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What is Creative Writing?

A woman wearing glasses reading a creative writing piece in a notebook.

Creative writing is any form of writing that exists outside of journalism, business writing, or academic writing. It expresses an author's unique voice, writing style, thoughts, and ideas in an engaging and imaginative manner, said Christopher Sullivan , MFA, an adjunct instructor in the creative writing and English program at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

“Creative writing has no boundaries. It gives the writer permission to flex his or her creative muscles and utilize infinite amounts of imagery and imagination within their writing," he said.

What Makes a Good Piece of Creative Writing?

Marcella Prokop and the text Marcella Prokop.

These include:

Within each of these areas of craft, authors use tools such as figurative language, dialogue, description, and conflict to give color and dimension to their characters and plot,  she said.

What is Creative Writing and its Types?

In addition to fiction writing, creative writing includes the genres of poetry, creative nonfiction (such as memoir, autobiography, or personal essay), screenwriting, plays, and/ or graphic novels. Blogs and other digital media could also be considered forms of creative writing.

Writers often spend years practicing their craft, and learned the basics in degree programs specifically focused on creative writing.

Explore Creative Writing Programs

Pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing and English can help you hone your craft and experiment with different genres and forms, while you also focus on a specific type of writing, said Prokop.

Undergraduate creative writing programs typically include a mix of general education classes and courses in the humanities, in addition to creative writing classes. Introductory writing classes typically cover genre basics and explore some of the tools writers use to craft an engaging story. 

"This is a perfect class for beginners or those looking to hone a basic skill, such as developing a plot," Prokop said.

Chris Sullivan and the text Chris Sullivan

Such programs also help writers build upon their foundational skills, too. For example, most students take English composition classes that utilize a variety of rhetorical modes (narration, description, cause and effect, and persuasion and argument, to name a few) that help them perfect their skills before they focus on a specific genre, Sullivan said.

“Most students interested in applying to the creative writing program typically have a solid foundation with writing mechanics. However, that doesn’t mean their mechanics have to be perfect—they are here to learn,” he said.

Some programs also allow students to concentrate on a specific genre (fiction writing, nonfiction writing, poetry, or screenwriting) and develop portfolios of work that can help them apply for MFA programs or promote themselves as writers.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Creative Writing Degree?

If you decide to major in creative writing, it doesn't automatically mean you'll become a published author—but it will give you the tools you need for job roles that require strong writing and communication skills.

Graduates who are serious about pursuing writing careers are encouraged to practice their craft, obtain feedback, and submit their work to publishers, Sullivan said.

“Throughout the creative writing program, students are given tools, resources, and lots of valuable feedback to strengthen their writing skills,” he said. “However, writing is a process. It takes a lot of hard work, networking, humility, and dedication to become a published author.”

Here are some jobs creative writing and English majors might also consider pursuing.

Writer or Author

Use your storytelling skills to pen children’s books, novels, biographies, essays, or memoirs. A bachelor’s degree is generally required for a full-time position as a writer or author, and additional experience gained through internships or any writing that improves skill--such as blogging—can help, too. Although it’s a highly competitive field, successful authors earned a median annual salary of $62,170 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Editors aren’t just grammar experts who correct mistakes. Publications rely on them to plan, review, and evaluate publications. Whether they work in a corporate environment or for print or digital publications, editors must be imaginative, curious, and knowledgeable in a broad range of topics in order to add value. Most editors have a bachelor’s degree and gain experience through internships, according to BLS. In 2018, editors earned a median annual salary of $59,480 , BLS reports.

Reporters, news correspondents, and broadcast news analysts use their research and storytelling skills to inform the public about news and events. They can work for news publications, digital publications, TV, or radio stations. Journalists typically hold a bachelor’s degree and gain work experience through college internships. The average annual wage for broadcast news analysts in 2018 was $66,880, while the average annual wage for reporters and correspondents in 2018 was $41,260, according to BLS .

Advertising, Promotions and/or Marketing Managers

Whether they are creating ad campaigns, promotional events, or looking at pricing strategies, professionals in advertising and marketing roles use their creativity and communication skills to generate interest in their organization’s products or services. A bachelor’s degree is required for most advertising, promotions, and marketing management positions. A creative writing degree can be particularly helpful to media directors who use radio, television, newspapers, magazines, the internet, or outdoor signs to create messages that effectively reach customers. The average annual salary for advertising and promotions managers was $117,130 in 2018; while the average annual salary for marketing managers was $134,290, according to BLS .

With a bachelor's degree in creative writing and English, you can polish your storytelling skills and position yourself for a variety of jobs that require imagination and solid communication skills.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn .

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Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs . Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU  page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.

scholarly definition of creative writing

scholarly definition of creative writing

What is Creative Writing? | An Introduction for Students

But what exactly is it all about? And if you’re new to the subject, how can you get started? 

Creative writing is all about using your imagination and creativity to express ideas and thoughts in a way which is personal to you. Quite simply, it’s about adding your own ‘flair’ to writing, going beyond the traditional boundaries of academic or other technical forms of literature.

Learn more about what creative writing is, what the different types are, as well as some top tips on how to get started - all with this helpful guide and introduction to creative writing.

What is creative writing?

As the name suggests, creative writing is a form of writing that goes beyond the traditional realms of normal, professional, academic or technical forms of writing. 

Instead, it encompasses a number of different genres and styles across a whole range of fields of both fictional and non-fiction writing; storytelling, playwriting, poetry, prose, journalistic, and more. 

Though the definition can be quite vague, creative writing can, for the most part, be considered as any type of writing that is original and expressive of oneself. Typically, it can be identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, focusing on elements such as character development, narrative and plot, infusing its structure with imagination, invention and story. 

In this sense, creative writing can technically be considered any writing of contemporary, original composition - it's bound by no standard conventions and uses a whole range of elements in its craft.

In an academic setting, creative writing is typically divided into fiction, poetry, or scriptwriting classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, not defined by pre-existing structures and genres. 

What are the different types of creative writing?

Creative writing comes in many forms, encompassing a number of genres and styles. There are lots of different types of creative writing, which can be categorised as fiction or non-fiction. Some of the most popular being:

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What makes a good piece of creative writing?

First and foremost, it’s important to note that there is no pre-defined description of what it means to create a ‘good’ piece of creative writing. As the very name suggests, creative writing is an imaginative process, created by the individual with all their quirks and personalities.

Creative writing doesn’t fit one set genre and therefore there will never be an umbrella definition to describe the ‘perfect’ piece. Just think about a Gothic short story and then compare it to the features of a great Romantic poem - the two are so very different - it wouldn’t be unfair to judge them together. 

However, with that being said, there are a few general principles that you can follow to make your creative writing as strong as it can be - by making it as authentic and true to you as possible:

Know your audience - All great stories begin with a target audience in mind - because it’s exactly what you need to know in order to really tailor your writing and connect with them. Therefore, any creative writer should begin their writing by plotting out exactly who they want to read their work. Once you have this in mind, your writing will naturally begin to take direction and flow in a way that seems appropriate to your audience.

Write what you know - Quite often, the best stories are those which we can connect to and relate in one or another way to our own lives. Or, they’re stories which seem so authentic that you could imagine it to be about the writer’s own life. Now, this doesn’t mean that you quite literally have to write about your life, but drawing on knowledge you have about different elements of our lives to give your story some authenticity and more believability.

Creativity is key - Creativity is one of the most important elements of creative writing. It’s what sets you apart from other pieces of writing in your genre. Of course, this doesn't demand that you write a tale about a totally fantastical and mythical world with unique creatures - but simply use your creativity to think a little outside the box and put a unique twist on things; using literary devices like metaphors, alliteration, and varied sentence structure to make your work unique and interesting.

Push your imagination - One of the great things about creative writing is that there is no definition or rules on ‘how’ to write. It’s a much more subjective genre, and one which relies heavily on your own interpretations. Therefore, you should push your imagination to the limits to see what the end result could be. Some of the most interesting pieces of literature are thought-provoking or make us question the writing or world around us - where could your story take us?

Plot a loose story arc - Despite the loose bounds of creative writing, it is still advisable to plot a loose story arc for any piece of literature you create. Story arcs are critical at giving your writing direction and purpose, helping you to write the whole piece at a good pace, without writing any superfluous content or ‘waffle.’ Follow your story arc, and your writing will have a strong structure, pace and direction - keeping your readers more engaged.

What are some techniques used in creative writing?

To make their writing stand out, writers often employ several creative writing techniques and literary devices, including:

Character development - The process of creating a well-rounded, realistic character with depth, personality, and clear goals or motivations.

Plot development - The story of your piece of writing - how it develops, unfolds, and moves along in time.

**Point of view **- The perspective from which a narrative is told. It indicates who is telling the story and how the information is conveyed to the reader. Quite often writers will play with the point of view of the central character or protagonist to trick the reader and twist their perspective. 

Dialogue - Refers to the speech and conversations characters use to speak to one another. Dialogue and the language choices a character makes can be pivotal in helping define their personality.

Literary devices - Such as metaphors, similes and alliteration to make creative writing more imaginative and descriptive. These are used in a myriad of ways by writers to make their writing more vivid, interesting and engaging.


Can creative writing be taught?

Of course! Creative writing can be taught, and is a very popular subject for university students, and for those who attend our summer courses . 

Those who pursue the subject of Creative Writing will typically study a variety of texts from different periods of time to learn more about the different genres of writing within the field. They’ll become familiar with some of the leading creative writers from generations past to present, as well as some lesser-known and emerging writers in the industry.

Inspired by what they’ve learnt in the classroom, it’s not uncommon for Creative Writing students to also participate in regular workshops and scratch sessions, where they bring a piece of their writing along to class and have it read by other students and the tutor. They’ll leave with constructive feedback on how to improve their writing, or recommendations of other works which they may want to read to take influence from.

How to start creative writing

If you’re interested in getting those creative juices flowing and improving your writing craft, read some of our tips below on how to start creative writing :

Read as much as you can - For creative writers, inspiration comes from a whole range of sources, but most commonly, from other writers. There’s some excellent examples of creative writing throughout history that all writers should be inspired by. Read a variety of genres by different authors to get a real feel for what type of writing you may want to do. Need some inspiration? Check out our blog: 15 Classic Books to Read

Start journaling - Starting a journal can really help to unleash your inner creativity. Getting into the habit of writing each day about literally anything that’s preoccupied you that day will help you practice the art of writing. The more regular you journal, the more you’ll build your confidence. You never know, you could even find your next great idea from something you’ve journaled about!

Attend a Creative Writing summer course - If you’re just starting out as a creative writer and looking to collaborate, share ideas with others and workshop your writing, then joining a creative writing summer school could be a great option. Our creative writing summer courses are designed to help you extend your creative writing toolkit; you’ll analyse some of the industry’s greatest writers, as well as workshop some of your own writing with your peers.

Practice using literary devices - Literary devices, such as metaphors, similes and rhyme can really help you write more vividly and create really descriptive, imaginative scenes. Practice using them regularly and you’ll soon watch your own creative writing start to flourish. Need some ideas to help you get practising? Look around your house and pick a random object. Then, practice using 5 literary devices to describe that same object - see where your creativity can take you!

Write, write, write! - When it comes to how to start creative writing, one of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer is to pick up your pen or laptop, and start writing. Whether you have a single conversation starter for a character, or a complete narrative arc, you will only begin your creative writing journey when you physically do it. Even if you have no idea on what to write - look for writing prompt inspiration from all around you. The more you practice unleashing your creativity, the easier it will be to write over longer periods of time.

Creative writing is an expressive form of literature; one which demands you to use your own creativity, imagination and story to portray a particular message, emotion, or plot. It defies the traditional bounds of other forms of writing and is completely subjective to our own preferences and experiences.

For those looking to get started with creative writing, it’s important to really immerse yourself in the world of literature, reading and writing as much as you can - and even workshopping your work where possible. Creative writing summer schools and evening classes are a great way to meet other like-minded students, share knowledge and feedback, and really upskill yourself.

Study Creative Writing in Oxford or Cambridge

Interested in joining a Creative Writing summer course? Learn tried and tested writing techniques from some of Oxford and Cambridge's greatest published tutors on our 2-week English Literature and Creative Writing summer course .

Whether you’re new to the subject or looking to advance your skill set, our programme will help develop your own writing voice and style, while learning crucial elements of structure to help your work flow. You’ll learn from our expert tutors - made up of literary critics, authors, and university lecturers - in either the historic city of Oxford or Cambridge . 

It’s the most influential learning environment, with the most inspiring tutors - guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing!

Contact us to find out more or apply today to reserve your place.

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The term creative writing means imaginative writing, or writing as an art. The primary concern of creative writing is not with factual information or with the more routine forms of communication ( see writing,communication by ). It does, however, use many of the same skills.

A novel, for example, may contain much sociological, political, or psychological information. Scholars may study it for that information, as Sigmund Freud studied literature for accounts of dreams and emotional states. No true novel, however, is written to communicate facts. Like other forms of creative writing it attempts to produce in its reader the pleasure of an aesthetic experience. It tries to uncover form and meaning in the turmoil of love, hate, violence, tedium, habit, and brute fact through which people flounder from day to day.

The novelist and short-story writer John Cheever, when asked why he wrote, did not say, “To show how the upper middle class lives in Connecticut.” He said, “To try to make sense out of my life.” Whether it takes the form of poem, short story, novel, play, personal essay, or even biography or history, creative writing is certain to involve some search for meaning, a measure of wonder and discovery, and a degree of personal involvement in the result.

Expository Versus Creative Writing

Unlike the expository writer, the creative writer uses language plastically, for its suggestiveness and power of sensuous evocation. The difference between the expository writer and the creative writer, however, goes deeper than the use of language.

Joseph Conrad wrote, in Notes on Life and Letters , “To have the gift of words is no such great matter. A man furnished with a long-range weapon does not become a hunter or a warrior by the mere possession of a fire-arm; many other qualities of character and temperament are necessary. . . .” Robert Frost remarked, in a similar mood, that “all that can be done with words is soon told,” and that poetry is “merely one more art of having something to say.”

A Creative Writer Has Something to Say

Any student with ambitions to be a literary artist is likely to have something he wants to say. He will probably discover for himself that poems in which words are manipulated for their color or sound alone tinkle emptily and abstractly in the mind. He will learn that shallow or conventional stories are exposed rather than supported by a self-conscious, “poetic,” or elevated style. A mannered style is more often than not a sign that a writer has not much to say. A writer and his style are inseparable.

If a writer is not a little dangerous, both to himself and to others, he is not living up to his calling. To live up to himself, to find what it is he must say, and to find ways of saying it, a writer must know in what he believes. Because the use of words is a power easily abused and because a writer must make himself heard against a clamor of television, radio, amusement parks, highways—the many distractions of a civilization incessantly busy—he must be both humble and assertive. Unless he can get himself noticed, he is nothing; and if he gets himself noticed by cheating or out of mere vanity, he is less than nothing.

The prayer of anyone hoping to make himself into a writer should be: “Lord, let me grow into someone who has something to say! Let me be one of those that Henry James speaks of, one of those ‘upon whom nothing is lost’. Let understanding and wisdom be engraved on my mind as deep as the lines of living on a wise and weathered face. Teach me to love and teach me to be humble and let me learn to respect human difference, human privacy, human dignity, and human pain. And then let me find the words to say it so it can’t be overlooked and can’t be forgotten.”

The Art and Power of Words

Only by means of words can the writer persuade a person of the truth in what he says or make anyone care about it. Possession of a weapon does not make a warrior or hunter, but no one is a warrior or hunter without one. Conrad and Frost could disparage the gift of words because both had it, supremely. Having had something to say, they found ways to say it. Frost wrote (in “The Figure a Poem Makes”), “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.” Here he compressed into a single image the whole process of artistic creation. Conrad, without his sensuously loaded language, could never have realized so spectacularly the literary purpose he set himself: “. . . by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel.. . before all, to make you see. That and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”The art of writing begins in the senses and is accomplished with words. Its end is communicated insight. When writing is successful, it communicates insight to the reader with a pang, a heightened awareness, a sharpening of feeling, and a sense of personal exposure, danger, involvement, or enlargement. The achievement of communicated insight unmistakably distinguishes the artist from the everyday user of words.

Know What You Really Feel

Speaking of his apprentice years in Paris in the early 1920s, Ernest Hemingway said (in Death in the Afternoon ): “I was trying to write then, and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years, or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to get it.”

This passage suggests a simple-sounding but rigorous training program for any beginner: learn to see straight; practice with endless patience, stating purely what you find to say; and see it and state it with the aim of communicating not only its meaning but its most essential emotion, the thing that made it important to you in the first place.

The Creative Writer as an Image Maker

Creative writing begins in the senses, and the stamp of the senses must remain on it. No one lacking acute senses and the willingness to use them should pretend to literature. Without senses the writer cannot create images, and images are his only means of making his reader hear and feel and see. By pure intelligence he can outargue a reader and convince him, but his intelligence must be supplemented by the equipment of sensuousness.

Not only must creative writers perceive in images, but they must communicate in them and the reader must read in them. Images are both source and means. An image is crystallized by the perceptions of the writer, is converted into words like a cable message being unscrambled, and finally is reconverted by the reader into something like the original perception.

The creative writer is concrete—that is, he is bound to things of experience. However strongly he holds his ideas, he cannot express them in the way a philosopher or a social scientist does. He does not deal in concepts or in formulated patterns of thought but in images and imitations. He is concerned with people, places, actions, feelings, and sensations. His fictional house should be haunted, not inhabited, by ideas; ideas should flit past the windows, not fill the rooms. The moment anyone tries to make poems or stories of ideas alone he is at the edge of absurdity; he can only preach, never interest and persuade, because ideas alone are simply not dramatic. They must be put into the form of people and actions to achieve their proper force. One Macbeth onstage is worth a thousand essays on ambition.

Sometimes a writer begins with ideas, as Nathaniel Hawthorne did, and makes them into flesh and blood; sometimes he starts with flesh and blood, as Mark Twain did, and lets flesh and blood work themselves out into ideas. Either way he is steadily called upon to render the way life seems to him or to his imaginary characters. To make the reader feel this vividly, the writer makes use of all the senses he has. That is why literature overflows with such sensuous things as the hollowness of footsteps in a street at night; the fisting of anger in the pit of the stomach; the weight of hydrangeas brushed against in the summer dark; and the look and texture of the fuzzy down on the back of a fair-haired woman’s neck.

Anyone attempting to write must take the trouble to know, and be able to express, the qualities of things: their hardness and smoothness and splinteriness, their heat and cold. A writer must observe and be able to communicate differing qualities of voice and gesture and the nearly invisible signs in eyes and mouth and hands and body by which people show their state of mind or emotion—fear and delight and loss. A writer must be able to stimulate the sweat glands and the hair follicles of his readers; make mouths water; turn stomachs; command tears, laughter, and scorn—all with words.

Most literary images are visual. Images, however, may just as properly involve any other sense or several senses at one time. Sometimes the images are heavily and damply auditory, as when Mark Twain’s jumping frog leaps after a fly and alights on the counter “as solid as a gob of mud.”

St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold: Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told His rosary, and while his frosted breath, Like pious incense from a censor old, Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death, Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

The Use of Figures of Speech

It is a common misconception that an image always involves a figure of speech. Often it does. The poet Francis Thompson in describing a poppy as a “yawn of fire” uses a metaphor. In comparing the sea and sky of a sunrise to the opening of a clamshell, D.H. Lawrence employs a simile. The Browning lines obtain their vividness from onomatopoeia (word-imitation of a sound). The Keats stanza, however, gets its total effect of coldness not entirely with figurative language. “Woolly fold” (metonymy, the use of one word for another that it suggests) is there as a contrasting image. The image of the frosted breath is primarily visual.

Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised upon a table

On the other hand, an objective approach is illustrated by Hemingway’s description of a trout stream in “Big Two-Hearted River” (from In Our Time ): “He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current, many trout in deep, fast-moving water, slightly distorted as he watched far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the long-driven piles of the bridge . . .” Here the author only observes. He makes no judgment. There is no metaphorical leap, such as that in the Eliot lines, but only a reproduction of the thing seen. In later stories, especially in his novels, Hemingway wisely relaxed his ban against both metaphorical language and symbolism. Nevertheless his attempt to put the whole burden of vividness on the precision of observation was invaluable training. It was not unlike that which Gustave Flaubert set for his pupil, the future great short-story writer Guy de Maupassant, when he sent him out to report in a single phrase or a single word the content of an action. Whether arrayed in metaphor or stripped to bare observation, any creative writing must be concrete and must communicate by images. ( See also figures of speech .)

Different Ways of “Seeing”

Thomas Wolfe wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had been badgering him about his lack of economy and form: “Don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.” (From The Crack-Up .)

Wolfe himself was a mighty putter-inner. He could hardly let a character pass a hardware-store window without enumerating every tool in it; and the sights and sounds of afternoon in a familiar town set him into a sensuous frenzy: “Light came and went and came again, the great plume of the fountain pulsed and winds of April sheeted it across the Square in a rainbow gossamer of spray. The fire department horses drummed on the floors with wooden stomp, most casually, and with dry whiskings of their clean, coarse tails. The street cars ground into the Square from every portion of the compass and halted briefly like wound toys in their familiar quarter-hourly formula. A dray, hauled by a boneyard nag, rattled across the cobbles.. . . The courthouse bell boomed out its solemn warning of immediate three.. . .” (From The Hills Beyond .)

This is a passage worth study, particularly for its choice of strong and active verbs: “pulsed,” “sheeted,” “drummed,” “ground,” “rattled,” “boomed.” It is certainly not seven eighths below the surface, as Hemingway said icebergs are and stories should be. It is piled on, heaped until it runs over.

Differing from either method is the impressionism of such a writer as Anton Chekhov, who said, “You will get the full effect of a moonlight night if you write that on the mill-dam a little glowing star-point flashed from the neck of a broken bottle, and the round, black shadow of a dog, or a wolf, emerged and ran.” In that same impressionist manner, Stephen Crane carries the reader along with a fatally wounded soldier walking to some quiet place to die. The whole passage is like a prolonged silent scream, and it ends with a single staring phrase: “The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.”

Most potential writers are omnivorous readers, and in the nature of things an apprentice is sure to imitate. He has no other way to learn. Although he may try very hard to “develop a style of his own,” his real style will be a long time in developing and will parallel or reflect the development of his own mind and sensibility. The best way to find the style that naturally fits him is to follow Hemingway’s method and simply try to state purely whatever is before his eyes.

Freedom in the Use of Natural Language

Nothing is so likely to hinder the freedom of expression so essential to true creative writing as a too-strict adherence to “correctness.” This is not to say that correctness does not matter or that there is no distinction between good usage and bad usage. It is only to say that there should be growth and invention at all levels of language.

When Hemingway, in The Green Hills of Africa , remarked that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn ,” he was exaggerating. Nevertheless this work, containing the inspired lingo of Huck Finn, has had more effect on American literature and on the development of American speech than any other book.

Although Hawthorne was a good writer, any paragraph of his sounds old-fashioned and stilted. Huckleberry Finn , however, remains fresh and lively. An example is Huck’s description of a river sunrise: “Not a sound, anywheres—perfectly still—just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bullfrogs a-cluttering, maybe. The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line—that was the woods on t’other side; you coudn’t make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness spreading around; then the river softened up away off, and warn’t black any more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along ever so far away—trading-scows, and such things; and long black streaks—rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumbled-up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by and by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there’s a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes that streak look that way; and you see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river, and you make out a log cabin in the edge of the woods, away on the bank on t’other side of the river, being a wood-yard, likely, and piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres; then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from over there, so cool and fresh and sweet to smell on account of the woods and the flowers; but sometimes not that way, because they’ve left dead fish laying around, gars and such, and they do get pretty rank; and next you’ve got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!”

Although not traditionally “correct,” this passage is magnificent. It does what language was created to do. Twain has observed the scene with the greatest possible precision and found a way of stating it purely. The “bullfrogs a-cluttering,” the “song-birds just going it,” and the “wood-yard . . . piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres” are barbarisms skillfully handled, the kind of inventive and playful language that should not be suppressed. Barbarisms crop up in casual speech, in popular songs, even in advertising slogans. They exist as a kind of private language in the subculture of the American adolescent. They well up out of jazz and the jazz world. A young writer would make a mistake to be enslaved to subliterary languages, but he would be a fool to ignore them.

For the young creative writer there is no rule on language. There are only warnings, and they concern the extremes of choice. Bookish and literary language, the kind that half embarrasses its author when it is read aloud, is obviously a mistake. A mistake too is the affected overmasculine toughness that some young men adopt in the belief that it permits them to love literature without being called effeminate. Between those extremes anything that works is good, and a playful way with language is always better than a solemn one. When a tourist at Bryce Canyon, Utah, said to his wife as they got out of their car, “Well, shall we pace over and peer at it?” he was indulging in a playful attitude toward words. One would expect more from him in the way of true appreciation than from someone who braced himself solemnly and got ready to experience the feelings he thought he should have.

The Use of Symbolism

In one sense, every word is a symbol. “Tree” is four letters and a certain sound, but it is also a thing with bark and leaves. Put into a context which includes the word Calvary it becomes a metaphor for the cross on which Christ was nailed. That kind of extension of meaning, which is called symbolism, is actually one of the most suggestive and economical ways of communicating the aesthetic experience.

To-day, the road all runners come, Shoulder-high we bring you home, And set you at your threshold down, Townsman of a stiller town.

Here the symbolism is perfectly plain, on what Prof. Harry Levin of Harvard University called the conventional level. Much poetic symbolism is of this commonly accepted kind. A journey often symbolizes human life; a season often suggests the age of a man.

A symbolism less traditional is what Levin called the explicit. An example is this line by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!” A third sort described by Levin is the implicit, which takes the reader into more ambiguous country. In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick , Moby Dick is more than whale, but what precisely is it? God? The spirit of evil? A manifestation of pure mindless force? No single explanation will fully satisfy. It is in this area of unexplained, private, or ambiguous meaning that much contemporary writing exists.

Again there are no rules for the student except that he should read, and read, and read, and fill his mind, and express what he wants to as well as he can. If he is sucked into the whirlpool of allegory, he may go down; many have. He is safe in the conventional and explicit levels, however, and reasonably safe in the implicit. When he begins using private symbols, disguising rather than revealing his thoughts, he risks exclusiveness and pedantry.

Of one thing, however, he can be sure: when the outward story or poem is solid, the symbolism, even though ambiguous, will take care of itself. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels , though representing far more than appears on its surface, remains a fascinating children’s story. Moby-Dick is still a tale of adventure. It does not attempt to cast a shadow without having any solid substance.

The Problem of Point of View

The beginner should try all types of writing, but some forms will come more naturally to him than others. Short lyrics, short stories, and one-act plays are more within his scope than longer forms. He will learn most by making many beginnings and endings—the hardest parts of any piece of writing, and where, as Chekhov said, a man is most likely to lie.

Hiding himself is not a problem for the writer who chooses lyric poetry, because this is a very personal art. If he chooses fiction, however, particularly the short story, he will have to learn, like any good puppeteer, to keep his hands and feet from showing. Basic to all fictional writing is the problem of selecting the point of view from which one wishes to have the reader follow the story. Fiction is usually much less personal than the lyric poem and less bound to objectivity than the drama.

The writer of fiction, however he may pretend to be indifferent and invisible, is always there. He cannot help steering, cannot help providing some double vision, commentary, insight, or irony. If he wants a reader to participate intensely, he adopts the point of view of one of the characters in the story, sees through those eyes alone, thinks with that mind, knows nothing that that individual would not know. If he wants to imitate the dramatic, he pretends to be a camera. John Steinbeck does this in Of Mice and Men , a story which was written to fulfill at one and the same time the requirements of a novel and those of a play. If, as Chekhov, Conrad, Crane, and many others do, the writer wants to have the immediacy of drama but at the same time to keep the right of comment, then he has the subtle job of keeping himself out of his story while still making it say what he wants it to say.

Point of view is a complicated subject. Handling it, however, is a principal skill which a fiction writer must develop once he has perfected his gift of words. He must be in his story but not apparently in it; the story must go his way while appearing to act itself out. For this sort of skill, the short story is the best practice ground. It is so short that a flaw in the point of view shows up like a spider in the cream. It is so concentrated that it forces the writer to develop great economy and structural skill. It is so intense that, like a karate kick, it has great knock-down power.

A writer must knock readers down. This is the goal he must constantly have in mind: to make people listen, to catch their attention, to find ways to make them hold still while he says what he so passionately wants to say. Although creative writing as an intellectual exercise may be pursued with profit by anyone, writing as a profession is not a job for amateurs, dilettantes, part-time thinkers, 25-watt feelers, the lazy, the insensitive, or the imitative. It is for the creative, and creativity implies both talent and hard work.

Situation, or Conflict

Alexandre Dumas said that to make a novel you need a passion and four walls. He might have added that to make a passion you need people “in a bind,” in a situation charged with love, hate, ambition, longing—some tension that cries to be resolved. A beginning writer may have trouble finding his real situation. He may have only clues, characters, a place, an atmosphere, or the haunting association of ideas in his mind. In a novel he may even be able to grope for the situation through his first chapters. (One formula for the novel, proposed by Bernard De Voto, was to throw away the first five chapters and start with number six.) In a short story, however, the situation must be located at once, for even more than in a novel, a short story must start off running, must begin on a rolling slope as near the end as possible.

Because no situation can exist apart from what brought it about and what it leads to, the writer will be led both forward and backward from his germinal knot of tension. He must deal at least a little with the past, which in fictional technique is called summary or exposition; and he must deal with the dramatic present, which is called scene.

The Dramatic Present, or Scene

To make a scene is to put characters onstage and let them act out their own story. The point of view may not be strictly objective—there may be some equivalent of the stage manager of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town lounging around somewhere—but any scene is essentially dramatic. It follows George M. Cohan’s celebrated advice, “Don’t tell ’em—show ’em.” A scene must persuade the reader in all its aspects. The characters have to be credible and consistent. The dialogue must approximate real talk, without being cluttered by the monotony, fatuousness, and repetition of real talk. The action must move in a direct line, without wanderings or irrelevancies. An internal logic has to hold the scene together, beginning and middle and end. The setting must be sensuously realized and then never permitted to drop away and be forgotten.

If any object is important enough to be mentioned, it should be put to use. As Chekhov said, if you hang a gun on the wall at the beginning, it has to go off before the end. If there is a fireplace in a scene, characters should warm themselves by it or lean on its mantle, as part of their stage business.

One does not learn to do a job such as this by practicing whole paragraphs of description, whole chunks of setting or characterization. The elements interweave, and there are many balls to be kept in the air at once. A single paragraph may contain a fragment of action; a bit of dialogue that by its content or its manner and tone characterizes the speaker; a sensuous perception of some detail of setting; and a glance backward in memory, dialogue, or external comment to pick up a meaningful bit of the past.

Now for a few rules of thumb: (1) Start in the middle of things; begin in motion. (2) Stay in motion by not letting the summary intrude; keep the summary feeding into the scene in hints and driblets, by what Henrik Ibsen called the “uncovering” technique. (3) Never explain too much. Most readers are offended if they cannot use their imaginations, and a story loses much of its suspense the moment everything is explained. (4) Keep yourself out of your story; pick a point of view and (especially in the short story) stay with it. Nobody has less right in your story than yourself. (5) Do not show off or try to impress others with your style. The writing should match the characters and the situation, not you. This principle applies as well to obscenity and profanity as to other matters. They are appropriate only where character and situation call for such elements. (6) Nothing is to be gained by attempts to find substitutes for the word “said” in dialogue tags. “Said” is a neutral word that disappears. (7) Stopping a story is hard. Learn to do it cleanly, without leftovers or repetition.

Wallace E. Stegner

Additional Reading

Applebee, Arthur. Context for Learning To Write (Ablex, 1984). Barkas, J.L. How To Write Like a Professional (Arco, 1984). Barzun, Jacques. Simple and Direct, rev. ed. (Harper, 1985). Beaugrande, Robert de. Writing Step by Step: Easy Strategies for Writing and Revising (Harcourt, 1985). Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Little, 1987). Clouse, B. The Student Writer: Editor and Critic (McGraw, 1986). Donovan, Melissa. Teaching Creative Writing (Good Apple, 1990). Phillips, K., and Steiner, B. Catching Ideas (Libraries Unlimited, 1988). Smith, Frank. Writing and the Writer (Holt, 1985). Stein, Gertrude. How To Write (Dover, 1975). Stott, Bill. Write to the Point and Feel Better About Your Writing (Doubleday, 1984). Strunk, William, Jr. and White, E.B. The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. (Macmillan, 1979). Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, rev. ed. (Harper, 1985). ‘Death in the Afternoon’: Copyright 1932 Charles Scribner’s Sons; renewal copyright (c) 1960 Ernest Hemingway. ‘The Figure a Poem Makes’ from ‘Complete Poems of Robert Frost’. Copyright 1930, 1939 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. ‘Notes on Life and Letters’ by Joseph Conrad quoted with permission of J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in ‘Collected Poems 1909–1935’ by T.S. Eliot, copyright, 1936, by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. ‘In Our Time’: Copyright 1925, 1930 Charles Scribner’s Sons; renewal copyright 1953, 1958 Ernest Hemingway. ‘The Crack-Up’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Copyright 1945 by New Directions quoted with the permission of the Estate of Thomas Wolfe. ‘The Hills Beyond’ by Thomas Wolfe quoted with the permission of Harper & Brothers. ‘The Green Hills of Africa’: Copyright 1935 Charles Scribner’s Sons. ‘To an Athlete Dying Young’ in ‘A Shropshire Lad’—Authorized Edition—from ‘Complete Poems’ by A.E. Housman. Copyright (c) 1959 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. ‘The Single Hound’ by Emily Dickinson, copyright 1914, 1942 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi, by permission of Little, Brown & Co. The illustration—permission to reprint has been granted by the Publishers from ‘The Poems of Emily Dickinson’, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, copyright 1951, 1955 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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What Is Creative Writing? Simple Definition and Tips

woman doing creative writing in book

It can seem difficult to narrow down the answer to the question, “What is creative writing?” Since creative writing encompasses many types of writing, exploring examples helps define this art form. Use the definition of creative writing and creative writing tips to learn how to become a creative writer.

Creative Writing Definition

The true definition of creative writing is:

original writing that expresses ideas and thoughts in an imaginative way

It's the "art of making things up" or putting a creative splash on history, as in creative nonfiction. In any instance, creative writing makes you step out of reality and into a new realm inspired by your own imagination. With creative writing you're able to express feelings and emotions instead of cold, hard facts, as you would in academic writing .

Creative Writing Types and Categories

Because it is such a broad topic, the best way to define creative writing is to browse a list of things that are and are not considered creative writing.

Types of Creative Writing

Your imagination starts to flow when you engage in creative writing. The majority of writing, by far, is creative. With it, you can pretend anything you want and help a potential reader do the same. Different types of creative writing are found in these writing categories:

Types of Writing That Aren’t Creative Writing

Any type of writing that is very formal, precise and reliant upon facts isn’t considered creative writing. Forms of writing that are not considered creative writing include:

Creative Writing Tips and Techniques

If you feel you have a story inside you, you probably do. Why not let it out? It may seem as simple as sitting down, pulling up a blank document and letting it all flow, but sometimes that blank document can be intimidating. Use some creative writing techniques and tips to help you get creative.

Be an Avid Reader

Reading all types of writing can spark ideas in your own imagination. The more you read fiction and creative nonfiction, the more you'll naturally adopt their natural rhythm and flow.

Keep an Idea Book

Inspiration for creative writing can strike at any moment. Be prepared with a notebook dedicated to ideas or even a notes app on your phone. When you periodically browse your ideas, you might find that combining a couple of seemingly unrelated ideas sparks a new piece of writing.

Ask What if Questions

To tap into your creativity, ask yourself questions that start with “What if?” For example, if you know you want to write about a cat, you might ask yourself “What if the cat is best friends with a mouse?” or “What if the cat doesn’t look like an ordinary cat?”

Write with Abandon

If you have an idea for a story, sit down and start typing, without editing as you go. Just let the ideas flow out of your mind. After the story is out of your head and onto the screen, then you can consider revising.

Read Your Work Out Loud

Even after you've gotten it all out, it's still not time to edit. Read your idea out loud to hear how it sounds. See which scenes jump out at you. Remember which bits of dialogue are particularly powerful.

Create a Scene List

You might want to outline your scenes after you've written that first draft of your story. This helps you organize the plot line and make sure it flows.

Proofread and Edit Out Fluff

Now it's time to proofread and edit. Even though your work is meant to be creative and original, it should still follow standard writing rules. While imagination is key to creative writing, you still need to remove any "fluffy" parts of the story.

Examples of Creative Writing

At its core, creative writing is a form of entertainment. It's also a form of art found in most of your favorite TV sitcoms, movies, books, poems, and other mediums.

Poetry Example

Poems provide great examples of creative writing. In fact, they're almost exclusively emotional and imaginative. This excerpt from Lewis Carroll's " The Walrus and the Carpenter " is an example of creative writing because it is not based in fact and uses a lot of imagination.

If seven maids with seven mops Swept it for half a year, Do you suppose,' the Walrus said, That they could get it clear?' I doubt it,' said the Carpenter, And shed a bitter tear.

If you'd like to try your hand at a poem, check out these tips on writing poems .

Short Story Example

Short stories can be narrative, funny, mysterious, satirical, fantasy, or historical. Often stories include a lesson for the reader. This excerpt from Margaret Barrington's "Village Without Men," from The Glass Shore anthology (edited by Sinéad Gleeson) is a great example of using creativity to evoke emotion.

Weary and distraught, the women listened to the storm as it raged around the houses. The wind screamed and howled. It drove suddenly against the doors with heavy lurchings. It tore at the straw ropes that anchored the thatched roofs to the ground. It rattled and shook the small windows. It sent the rain in narrow streams under the door, through the piled-up sacks, to form large puddles on the hard, stamped, earthen floors.

Novel Example

Novels are certainly creative. Readers look forward to dipping in and out of new worlds created in novels, be they fantasy or realistic. This excerpt from Dark Witch , by famed romance writer Nora Roberts features a real place, Ireland, with a fictional character and story.

The cold carved bone deep, fueled by the lash of the wind, iced by the drowning rain gushing from a bruised, bloated sky. Such was Iona Sheehan's welcome to Ireland. She loved it. How could she not? She asked herself as she hugged her arms to her chest and drank in the wild, soggy view from her window. She was standing in a castle. She'd sleep in a castle that night. An honest-to-God Irish castle in the heart of the west.

Story Starters for Creative Writing

Creative writing exercises can help jumpstart your imagination. If you’re still not sure where to start, creative writing prompts give you a topic or opening sentence to get creative with.

Start your own creative writing with one of these prompts:

Creative Writing for Life

Creative writing is whatever you want it to be, so long as it's not a completely factual story. A story can blossom from virtually anything because being creative and pretending is part of being human. You can use creative writing to express your own feelings or to entertain others. Now that you know how to compose a piece of creative writing, explore tips for engaging readers .

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Writing Experience — Creative Writing: Definition, Types, Essence

scholarly definition of creative writing

Creative Writing: Definition, Types, Essence

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Definition of creative writing, types of creative writing, the essence of creative writing.

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scholarly definition of creative writing

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Creative Writing Summer School in Yale - students discussing

At Oxford Royale Academy, we offer a range of writing courses that have become extremely popular amongst students of all ages. The subject of creative writing continues to intrigue many academics as it can help to develop a range of skills that will benefit you throughout your career and life.

Nevertheless, that initial question is one that continues to linger and be asked time and time again: what is creative writing? More specifically, what does it mean or encompass? How does creative writing differ from other styles of writing?

During our Oxford Summer School programme , we will provide you with in-depth information on creative writing and how you can hone your skills. However, in this guide, we want to provide a detailed analysis of everything to do with creative writing, helping you understand more about what it is and why it could benefit you to become a creative writer.

The best place to start is with a definition.

What is creative writing?

The dictionary definition of creative writing is that it is original writing that expresses ideas and thoughts in an imaginative way. [1] Some academics will also define it as the art of making things up, but both of these definitions are too simplistic in the grand scheme of things.

It’s challenging to settle on a concrete definition as creative writing can relate to so many different things and formats. Naturally, as the name suggests, it is all built around the idea of being creative or imaginative. It’s to do with using your brain and your own thoughts to create writing that goes outside the realms of what’s expected. This type of writing tends to be more unique as it comes from a personal place. Each individual has their own level of creativity, combined with their own thoughts and views on different things. Therefore, you can conjure up your own text and stories that could be completely different from others.

Understanding creative writing can be challenging when viewed on its own. Consequently, the best way to truly understand this medium is by exploring the other main forms of writing. From here, we can compare and contrast them with the art of creative writing, making it easier to find a definition or separate this form of writing from others.

What are the main forms of writing?

In modern society, we can identify five main types of writing styles [1] that will be used throughout daily life and a plethora of careers:

Narrative writing refers to storytelling in its most basic form. Traditionally, this involves telling a story about a character and walking the readers through the journey they go on. It can be a long novel or a short story that’s only a few hundred words long. There are no rules on length, and it can be completely true or a work of fiction.

A fundamental aspect of narrative writing that makes it different from other forms is that it should includes the key elements of storytelling. As per UX Planet, there are seven core elements of a good story or narrative [2] : the plot, characters, theme, dialogue, melody, decor and spectacle. Narrative writing will include all of these elements to take the ready on a journey that starts at the beginning, has a middle point, but always comes to a conclusion. This style of writing is typically used when writing stories, presenting anecdotes about your life, creating presentations or speeches and for some academic essays.

Descriptive writing, on the other hand, is more focused on the details. When this type of writing is used, it’s focused on capturing the reader’s attention and making them feel like they are part of the story. You want them to live and feel every element of a scene, so they can close their eyes and be whisked away to whatever place or setting you describe.

In many ways, descriptive writing is writing as an art form. Good writers can be given a blank canvas, using their words to paint a picture for the audience. There’s a firm focus on the five senses all humans have; sight, smell, touch, sound and taste. Descriptive writing touches on all of these senses to tell the reader everything they need to know and imagine about a particular scene.

This is also a style of writing that makes good use of both similes and metaphors. A simile is used to describe something as something else, while a metaphor is used to show that something is something else. There’s a subtle difference between the two, but they both aid descriptive writing immensely. According to many writing experts, similes and metaphors allow an author to emphasise, exaggerate, and add interest to a story to create a more vivid picture for the reader [3] .

Looking at persuasive writing and we have a form of writing that’s all about making yourself heard. You have an opinion that you want to get across to the reader, convincing them of it. The key is to persuade others to think differently, often helping them broaden their mind or see things from another point of view. This is often confused with something called opinionative writing, which is all about providing your opinions. While the two seem similar, the key difference is that persuasive writing is built around the idea of submitting evidence and backing your thoughts up. It’s not as simple as stating your opinion for other to read; no, you want to persuade them that your thoughts are worth listening to and perhaps worth acting on.

This style of writing is commonly used journalistically in news articles and other pieces designed to shine a light on certain issues or opinions. It is also typically backed up with statistical evidence to give more weight to your opinions and can be a very technical form of writing that’s not overly emotional.

Expository writing is more focused on teaching readers new things. If we look at its name, we can take the word exposure from it. According to Merriam-Webster [4] , one of the many definitions of exposure is to reveal something to others or present them with something they otherwise didn’t know. In terms of writing, it can refer to the act of revealing new information to others or exposing them to new ideas.

Effectively, expository writing focuses on the goal of leaving the reader with new knowledge of a certain topic or subject. Again, it is predominately seen in journalistic formats, such as explainer articles or ‘how-to’ blogs. Furthermore, you also come across it in academic textbooks or business writing.

This brings us back to the centre of attention for this guide: what is creative writing?

Interestingly, creative writing is often seen as the style of writing that combines many of these forms together in one go. Narrative writing can be seen as creative writing as you are coming up with a story to keep readers engaged, telling a tale for them to enjoy or learn from. Descriptive writing is very much a key part of creative writing as you are using your imagination and creative skills to come up with detailed descriptions that transport the reader out of their home and into a different place.

Creative writing can even use persuasive writing styles in some formats. Many writers will combine persuasive writing with a narrative structure to come up with a creative way of telling a story to educate readers and provide new opinions for them to view or be convinced of. Expository writing can also be involved here, using creativity and your imagination to answer questions or provide advice to the reader.

Essentially, creative writing can combine other writing types to create a unique and new way of telling a story or producing content. At the same time, it can include absolutely none of the other forms at all. The whole purpose of creative writing is to think outside the box and stray from traditional structures and norms. Fundamentally, we can say there are no real rules when it comes to creative writing, which is what makes it different from the other writing styles discussed above.

What is the purpose of creative writing?

Another way to understand and explore the idea of creative writing is to look at its purpose. What is the aim of most creative works of writing? What do they hope to provide the reader with?

We can look at the words of Bryanna Licciardi, an experienced creative writing tutor, to understand the purpose of creative writing. She writes that the primary purpose is to entertain and share human experiences, like love or loss. Writers attempt to reveal the truth with regard to humanity through poetics and storytelling. [5] She also goes on to add that the first step of creative writing is to use one’s imagination.

When students sign up to our creative writing courses, we will teach them how to write with this purpose. Your goal is to create stories or writing for readers that entertain them while also providing information that can have an impact on their lives. It’s about influencing readers through creative storytelling that calls upon your imagination and uses the thoughts inside your head. The deeper you dive into the art of creative writing, the more complex it can be. This is largely because it can be expressed in so many different formats. When you think of creative writing, your instinct takes you to stories and novels. Indeed, these are both key forms of creative writing that we see all the time. However, there are many other forms of creative writing that are expressed throughout the world.

What are the different forms of creative writing?

Looking back at the original and simple definition of creative writing, it relates to original writing in a creative and imaginative way. Consequently, this can span across so many genres and types of writing that differ greatly from one another. This section will explore and analyse the different types of creative writing, displaying just how diverse this writing style can be – while also showcasing just what you’re capable of when you learn how to be a creative writer.

The majority of students will first come across creative writing in the form of essays . The point of an essay is to present a coherent argument in response to a stimulus or question. [6] In essence, you are persuading the reader that your answer to the question is correct. Thus, creative writing is required to get your point across as coherently as possible, while also using great descriptive writing skills to paint the right message for the reader.

Moreover, essays can include personal essays – such as writing a cover letter for work or a university application. Here, great creativity is needed to almost write a story about yourself that captivates the reader and takes them on a journey with you. Excellent imagination and persuasive writing skills can help you tell your story and persuade those reading that you are the right person for the job or university place.

Arguably, this is the most common way in which creative writing is expressed. Fictional work includes novels, novellas, short stories – and anything else that is made up. The very definition of fiction by the Cambridge Dictionary states that it is the type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events not based on real people and facts. [7] As such, it means that your imagination is called upon to create something out of nothing. It is a quintessential test of your creative writing skills, meaning you need to come up with characters, settings, plots, descriptions and so much more.

Fictional creative writing in itself takes on many different forms and can be completely different depending on the writer. That is the real beauty of creative writing; you can have entirely different stories and characters from two different writers. Just look at the vast collection of fictional work around you today; it’s the perfect way to see just how versatile creative writing can be depending on the writer.

Similarly, scripts can be a type of creative writing that appeals to many. Technically, a script can be considered a work of fiction. Nevertheless, it depends on the script in question. Scripts for fictional television shows, plays or movies are obviously works of fiction. You, the writer, has come up with the characters and story of the show/play/movie, bringing it all to life through the script. But, scripts can also be non-fictional. Creating a play or movie that adapts real-life events will mean you need to write a script based on something that genuinely happened.

Here, it’s a perfect test of creative writing skills as you take a real event and use your creative talents to make it more interesting. The plot and narrative may already be there for you, so it’s a case of using your descriptive writing skills to really sell it to others and keep readers – or viewers – on the edge of their seats.

A speech is definitely a work of creative writing. The aim of a speech can vary depending on what type of speech it is. A politician delivering a speech in the House of Commons will want to get a point across to persuade others in the room. They’ll need to use creative writing to captivate their audience and have them hanging on their every word. A recent example of a great speech was the one by Sir David Attenborough at the recent COP26 global climate summit. [8] Listening to the speech is a brilliant way of understanding how creative writing can help get points across. His speech went viral around the world because of how electrifying and enthralling it is. The use of many descriptive and persuasive words had people hanging onto everything he said. He really created a picture and an image for people to see, convincing them that the time is now to work on stopping and reversing climate change.

From this speech to a completely different one, you can see creative writing at play for speeches at weddings and other jovial events. Here, the purpose is more to entertain guests and make them laugh. At the same time, someone giving a wedding speech will hope to create a lovely story for the guests to enjoy, displaying the true love that the married couple share for one another. Regardless of what type of speech an individual is giving, creative writing skills are required for it to be good and captivating.

Poetry & Songs

The final example of creative writing is twofold; poetry and songs. Both of these formats are similar to one another, relying on creativity to deliver a combination of things. Poetry can take so many forms and styles, but it aims to inspire readers and get them thinking. Poems often have hidden meanings behind them, and it takes a great deal of imagination and creativity to come up with these meanings while also creating a powerful poem. Some argue that poetry is the most creative of all creative writing forms.

Songwriting is similar in that you use creativity to come up with lyrics that can have powerful meanings while also conjuring up a story for people. The best songwriters will use lyrics that stay in people’s minds and get them thinking about the meaning behind the song. If you lack imagination and creativity, you will never be a good songwriter.

In truth, there are so many other types and examples of creative writing that you can explore. The ones listed above are the most common and powerful, and they all do a great job of demonstrating how diverse creative writing can be. If you can hone your skills in creative writing, it opens up many opportunities for you in life. Primarily, creative writing focuses on fictional pieces of work, but as you can see, non-fiction also requires a good deal of creativity.

What’s needed to make a piece of creative writing?

Our in-depth analysis of creative writing has led to a point where you’re aware of this style of writing and its purpose, along with some examples of it in the real world. The next question to delve into is what do you need to do to make a piece of creative writing. To phrase this another way; how do you write something that comes under the creative heading rather than another form of writing?

There is an element of difficulty in answering this question as creative writing has so many different types and genres. Consequently, there isn’t a set recipe for the perfect piece of creative writing, and that’s what makes this format so enjoyable and unique. Nevertheless, we can discover some crucial elements or principles that will help make a piece of writing as creative and imaginative as possible:

A target audience

All creative works will begin by defining a target audience. There are many ways to define a target audience, with some writers suggesting that you think about who is most likely to read your work. However, this can still be challenging as you’re unsure of the correct demographic to target. Writer’s Digest makes a good point of defining your target audience by considering your main motivation for writing in the first place. [9] It’s a case of considering what made you want to start writing – whether it’s a blog post, novel, song, poem, speech, etc. Figuring out your motivation behind it will help you zero in on your target audience.

Defining your audience is vital for creative writing as it helps you know exactly what to write and how to write it. All of your work should appeal to this audience and be written in a way that they can engage with. As a simple example, authors that write children’s stories will adapt their writing to appeal to the younger audience. Their stories include lots of descriptions and words that children understand, rather than being full of long words and overly academic writing.

Establishing the audience lets the writer know which direction to take things in. As a result, this can aid with things like character choices, plot, storylines, settings, and much more.

A story of sorts

Furthermore, great works of creative writing will always include a story of sorts. This is obvious for works such as novels, short stories, scripts, etc. However, even for things like poems, songs or speeches, a story helps make it creative. It gives the audience something to follow, helping them make sense of the work. Even if you’re giving a speech, setting a story can help you create a scene in people’s minds that makes them connect to what you’re saying. It’s a very effective way of persuading others and presenting different views for people to consider.

Moreover, consider the definition of a story/narrative arc. One definition describes it as a term that describes a story’s full progression. It visually evokes the idea that every story has a relatively calm beginning, a middle where tension, character conflict and narrative momentum builds to a peak and an end where the conflict is resolved. [10]

Simplifying this, we can say that all works of creative writing need a general beginning, middle and end. It’s a way of bringing some sort of structure to your writing so you know where you are going, rather than filling it with fluff or waffle.

A good imagination

Imagination is a buzzword that we’ve used plenty of times throughout this deep dive into creative writing. Every creative writing course you go on will spend a lot of time focusing on the idea of using your imagination. The human brain is a marvellously powerful thing that holds the key to creative freedom and expressing yourself in new and unique ways. If you want to make something creative, you need to tap into your imagination.

People use their imagination in different ways; some will be able to conjure up ideas for stories or worlds that exist beyond our own. Others will use theirs to think of ways of describing things in a more creative and imaginative way. Ultimately, a good imagination is what sets your work apart from others within your genre. This doesn’t mean you need to come up with the most fantastical novel of all time to have something classified as creative writing. No, using your imagination and creativity can extend to something as simple as your writing style.

Ultimately, it’s more about using your imagination to find your own personal flair and creative style. You will then be able to write unique pieces that stand out from the others and keep audiences engaged.

How can creative writing skills benefit you?

When most individuals or students consider creative writing, they imagine a world where they are writing stories for a living. There’s a common misconception that creative writing skills are only beneficial for people pursuing careers in scriptwriting, storytelling, etc. Realistically, enhancing ones creative writing skills can open up many windows of opportunity throughout your education and career.

These points all demonstrate the different ways in which creative writing can impact your life and alter your career. In terms of general career skills, this is one that you simply cannot go without.

How to improve your creative writing

One final part of this analysis of creative writing is to look at how students can improve. It begins by reading as much as you can and taking in lots of different content. Read books, poems, scripts, articles, blogs – anything you can find. Listen to music and pay attention to the words people use and the structure of their writing. It can help you pick up on things like metaphors, similes, and how to use your imagination. Of course, writing is the key to improving; the more you write, the more creative you can get as you will start unlocking the powers of your brain.

Conclusion: What is creative writing

In conclusion, creative writing uses a mixture of different types of writing to create stories that stray from traditional structures and norms. It revolves around the idea of using your imagination to find a writing style that suits you and gets your points across to an audience, keeping them engaged in everything you say. From novels to speeches, there are many forms of creative writing that can help you in numerous career paths throughout your life.

To really unlock your writing potential, try one of our creative writing courses . As mentioned right at the beginning, we have a range of courses for students of different ages, all built around creativity and creative writing.

[1] SkillShare: The 5 Types of Writing Styles with Examples

[2] Elements of Good Story Telling – UX Planet

[3] Simile vs Metaphor: What’s the Difference? – ProWritingAid

[4] Definition of Exposure by Merriam-Webster

[5] The Higher Purpose of Creative Writing | by Terveen Gill

[6] Essay purpose – Western Sydney University

[7] FICTION | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

[8] ‘Not fear, but hope’ – Attenborough speech in full – BBC News

[9] Writer’s Digest: Who Is Your Target Reader?

[10] What is a Narrative Arc? • A Guide to Storytelling Structure

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