10 top tips for teaching creative writing

Teaching creative writing is hard, but here's how you can embrace the imaginative and weird ideas students come up with

Alan Gillespie

Cognitive science in the classroom: 3 key terms all teachers should know

Teaching creative writing is one of my favourite things. I love the imaginative and weird ideas pupils come up with. But it’s hard, no doubt about that, and students can struggle to trust their creativity.

Teaching creative writing

So, here are my 10 tips for creative essays:

1. Get story ideas from the world around you

Read the paper to see what weird things are going on. Listen to strangers’ conversations and steal them. If you love history, write historical fiction. If you love science, write about the moon. Make it your own.

2. There are no rules here

Creative writing is personal and individual. Nobody should tell anybody what they can or can’t do. Having said that, the following suggestions are tried and tested. They will give most stories a bit of a boost.

Boring English essays: 'No more essays on Cristiano Ronaldo’s ice bathing – please'

Quick read: 'What my call centre job taught me about literacy'

Storytime: The campaign to make sure every child gets a story

3. Avoid trying to cram in too many characters or action sequences

Two or three characters is plenty, I think, for a story that is going to be around 1,000 words. Be careful you don’t try to do too much in too short a space. No car chases or mad battle scenes.

4. Good stories rely on good characters

That’s it. If you don’t make us care about your character, it doesn’t matter what happens to them in the end. Make them authentic, with likes and dislikes, flaws and strengths. Show the good, the bad and the ugly.

5. Don’t dwell for too long on setting

Your word count won’t allow it. But do develop a bit of atmosphere by using the five senses to generate an authentic sense of place – what is there to hear, see, feel, smell? Place the reader there.

6. Ignore anybody who insists that stories must be structured a certain way to have merit, and suggests confusing labels like ‘exposition’, ‘rising action’ or ‘resolution’

They are wrong.

7. Think about introducing a dual timeline or narrative

This helps to develop structural complexity. Using flashback sequences is an excellent way to make us care about a character. Switching between narrators is an excellent way to demonstrate adaptability.

8. Symbolism is an important and easy technique to feature

Introduce a recurring physical object (a pocket watch, for example) and make it represent something abstract (love for a lost grandparent). All of a sudden, you’ve got a lot more emotional depth.

9. Dialogue should be a representation of speech, not a direct copy

Leave out all the “um, er, ah” bits. They rarely work. Ask yourself what the character wants to communicate, and write is as simply as possible.

10. Edit and redraft until you are sick of it

For every sentence, ask yourself, “does this develop character, explore theme or enhance the plot?” If it does none of these, it may be unnecessary. Cut it. There are apps you can use to help edit successfully.

Alan Gillespie is principal teacher of English at Fernhill School in Glasgow

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Alan Gillespie

Alan Gillespie is principal teacher of English at Fernhill School in Glasgow

Latest stories

Ministers seem to think schools are wasting money - in fact, schools are experts in cutting costs, says James Bowen

Why international teachers should receive financial CPD

There's a lot to learn working in another country - not least the financial situation and how to use your money wisely, which is why perhaps a CPD session or two would be a worthwhile investment
David Keating 30 Jul 2021