This week, Insight writer and English/EAL teacher Niki Cook gives tips and strategies on how to gain confidence with creative writing.
The creative task in Unit 3 English tends to send shudders through Year 12 students. Creative writing is a skill that many students – and teachers – find tricky, and the idea of writing creatively in relation to a set text can be even more daunting. So what can you do to overcome your concerns and utilise your analytical skills to help you ace this task?
The tasks are the same, but different
A key thing to keep in mind is that the creative task will assess you on similar things to the analytical task. Notice that both of these tasks make up Outcome 1, so it can be helpful to view them as Part 1 and Part 2. For both tasks, you will need to demonstrate your understanding of the original text, as well as an understanding of the literary devices used by the author to convey their messages. You will be focusing on the same concepts, just demonstrating your understanding of them in a different way.
Use your analytical skills
Remember that the task isn’t entirely creative; an important part of your assessment is your written explanation. This aspect of the task is analytical – you’ll be analysing your own work, rather than someone else’s. Remember to focus on explaining each of your decisions regarding form, language, audience, purpose and context. You need to have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, and how the strategies you’ve employed are designed to help you achieve them.
It’s also important to remember that the text you use for the creative outcome can also be the text you analyse in the exam at the end of the year. This means you can approach the text in the same way as if you were writing analytically. What are the key moments in the text? How are characters constructed, and how do we learn about them? What themes are explored within the text, and what views and values are endorsed or challenged by the writer?
By using your analytical skills to build a detailed understanding of the text, you’ll also be preparing yourself to approach the creative task. The VCAA rubric directs you to identify ‘key moments, characters and themes worthy of exploration’, which are all elements you would discuss in an analysis.
Understand the parameters
There are many ways that the creative outcome can be approached, so you need to be clear on what your school expects of you. Will you be given a prompt to respond to, are you filling in a gap or silence, or have you been directed to explore the text from a different perspective? These directions will shape your approach. You also need to be clear on how much time you will have for drafting and revising your work. Unlike most of your English SACs, for this one you’ll most likely have the chance to edit and revisit your work over a period of time before submitting the final version.
Regardless of the parameters, make sure that you have a clear sense of purpose – what are you trying to achieve through your creative piece? Your purpose will most likely link to the author’s themes and concerns. For example, by writing about a key moment from the point of view of a different character, you could present the perspective of a woman instead of a man in order to explore the author’s ideas on gender.
Avoid simply retelling the narrative. Your creative piece should add or reveal something new that is not in the original text. Equally, avoid trying to achieve too much – the suggested length for the task is 800 to 1000 words, which in reality is not a lot for a piece of creative writing. Focus on a key moment, identify a purpose for your focus and then explore it thoroughly. Choose every word carefully, focusing on the quality rather than the quantity of your writing.
But I can’t write like the author!
No-one expects you to write like Jane Austen or William Shakespeare; every teacher will be aware that you are writing in response to material that may be from a very different context to your own.
During your preparation, you’ll have identified and unpacked literary devices and stylistic elements that the author has employed in the original text. Select a few of these to incorporate into your own writing, keeping in mind that less is often more. Is there a particular symbol or motif from the text that you could include? Does the writer use long, descriptive sentences, followed by a short, blunt one to create tension? Does the text flip between different narrative perspectives, and is this something you could replicate in your writing? Consider which stylistic elements you feel confident with and which ones would suit your identified purpose. Then choose devices that fit into both categories.
While the range of choices involved in the creative outcome can seem daunting, look at it as an opportunity to utilise your strengths in a different way. By using literary devices in your own work and by analysing them in your written explanation, you’ll strengthen your understanding of how writers use language, which will further build your analytical skills. The creative task is one of your final chances to have fun with language in the English curriculum, so embrace it, and enjoy yourself!
If you need a comprehensive guide to Year 12 English, try Insight’s English Year 12 2nd edition by Robert Beardwood. English Year 12 2nd edition is an invaluable resource for Units 3 and 4 of the English 2016–2021 Study Design. It explains all key knowledge and assessment requirements, and builds understanding in each Area of Study with models, step-by-step guidelines, sample responses and numerous activities.
If you’re looking for resources to help with comparisons, Insight Comparison Guides have you covered. Each Comparison Guide offers a clear, comprehensive and accessible analysis of a text pair, discussing each text individually, then comparing the two texts in detail.
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