has the writer used?
Developing Character The first description was mostly based around appearance, but personality is important too. • Quilla Anderson had the courage of her convictions. Once, Trisha had heard her father talking to his own Dad on the phone. “If Quilla had been at Little Big Horn, the Indians would have lost,” he said, and although Trisha didn’t like it when Dad said stuff like that about Mom she couldn’t deny that there was some truth in what he had said. from The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Developing Character You can also describe how they move. • As I watched, the small girl rose with her tray – unopened soda, unbitten apple – and walked away with a quick, graceful lope that belonged on a runway. I watched, amazed at her lithe dancer’s step, till she dumped her tray and glided through the back door. from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Developing Character Look at these two descriptions. Both of them are typical of the kind of thing written in short stories by pupils. • He was medium height with brown spiky hair and deep brown eyes. He was a nice boy and really clever. The teachers at school all liked him and he had lots of friends. • She was quite tall and had long blonde hair. Her eyes were light blue and she was really thin. Her skin was perfect. She always talked about people behind their backs and all of her friends were scared of her. • This kind of description is to be avoided at all cost!
Character • He was a bent-backed old man with a wrinkly face and white hair. • His face was a map showing many journeys travelled. His stooped shoulders suggested the journey had been long and wearisome and that he carried baggage even still. When he looked in the mirror the white of his hair reminded him of snow on the Alps on a clear sunlit day. At these times he would sigh at the thought of places visited, settings now losing clarity in the fog filling his mind.
Developing Character - Task Some of the most effective character descriptions are based around only 3 or 4 interesting or quirky features. 1)Write down three or four things about your appearance or personality that you think are the most memorable. 2)Now, write a description of yourself, using all the usual techniques and your list of memorable features. Make yourself sound as interesting and unusual as possible!
Dialogue This is an example of how dialogue is often written: • “How are you?” I asked. • “I am fine,” she replied. • “Do you want to go shopping?” • “Okay.” She picked up her bag. “Shall we go now?” In this version the dialogue flows much more naturally: • “How’s you?” I asked. • “Alright thanks,” she replied. • “Fancy a bit of shopping?” • “Yeah, alright.” She picked up her bag. “Do you want to go now?”
Elucidating Dialogue Should describe people’s reactions and how they have said something as well. • “How could you?” Louise whispered, one hand covering her mouth as if to catch the words before they could be seen by others. • I moved towards her. “It’s not like you think. It was an accident.” I heard the lie in my own voice. Louise moved away, not taking her eyes from my face, as though I were something dangerous.
Dialect Dialect is a way of speaking that is associated with a particular group, usually a country or a type of person. • Small children “Mummy, wassat man doin?” • Scots “Ah’m no goin there again – it was bowfin!” • Royalty “Ehm so sorry but might one enquire as to your name?” • Americans “I don’t wanna go there again honey – it’s so not sexy.” In this final version of the dialogue, Scottish dialect has been used: • “Howzit goin?” I asked. • “No bad ta,” she replied. • “Fancy a wee bit o’ shopping?” • “Aye, a’right.” She picked up her bag. “Are we aff the now then?”
Setting • Helps create atmosphere. • Describe key parts of the setting in an interesting way. • Think about weather and senses as well as appearance.
Exciting Description - Setting If it’s a setting description it should create a mood or sense of recognition. • The Chemistry classroom had five long benches, all covered with a historical engraving of graffiti. We sat, four to a row, on squirmingly uncomfortable stools, legs dangling, backs screaming for some support. The cupboards at the sides were filled with exciting and dangerous things: bunsen burners; pipettes; powdered chemicals; liquid chemicals; chemicals with a skull and “DANGER!” printed on the label.
The shade climbed the hills towards the top. On the sand-banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little grey, sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron laboured up into the air and pounded downriver. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path and came into the opening by the green pool. The darkness crept towards the top of the hills like an intruder. On the sand-banks the rabbits sat as still and silent as gravestones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on dry sycamore leaves. The rabbits rushed for cover, ears pricked, eyes bulging, hearts pounding. A stilted heron laboured up into the air and pounded downriver. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path and skulked into the opening by the murky pool. Mood
Creative Description • Choose words carefully (sometimes the simplest way is the best). • Use clever vocabulary and expression but be sparing. • Description of a small thing can be effective (e.g. the way a character laughs; one corner of a room.)
Creative Description • He was angry. • He glowed with anger. • He was incandescent with rage. • Rage flowed through his veins, circumnavigating his body until every sinew was stretched taut and every muscle clenched. • She was happy. • She was sad.
Metaphors/Similes • Avoid clichés at all costs – no simile at all is better than a cliché. • Think carefully about the two things you are comparing – what do they have in common? • The images should reflect the tone and atmosphere of the story. • Metaphors tend to sound more sophisticated.
SIMILE: He stood there as patiently as a man waiting for a turkey sandwich. He stood there patiently with his briefcase neatly at his feet like an obedient dog. METAPHOR: Her eyes were sapphires. Her eyes, the warm blue pools into which he found himself diving every time she looked his way. SIMILE: Inside his head it felt like… in love in confusion in pain METAPHOR: Her hair was messy, … attractive unattractive Metaphors/Similes
Subtlety • Don’t insult your reader’s intelligence. • In fact, make the reader work! • Suggest things rather than tell them. • Subtlety is a mark of sophisticated writing and will be the difference between a C and an A.
Subtlety • Paul stood back from the open door and let Linda walk past him into the house. ”Hello ex-wife,” he said. • Paul stood back from the open door and let Linda walk past him into what, until recently, had been their house. • Paul stood back from the open door and gazed at the woman who, as recently as two months ago, would have been able to use her own key and let herself in. As she walked past him (with barely a glance, he noted bitterly) he rubbed the white space on the finger of his left hand where his wedding ring used to be. • Tom hadn’t stopped drinking since the night his wife Laura had been killed in a car accident. He now knew he was an alcoholic.
What is structure? • In English, structure refers to how a piece of writing is put together. • You should consider • sentence length • paragraph length • when to take a new paragraph • when to continue a sentence or take a new one • punctuation. • Structure dictates the pace of a piece of writing: it can create a sense of urgency or tension or slow the pace down.
Compare these two examples: • He ran, with his heart pumping adrenaline and his feet pounding the pavement. He looked back over his shoulder, then screeched round the corner where he came to a sudden halt, unable to believe what he was seeing. • He ran. His heart was pumping adrenaline. His feet were pounding the pavement. He looked back over his shoulder, screeched round the corner, came to a sudden halt. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Compare these two examples: • She lay down as the boat drifted in the still lake. Her fingers tickled the surface of the water. She started to feel drowsy. Her eyes danced over the clouds, forming pictures in her head, and her eyelids began to close. • She lay down, the boat drifting in the still lake, her fingers tickling the surface of the water. She started to feel drowsy… Her eyes danced over the clouds, forming pictures in her head. Her eyelids began to close…
Your turn • Write a brief description of the following scenarios, using structure to create the appropriate pace: • 1) A man approaching the scene of an accident; • 2) A woman walking through a field on a warm summer’s day. • 3) A person cautiously exploring a house at night after hearing a mysterious noise; • 4) An exhilarated child running away from the scene of a prank.