Writing 101: A College Student’s Guide to Improving Creative Writing Skills
We have all had instances when we came across a story, poem, script or any other creative piece of writing that made us go “Wow!”.
From the choice of words and vivid imagination to the ability to strike a connect with readers and mastering clarity in writing – creative writers are fearless and know what it takes to keep readers invested in their writing.
Unlike traditional academic writing assignments, creative writing is all about letting your imagination run wild. It requires you to reflect, observe thoughts, express yourself and find your unique voice while acing the art of storytelling.
This form of writing also positively impacts students’ personalities. According to Laura Bean, the executive director of Mindful Literacy, creative writing increases students’ resilience and creates a community of compassionate and expressive learners.
Here is How You Can Get those Creative Juices Flowing and Engage Readers with Your Writing Skills
Creative writing assignments are not new to you but every time you are asked to write a poem or a fictional story in college, do you find yourself getting nervous? Well, you are not alone. The pressure to be ‘creative’ is real.
Will people be interested in my story? Am I making sense? How do I begin? How do I make my story engaging? – you are likely to be filled with all sorts of questions and fears. To help you get started, we share everything you need to know for improving your creative writing skills in college.
What are the elements of creative writing?
In order to get better at this form of writing in college, you need to first be aware of what the ingredients for a successful creative writing piece are. To understand the following 5 key elements better, let’s take the famous novel, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand as an example.
A story’s characters are what drive it forward. One of the most important aspects of engaging readers is developing compelling characters that readers identify with. Characters are broadly divided into the protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters.
The key to successful character development lies in the details. Consider factors such as physical appearance, their backstory and motivations. Remember, people always relate more to multi-dimensional, real characters than the one-dimensional, perfect ones.
In The Fountainhead, the protagonist is played by Howard Roark while Ellsworth Toohey plays the antagonist. The rest of the pivotal characters include Dominique Francon, Peter Keating and Gail Wynand among others.
Every story you read has a series of events that occur and that is referred to as plot. For any piece of writing to be interesting, there needs to be some action or change happening. The plot sequence is generally divided into exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
The exposition introduces readers to the characters and gives context, rising action is a complication that occurs that disturbs the characters’ lives, climax is the point when the tension or drama is at its peak, falling action is when the tension starts getting resolved and resolution is when the problem has been finally resolved.
Here’s a breakdown of the plot in The Fountainhead
- Exposition - introduces us to the main characters Howard Roark and Peter Keating who are starting out their careers
- Rising action - Dominique Francon and Roark falling in love, Keating marrying Dominique, Hopton Stoddard suing Roark for a breach in contract and Dominique leaving Keating for Gail Wynand
- Climax - Roark blows up the Cortlandt project
- Falling action – Wynand shuts down Banner
- Resolution - Wynand asks Roark to design the Wynand Building
The underlying message of the story or poem is referred to as theme. It is the moral or central idea of the story that binds it together.
Before outlining the story, it is important to ask yourself what you want the readers to take away from it – this is what will help you in building the theme. Everything that you incorporate in your story needs to be inline with the theme. Some popular themes are justice, love, death, survival and power among others.
For example, the main themes in The Fountainhead are power, integrity and individualism which the author Ayn Rand emphasizes upon throughout the novel.
Point of view
As a writer, you need to decide the manner in which you want to narrate the story. The 3 different point of views are first person, second person and third person.
First person (I, we) is when the story is told from the point of view of the narrator, second person (you, your) is when the narrator is directly speaking to the reader and third person (he, she, they) is when the narrator is talking about other characters. First and third person point of views are commonly used in creative writing.
In The Fountainhead, the narrator takes the third person omniscient point of view as we get insights into the characters’ inner thoughts as well.
The setting refers to where the story is taking place. It forms an important element in creative writing because it adds context and contributes to the plot as a whole. The most effective settings are well-researched, described in detail and vital to the plot.
Apart from the physical location, setting also refers to the time or era and the social environment the story is set against.
Going by the description, it can be said that The Fountainhead is mostly set between the 1920s and 1940s in New York City, America.
How do I improve my creative writing skills?
If you think that some people are just born to be excellent writers, you are mistaken. While it is not something you can learn or imbibe, with regular practice and training, nothing can stop you from acing the art of creative writing. Here are 4 simple ways to enhance your creative writing skills.
Read a lot
“If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write,” said Stephen King in his memoir and we agree.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. The more you read, the more you are exposed to different kinds of writing, voices, genres and styles which helps you grow as a writer. As per a study conducted by University of Toronto, students who read fiction were found to be more open-minded and creative.
Can’t find time to read? Why not set a reading goal like finishing a certain number of pages in a day or number of books in a month and incorporate reading in your daily schedule?
If you want to get better at creative writing, consider the world to be your oyster. Be inquisitive and observant because you never know where inspiration can strike. The best writers are hugely attentive and also maintain a journal where they jot down their observations.
So, the next time you are at a café, look around and observe people – right from their body language and tone of voice to their facial expressions and posture. If you spot something interesting, make a note of it and capture that moment in words as you never know when it will come to use while writing.
Maintain a writing routine
Practice makes perfect and the same goes with getting better at creative writing. In order to be a successful creative writer, you need to maintain a writing routine and be consistent at it.
You can start off with a writing goal like writing at least one page a day, find the most ideal time in the day when you find yourself writing better, dedicate a writing corner in the house and trying out different writing exercises to that stimulate your brain and push you to experiment different styles.
Need some inspiration? Take cues from the writing habits of some famous authors.
Embrace your unique voice
In order to be an exceptional writer who stands out, you need to find your unique writing voice and that is something you begin to discover and develop as you read and write more. A writer’s unique writing voice reflects his/her distinct personality, perspective and style.
Your voice is what will set you apart. Just the way no two famous writers have the same voice, you too need to find and embrace your own to appeal to readers.
How can I practice creative writing?
The most surefire way to improve your creative writing skills is to religiously practice writing. Instead of wondering what to write about, we share 5 useful practical exercises specifically meant to help you become a better creative writer.
Describe your day
As the name suggests, this exercise asks you to describe your day in a detailed fashion. Irrespective of whether you had an eventful day or not, you are supposed to be creative and make even the most boring activity sound interesting.
Possibly the simplest exercise but an important one because it sharpens your ability to write descriptively. Use vivid language to describe the setting, people you met, thoughts you had and conversations you had to put together an enticing piece of work.
Take inspiration from pictures
Pick up a magazine or newspaper and construct a story around the first picture you see. The idea is to let your imagination run wild and write from your perspective without worrying about right and wrong.
Notice the details such as the background, colors and people in the picture and write about what that particular image triggered in you. The beauty of this exercise is how it allows you develop a story or poem from scratch while incorporating the essential elements of creative writing.
Go down memory-lane
This one asks you to go back in time and think of memorable incidents that left an impact in your life. It can be your happiest childhood memory, an incident that changed you or describing someone dear to you.
This one asks you to reflect and urges you to relive that time/moment so you can capture the minutest details and spin a story around them.
Rewrite a story from another point of view
There is a famous quote that reads, ‘there are two sides to every story’ and this creative writing exercise reinstates exactly that.
This is an interesting one because it lets you take creative freedom while narrating an existing story from another perspective. The trick is to retain the story and characters but rewrite it from another point of view while being your creative best.
For example, you can consider the fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and write the story from the Evil Queen’s point of view.
Take cues from everyday conversations to construct dialogues
Dialogue writing is an important form of creative writing. Well-written dialogues are those that appear natural and flow in organically.
A good way to practice dialogue writing is by observing conversations happening around you and taking cues from them to craft effective dialogues.
Now, real-life conversations obviously have elements of small talk and fillers but while doing this exercise, focus on constructing valuable dialogues that adds value to the plot and makes for an interesting read.
We agree creative writing can be daunting and might need a lot of work, but it is certainly something you get better at with time and practice. Every time you write something, it is a good idea to share it with your friends and family and be open to criticism. This gives you fresh perspective which will only help you improve your creative writing skills.
The next time you are met with a creative writing assignment and are unsure of your skills or are running out of time, reach out to a reliable creative writing service like Writers Per Hour. Be it a poem, prose, story or script - our team of writers are experts in all forms of creative writing and will deliver original, high quality work within the stipulated deadline.