Creative Writing: The Basics

Before you get going on writing a work of fiction you must know and use the following: plot, characters, theme, POV, and a conflict and its resolution.

Plot

Think of your plot as the basic outline of actions that take place in your story. As a writer, consider trying your best to arrange your characters’ actions in meaningful and interesting ways. You are at the helm of this lovely creation and get to control what happens, where it happens, how it happens, and why it happens. Your plot is directly related to your characters. Without a plot you cannot have characters and vice versa.

Characters

For many readers out there, character development is an important aspect of their fiction consumption. Consider trying hard to develop characters with their own personalities and make them believable, or logical. In some subgenres of fiction, such as bizarro or weird fiction, the logical aspect of characters isn’t as necessary. Still, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep to the basics when you are a beginner. Now, let us not think logical is synonymous with sensible. You can have characters that perform actions with little forethought or common sense! There are three essential types of characters in traditional fiction: protagonists, antagonists, and foils. Protagonists are your main character, think Harry Potter. Antagonists are frictional with the protagonists and introduce conflict, think Draco Malfoy or Lord Voldemort. Finally, your foil characters usually draw out more development from your protagonist as they are accompanying the narrative, think Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley.

Theme

A great story has a central theme although in contemporary fiction themes are seemingly less important for mass-produced writers. The theme is basically the meaning behind your narrative. Do not confuse theme with the writing topic; theme is what you make of that topic.

“You can’t avoid meaning even if you wanted to.”

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

Conflict & Resolution

Conflict, or drama, is interesting to readers. If you attempt to write a story void of conflict, your readers may wonder to themselves, Well, what was the point in reading this? Conflicts are often a solid way to drive your plot. Typically, stories introduce readers to their characters, a conflict arises, and the characters have to perform actions to find a resolution. Consider using a means-tested story formula known as the Hero’s Journey. I know, I know. You’ve been told by others that following and using tropes may be formulaic and unexciting. However, some of your favorite books and movies have followed this format and no one is complaining there… Click here to learn more.

Point of View

Now, this is a very important aspect of writing both in academic and creative contexts. Make sure you are correctly using the point of view (POV) that you want to speak from at any given time. In academic settings, your POV must remain constant as your essay must be consistent for your audience. In creative writing, POV’s can shift and authors can use them interchangeably throughout at different moments. The most commonly used POV’s in creative writing are the first person and third person. (Second person is used mostly in poetry and rarely for fictional writing.)

  • First Person: When your narrator is also a character in your story
    • “I thought about your proposition all night and I have to refuse.”
  • Third Person: When you, the author, narrate the story
    • “George pretended to be a marine biologist to impress this woman.”

One thing to note for third person writing: You, as the author and narrator, get to choose the degree to which the reader gets filled in on what is happening. You can express your characters’ every thought or keep it limited to the basic events and allow your writing to speak for itself which lets your audience make their own interpretations.

“Show, don’t tell.”

The above mantra is something you will hear all your life as a creative writer. “Telling” is direct communication to your audience about how a character feels or what is going on. “Showing” is indirect communication using description of actions to allow your audience to deduce what a character is feeling themselves. Example below!

  • Tell: “I heard footsteps creeping behind me and it made the whole situation scarier.”
  • Show: “Crunching hit my ears from behind, accelerating the already rampant pounding of my heart.”

How to Develop a Research Question

Step One: Brainstorming

Take about 20 minutes to think about possible topics to delve into with your upcoming research. If you are given a topic by your teacher, use this time to think of narrowing your search from such a broad topic. Jot down your wonderings without a filter, leave judgment and evaluating for later.

Step Two: Carefully Assess the Better Options

Now is time to size up the more promising questions. It’s very important, as a novice researcher, to find a research question with enough wiggle room as to not get stuck in a situation wherein your sources become very limited. Also, consider avoiding a research question that could be answered with a simple yes or no or one that could be solved with a couple cited statistics. Find a specific issue that is open to interpretation and debate. These are the types of questions that make for an engaged audience. Example: What is the ratio of black students to white students on campus and how does it affect everyday student relations?

Step Three: Sharpening Your Question

After you narrow your scope and make a list of potential questions, consider asking yourself some of the following questions to create the best possible research question:

  • Is it manageable with the time constraints?
  • Will the answer fit within the page and word limit?
  • Are you able to find enough primary and secondary sources to follow up?
  • Is it specific enough that your audience will understand your purpose?
  • Do you crave the answer to your own question?
  • Will your audience find your paper interesting enough to read through?

Here are some additional resources to further explore research question development:

What Makes A Good Research Question? – Duke University

Generating Questions (PowerPoint) – Purdue University