What Creative Writing Classes Can Teach You

What creative writing classes taught me that helped me to become a better writer.

1) Keep a journal. Sit down and spend time playing with your writing. A great exercise is to begin writing and don’t stop writing even if you don’t know what to write and your mind draws a blank. Something that can help is to just repeat the same word over and over and over on the page until you are able to move on to something else.

Do not focus on sentence structure, word choice or if what you are writing makes any sense. The point is to just keep writing and keep pumping out that stream of thoughts. You never know what you’re going to find if you really open up your mind. Do not let yourself get distracted. Some of your favorite ideas or random paragraphs of thought dumps might come from doing this.

2) Rules were made to be broken. Common sense coupled with a basic understanding of how writing and literature has changed throughout the years brings the understanding that unless an individual steps forward, brakes the confines of the popular and preferred writing style of the day and introduces something new, we would not have grown at all. We’d also be writing the same way, hundreds of thousands of words would not exist, and all plot lines would follow the same basic structure.

When we see certain trends going in and out of style and publishers catering to those trends it’s easy to get discouraged or stressed about not specifically following a three-act structure or hesitant to play around with voice intents because it’s unfamiliar to readers.

From the time we’re born to the time we die we are taught that this is the society you live in, this is what is expected of you, and this is how you’re going to live your life. Every once in a while we get somebody who doesn’t fit into the norm, someone to introduce us to something new, and changes our ways of thinking. Do not be afraid to break the rules of writing that you do not like. Creative writing is a great outlet in which to do so.

3) Do not be afraid. Break out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to tap into different styles of writing. What you learn from this can even help influence your writing style. You will come out more experienced. Taking creative writing classes can help you learn the technical aspects of writing and its history and gain critical thinking skills. In the end, there is no manual or set plan for creative writing and getting better at it, just like there’s no right and wrong way to better yourself with your skill as a writer. It’s up to you to do it.

How to Write Physical Descriptions of Characters

Writing physical descriptions of characters are a tricky and can be hard to insert naturally into the narrative. They can easily come across as cliche or force and for first-person narrators if they’re not done well they can make the first person narrator come across as very vain. Here are some ways to take your physical descriptions from bland to interesting, make them work harder in the narrative, and make them a part of the story that’s actually interesting and important.

Avoid something that just feels necessary. Let’s address the great debate. Do I need a physical description of my character. That is a strong yes. Readers seem to fall into two camps: readers who don’t need physical descriptions and if there is one we’ll probably just ignore it and readers who really need one or they can’t picture the character.

The next thing is how to insert that description into the story. This is where a lot of writers struggle. Decide if your story is high energy or low energy. Put your descriptions and how you physically describe your character in as soon as they are introduced. Keep your descriptions short. One of the great pitfalls of character descriptions is when they go on way way too long. When in doubt, three sentences. If you are doing two characters at once then perhaps a full paragraph.

What you should avoid in a physical description of a character and what to include.

Avoid cliches. Simple descriptions often fell prey to cliches in how the description comes about.
The next thing you want to avoid is over-the-top detail. If you have too much in detail the reader won’t retain it. It would be much better to go with fewer bolder traits that are strongly described than a lot. Make your descriptions interesting. We can describe eyesin an interesting way without them being glimmering orbs of ocean.

Include voice. Voice is such a great story element and is very important to consider in your physical description. Like everything else in the story, the voice of the character and as well it should be in the tone. Tone is the view the story has towards itself introduced to the description. You can think what is the view the character has of their own appearance: insecure or confident. A side character what’s the view that the main character has towards them.

Make your language interesting or you have to make the features interesting. Both would be good. Example of making traits interesting: her face was narrow and she had hawk-like features strangely soft like she was. A broken piece of marble weathered by centuries of current curls fell ragged around her face, knotted around her ears, pale, uncombed, and grappled into an unraveling braid. She looks like an unfinished doll abandoned by her maker.

This is very important and I think it was touched on quite well in that last example. Flaws are more interesting than perfection. It’s also important to notice that the lack of description of flaws can cancel them. They’re not flaws if you describe a character to someone and you don’t mention the flaws. Even if you just describe them in kind of simple ways the reader will probably picture them as like conventionally attractive because that’s how people are.

If left to our own devices we should really just picture attractive people because people like looking at attractive people. If you don’t specifically point out the flaws and you don’t go out of your way to make sure you comment on the flaws, the reader will not picture them. I also want to note that if the word perfect or any of its synonyms or any similar word appears at any point throughout your physical description, you should delete it immediately. Anything that is perfect is not interesting. Rather than trying to convey how attractive your character is, convey how interesting and unique your character is.

Find little details specific to that character whether it’s a birthmark, a scar, or your clothing choices for that character. Next time you want to include more than appearance or the way to character looks you will discover it teaches a lot about their personality, their lifestyle, and their habits. Just describing their natural traits it’s also describing how they work with their natural traits.

Clothing is also important. You can say a lot about your character and you’re physically describing your character. Don’t make the aim that the reader can picture them, make it so that the reader can learn about them as people.

Use a physical description in the form of showing the character’s personality layers and depth to your physical description. This is what I mean about making a physical description work harder. Make it pull its weight in the story. Make it accomplish more than just physically describing the character. A physical description is a good time to more overtly include other details beyond just the basics.

How to Avoid Melodrama In Your Writing | Writing Tips

One of the most common writing problems for new writers is melodrama. Here are some strategies for how to spot melodrama and how to avoid it. What exactly is melodrama? Basically melodrama is when the emotions being presented are not supported or earned by the storytelling. The story is too emotional and because of this it actually loses its emotional complexity. If the story becomes over the top, instead of becoming impactful it just kind of becomes cringy or sureal.

It can be really very hard to find the balance between too subtle and to over the top when it comes to expressing emotions. Writers generally overcompensate in this area so then they withhold too much and it’s boring and detached. If you are scared of the writing being bland, boring and not emotional and can begin expressing emotions way too much. Watch if you start thinking “this isn’t coming across”.

Melodrama generally is the result of the writer thinking there is no emotion and not trusting their ability to convey emotion. Trust yourself, trust your skill and your ability to convey an emotion with a sentence rather than five paragraphs. Just write your first draft and come back later to adjust the emotions. Get out your thoughts and then come back to it later to get the balance between emotion and melodrama.

Ways to avoid melodrama:

1) Melodrama comes from using language that is more intense than is warranted. It can just be word choice. Some word choice is just very very loaded and very emotional.

2) Mentioning souls in regards to emotion. EX: anger bubbled in my soul or I felt sadness in my soul. The concept of a soul can be in essence very melodramatic and emotional. At first it might be best to avoid mentioning souls in relation to an emotional context. As you get better at writing you can see where this might work itself in to your story.

3) Pathetic fallacy often refers to when the natural world mirrors the characters emotions. So for example, it’s raining because I’m sad. It’s not actually raining right now it’s sunny and I’m happy.

Another form of pathetic fallacy is just personifying the natural world. Now personification isn’t a bad literary device but personifying the natural world especially in excess can become quite melodramatic it’s kind of similar to the soul thing where it gives the natural world this lofty spirituality.

4) No subtext. Subtext is basically everything the characters aren’t saying. When characters just say what they mean without subtext it often means the thing they’re withholding is that really dark deep emotional feeling that they don’t want to express. If they just say it out loud, if there’s no subtext whether in dialogue or in the characters narrative, then it becomes quite melodramatic. It also removes the subtlety and possibility for interpretation in your story. It can also about drama. It’s best to have subtext. An exception to this might be very young characters or if your character is drunk. They’re exceptions to this. An interpersonal conflict involving an adult who has control of themselves will probably be speaking with some degree of subtext.

5) Cliches. Cliches especially even on the line level can be really melodramatic because they’re just familiar. I don’t really know why they feel what they do. If there are a lot of cliches or familiar phrases it just makes it seem melodramatic even though there’s nothing really inherently emotional about a familiar phrase.

6) Forced suspense. Suspense would be another example of a writer not trusting themselves. They don’t trust their ability to create suspense so they tell you that their suspense is. When you end a chapter with no idea what was about to happen. Ending every chapter on this really forced line, forced cliffhanger, where you’re really hitting the point way too hard. It sounds like you are saying it’s suspenseful keep reading. It’s actually super melodramatic and also cringy. It kills the suspense because it’s telling instead of showing the suspense. It often happens at the end of scenes where the writer wants to wrap things up but keeps you reading. When the writer throws this one-liner at you where it’s like keep reading because this is suspenseful it’s also melodramatic you know it is being forced.

7) Talking too much about abstract concepts. This is going to relate to what we often say about show don’t tell in terms of emotions. Talking about abstract concepts like sadness, anger, love, peace, are quite melodramatic. Similar to the soul concept. Even if it’s not the main character saying I am sad. It’s not even a telling thing, it’s just having a discussion of abstract concepts in the narrative rather than showing them through the character’s world, how the character experiences the world, even showing them through symbolism would probably be a stronger way than just having the character going on a little side tangent about the nature of sadness. Occasionally you can learn these things especially in a novel where you are going to have more leeway with melodrama.

8) Being off balance between telling and showing. Both too much showing and too much telling can cause melodrama. If you tell too much it’s too over the top. Things like she was angry is not interesting, there is no emotional texture. I think it’s common for writers to be very aware of this show don’t tell rule and so they go overboard with I need to show. They show way too hard. If you show with too heavy a hand and you hit those points too hard then, it’s just overblown and so it’s again about trusting. Trust that you can convey emotion with a line, with a subtle character gesture, rather than going on this long tangent about emotion and having the character cry. You can convey things in subtle ways.

9) Dreams. There are cases where you can use a dream and it makes sense. In most cases dreams are forced symbolism or very bad ways of conveying information. In fiction it’s used to show us something the characters feeling deep down, through their subconscious, through their dreams. It can end up being an extreme situation that is not subtle at all.

It is often thought of as a subtle technique where it’s like oh I’m just going to use dream symbolism and not actually show what the character is feeling. Then it’s quite evident through the dream that the main character has seen her brother standing on a cliff, then he disintegrates and she’s standing among the ashes or something. It’s not actually that subtle at all. It’s pretty obvious, but it’s meant to be subtle and so then it’s really melodramatic. When the main character is too aware of the symbolism you don’t really need it. If the main character have some object like a locket and represents her mommy issues because it holds the secrets of her family. If the main character is aware that it’s a symbol, it’s not really a symbol. A symbol is one half of a metaphor. You just kill it being a metaphor by going oh yes this is the metaphor. You have to let symbolism speak for itself and be somewhat subtle or else it’s very heavy-handed and melodramatic.

11) Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law is basically everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong. Now obviously in fiction and in writing things are going to go wrong. That’s the nature of conflict. Things might go wrong more often than they go wrong in real life however, abusing Murphy’s Law is like every single thing is bad. There’s literally no light, there’s no hope, every possible thing that could go wrong goes wrong. Or when you throw in random hardships that don’t really play into the main plot, that becomes quite an abuse of Murphy’s Law.

12) Overly intense character reactions. It’s not just the reaction itself, but how it’s described. Giving your characters appropriate reactions to things and then also describing them with the appropriate level of intensity is so important to your story.

Have genre awareness. Some genres are going to be inherently way more melodramatic. Some will be less melodramatic. Know your genre and what is allowed, what the standard is, and what people would be expecting.

Fun Creative Writing Exercises

If you feel like you have a lot of pent-up creative energy in you, here are some tips. If you don’t do anything creative for a while you might tend to get kind of artistically frustrated. If you have a bigger project, occasionally sit down and do short creative writing activities just to release some of the pent up energy. Put something on a page practice, then go back to your bigger project.

For ideas look at random pictures, look at a Wikipedia page about the subject you are writing about. On the left there is a link called random article. You can click on it then write for five minutes about the article. You might use that short writing project to rewrite an important scene in your book from a different characters point of view. You can also write each chapter in multiple perspectives to choose the one that fits best for telling the story. you get to know each character a lot better and it makes the story more complex and deeper. Those different ideas just might shine through at different moments.

This next activity is really fun. It’s kind of like found treasure. Pick two different things you can print out like two different newspaper or magazine articles. Cut both of the articles in half and put the halves together. See what you can add or subtract to come up with a story you like. Just have fun.

Description overload can be a problem. Using too many adjectives doesn’t mean you are a good writer or a creative writer. Come up with a very bare-bones description. Look at it to see what might need to be added to have the story more clear to your reader.

Make your writing more exciting using the five senses. Describe what your characters smell, what they felt or, what they heard. How can you describe things in a way that’s interesting and makes the reader feel like they’re actually there. That seems like a very simple thing to do and a very like obvious thing, but it can be interesting. Taking a second to stop and think about what all of your senses are feeling. Take your main character and think about everything that he or she is experiencing in that moment.

Have someone give you three numbers. Go to one of your bookshelves. For the first number, count off how many books. For the second number use it for the page. for the third number find the sentence. Time yourself for five to ten minutes and use that sentence as the first sentence in your writing exercise. Keep writing from that point.

These are great creative writing exercises. You might find you are writing for a lot longer than you originally planned. Sometimes it even ends up being a short story and that is really exciting when that happens.

Five Creative Writing Exercises I Love

I like to sit down and do creative writing activities just to release some creative energy and to put something on the page. That is something that was and is always a lot of fun.

I like to look at random image generators or just look at random pictures. Sometimes you can go on photo and image sites that are free like pixabay.com

Say you decide you are going to write for five minutes about a picture. Click a few times to get a picture that kind of sparks something for you to start writing about. I would probably pick that one I know that would lead to a pretty good five minutes of writing.

This next one is something that I love to use in workshops.  It’s rewriting an important scene in a book from a different characters point of view. This is often what many writers do. They also write each chapter with multiple perspectives and choose the one that fits best for telling the story.

That is a ton of work but it’s also really cool because you get to know each character a lot better and it makes the story more complex and deeper.  It changes the perspective of how you see the story.

This next activity is really fun it’s kind of like found poetry. I first did this activity in a creative writing class.  Here’s how you do this activity: pick two different things you can draw from. People standing in a line at the airport. I started going a little crazy I was always a happy kid but the air mixes with fuel and burns to make hot gases, suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Learning to be a person again from inside the airport, we can see our plane take off again to fly to another destination.  People do all sorts of things on a plane when you’re five you feel like you love people you don’t even know. Can you see them? There’s a life jacket under every seat and once you do get through your airport experience you go on with life. With this activity sometimes you can  add things on. When you read it you might find how amazing the writing is that  came out of that. What ideas and what different interpretations you came  up with. I really like that activity.

I call description overload a problem. I saw with my students they thought using a lot of adjectives means they’re a good writer or a creative writer. I would suggest  a very bare-bones  scene like you walk up to an abandoned building, you stand and look at it. You walk in the front door, you turn to the right and see a locked door. You find a key on the floor and open it. What’s inside the room? What they would have to do is make their writing more exciting using the five senses.  I’d ask them to describe what they smelled, what they felt, what they heard, just anything you can think of regarding the scene. What I liked about this is how different each student’s scene ended up. It was interesting to see what kind of building they thought it was and what they thought it looked like. I still think about that when I’m writing. Instead of just using adjectives, how can I describe things in a way that’s interesting and makes the reader feel like they’re actually there. That seems like a very simple thing to do and a very obvious thing, but it can be interesting.

Taking a second to stop and think about what all of your senses are feeling.  Take your main character and think about everything that he or she’s experiencing in that moment.

My final one I know is on different creative writing activity lists, but I like having someone give me three numbers and then I go to a bookshelf at a library or a bookstore. Go to a library or bookstore and go to one of the isles. For the first number I count off how many books. If they give me a number like a twenty,  find that number book. Then the second number I use for the page and then the third number I use for the sentence. I generally like them to use one through twenty for the first and the third number and that’s pretty helpful or I could just do it myself and write down without thinking about the books, three numbers. Then I timed myself for like five to ten minutes and just use that sentence as my first sentence and then keep writing from that point so I’m going do that now. Ready? I’m going to go with 7, 47, 5.  Pick a shelf of books, count down to book 7. Turn to page 47 and count to sentence 5. Take that sentence and make it the start of whatever I was writing.  Then I would to write.  I like this activity again for the random aspect of it. Sometimes when you sit down to write, coming up with the beginning to get started is the hardest part. If you start with something like a sentence it’s generally easier to get going.

I hope you took something from this article. I just wanted to share some of my favorite creative writing exercises and generally what I do if I just want to sit down and do something quick without really working on a bigger project. In the past these activities have led me to write for a lot longer than I was originally planning.  Sometimes it even ends up being a short story and it is really exciting when that happens

5 Mistakes New Writers Make (and how to avoid them)

Today I wanted to talk about  a common question that I’ve gotten since I started giving writing advice. Strangely enough that has to do with mistakes. Everyone wants to know more than just what to do, they want to know what not to do. Here are my top 5 mistakes that I see beginning writers make. Now these mistakes aren’t just exclusive to beginners, anybody can actually make these mistakes. The first step to correcting it is always to realize what you’re actually doing wrong and then the better you get as a writer the easier it will be to avoid these things.

Number one: Wasted words

A lot of new writers are concerned about writing enough that it qualifies as a substantial novel or they’re concerned about writing enough about every single scene that the reader can picture perfectly in their minds.

Every beginning writer worries about this but I’ve come to realize as most writers do at some point that they have plenty to say there’s no need to over explain a scene. Oftentimes the reader can build an image in their mind with minimal description from you. A huge cause of this is actually excitement for writing.  You’re finally doing it, you’re finally sitting down to write a story that’s been in your mind for who knows how long, but sometimes at the end of a writing session you may find that you’ve written 1,600 words about your character brushing their teeth and picking out their wardrobe. You’re on the right track if you’re excited to be writing, but you need to make sure that you weed out all these extra words in the editing phase to keep yourself from falling in the word emic word trap. You should periodically ask the question is this part really necessary? You should always make sure that each part you write contributes something to the story.

If it’s not developing your character or creating suspense, adding tension or setting the scene then you probably shouldn’t take the time to write it.  Some people might think well, I want people to know exactly what my character is wearing so the scene feels real. For specific questions like this I often find there’s an easy solution available. In regards to clothing, you can always describe the type of clothing the character wears and then you don’t have to talk about it again. For example, you can mention that your main character loves to dress in casual comfy clothes and then you don’t really have to go into specifics anymore. Every time after that that you mentioned them getting dressed you can just say they got dressed. The reader already knows that that person likes a particular type of clothes so they’re probably not going to draw up this crazy off-the-wall image of what your characters wearing. Your readers are pretty smart. Just make sure you don’t shove a bunch of description down your readers throat because really no one wants to read about your character brushing their teeth unless the toothpaste has poison in it.

Number two: Not Enough Voice or I should just say problems with voice.

This is one thing that sometimes takes writers a little while to figure out their own voice. I think two things affect the type of voice that you have     (1 the stories that you tell and then (2 the way that you tell them. When reading a novel this can sometimes be the feel of the novel.Your voice can be brief, eloquent, lyrical, or fast-paced. Every author’s story feels different in some way and this is what you want. Many times writers can be drawn to a particular subject because they’re passionate about it and passion is very important for writers. The way that each person writes that story though, varies greatly depending on the sentence structure, word choice and individual stylistic preferences. Stephen King’s little red riding-hood would sound nothing like Marissa Meyers because they have different voices even though they would both be about a little red writing.

Finding your voice can take time and unfortunately the best way to do that is to continue writing. You can also find your voice through reading. Things you don’t like and in things that you love. Over time you’ll end up incorporating these small things into your own writing and molding your own unique voice. It’s good to be different from one another so you should never try to copy somebody else’s voice. If you’re inspired by someone’s voice that’s a different thing. You might actually find yourself guilty of this after rereading a lot of the same authors books. You can subconsciously adopt their voice. You will discover it  when you reread what you have just written. Because it wasn’t your voice you  were being an impostor.  Don’t steal someone else’s voice because your reader will probably know.

Number three: Lack of conflict or too much.

You need action in a story. If you get to the end of a chapter and nothing has physically happened you are NOT going have this. You don’t need explosions  running in every single chapter but physical things need to occur and oftentimes the best way to do that is through conflict.

Now there can be internal conflicts and there can be external conflict. Each chapter needs at least one of these when I read all about a character’s day and nothing happens it gets really boring I’ve said this before but each word that you choose is precious.  You need to hook your readers and then keep them hooked. A really good way to do that is through conflict. Pretty much, things just need to happen to your character. If you reflect on your own day, sometimes things just don’t go your way in the long run. They may not necessarily be relevant to your story line, but it’s kind of a bonus if they are.

There is such a thing as too much conflict though. A balance must be maintained as with most aspects of writing. You never want your readers to go through unnatural conflict and tenses. A lot of errors that come along with tenses actually have to do with using simple past and past perfect incorrectly.

Here  is a grammar rundown really quickly: just watching simple past is obviously recounting something that happened in the past past perfect. Recounting something that happened leading up to an event that happened in the past past perfect often involves certain key words like already, until, before and sometimes. After for example, I went to pick up my car, but they had already taken the engine apart. That is a past perfect sentence. If you want more examples, I would definitely Google until you get the hang of this. It can get really tricky when you switch from simple past to past perfect and then back to simple past. If you’re already writing in the past tense and a character flashes back to a point further in their past, then you must use past perfect even though technically they’re both in the past.

Most grammar rules can be learned naturally through reading without all the confusion of these explanations, but this one in particular I had to take time to research before I learned all these differences. I could read a sentence and know that something was wrong with it. I just wouldn’t have know what exactly it was. If this sometimes happens to you, then I would take a look at your tenses or see if there’s some other grammatical mistakes in your sentences

Number 5: Always show and not tell.

Sometimes telling is the better option. Show doesn’t ever have to be longer than tell. It just has to make the reader feel. This goes along very much with number 1 which was wasted words. You don’t want to ramble on and on  about something if it can take you just a few words to tell it instead.  Showing is what makes us feel so much more for the characters. You just have to make sure that you don’t use too many words to do the showing. Oftentimes when I find something out of balance in the show area, it has to do with the characters emotions or how they react to something. Typically you should never shy away from putting your reader in the characters seat and describing exactly what they’re feeling, how their gut felt or how their chest felt tight or whatever the case may be or is. If they’re angry during the break-up you should use more than just the words for the emotions. All right so that’s all I have for you today. I hope you enjoyed this lesson.