This week, English teacher and Insight writer Kate Macdonell provides tips on how to prepare for the creative writing SAC.
The creative writing SAC is a challenging but rewarding task where you can bring something original to the text you are studying. While you need to demonstrate your knowledge of the world of the text in your response, you must also craft a creative piece that does not repeat the original narrative.
This task is a great way to deepen your understanding of the elements of your chosen text (themes, characterisation, style, language use, structure, perspective etc.), and can be a great help when it comes to preparing for the end-of-year examination.
Guidelines of the task
Each school may run the creative writing SAC differently, so the format of the task may vary (e.g. a written piece, an oral presentation, an in-class task or an authenticated take-home task). While some schools will provide a list of topics for you to choose from, others will leave the topic selection up to you.
If you are given free rein to write a short story or a section of the narrative, you could choose from a number of possible directions, including writing from the perspective of a minor character, filling in a gap in the narrative, imagining a prequel or sequel to the narrative or writing an alternative ending.
Show your knowledge of the world of the text
Regardless of the focus of your creative piece, it is important that you capture the world of the text. To do this, you will need to consider more than just the key ideas and characters. Pay careful attention to the following and make notes before you start writing.
- Dialogue: Look at how dialogue is used in the original text. Is it used sparingly or frequently? Is it spliced with passages of internal monologue? In addition, pay attention to how the characters speak in the original text. If a character regularly uses contractions (it’d, he’ll, could’ve), malapropisms (‘cutting off my nose despite my face’), grammatically incorrect terms (‘could of’) or colloquial expressions (‘dude’, ‘bummer’), then you should incorporate these language features into your own writing.
- Narrative point of view: If you are responding to a novel or a collection of short stories, look at whether the original text is written in first person, second person, third person limited or third person omniscient. You should adopt this narrative point of view unless you have a strong reason for using a different type of narration.
- Verb tenses: Pay attention to the tenses used in the original narrative. In a text response essay you should use the present tense, but do not assume that that should be the case in your creative response.
- Symbols: If the original text you are writing on uses elements of imagery with particular connotations (e.g. mingling breaths as a form of connection, a blue light as a sign of clarity), then it is worth considering the use of similar symbols in your own work. However, remember that your word limit is relatively short (around 1000 words), which means there might not be enough scope to build in a motif or recurring symbol in your response.
- Setting: Be mindful of the geographical, historical and social settings of the original text. Do some research to ensure that the elements that make up the daily lives of your characters, such as the prevailing moral codes, are realistic for the time period. (You can’t just apply your own moral compass to the characters in your work; their moral values need to link to those in the original text.)
- Narrative structure and crisis points: Pay attention to the shape or arc of the original narrative. It is particularly important to note where the climactic/crisis points appear. Your narrative also needs to build to a crisis point, in order to be interesting and engaging.
- Language and style: Look at the rhythm of the language, the style (is it formal or informal?), the use of adjectives (are there many or few?), and the vocabulary (are the words familiar to you, or do they belong to an earlier decade or even to a futuristic world?).
Stay true to the original
Your work needs to stand on its own, but it also needs to pass for the original. Below are some tips on how you can achieve this.
- Do not introduce magical elements into your own narrative if they are not in the original text.
- Model your dialogue on the speech in the original text.
- A series of letters or journal entries can be written if they are relevant to the original text, but they are usually more effective if they appear within a short story.
- If you are fleshing out a minor character, be sure that you have a clear sense of who they are based on the information in the original text.
- Test different voices to capture the one that best suits your character.
The written explanation
The explanation is an important component of the task, as it helps your assessor understand what you have attempted in your creative piece and how well you understand the original text.
Your school will advise you on exactly how to produce the written explanation. Some schools will provide a template for you to complete, and others will ask you to write a series of paragraphs that reflect on the different elements of your creative piece (e.g. purpose, intended audience, form, narrative point of view, language use and how your text links to the original).
The creative writing SAC is a unique task that allows you to immerse yourself in the world of the text and bring something original to it. Enjoy this opportunity to engage creatively with your chosen text. Good luck!
Are you a budding author? Do you love to write? Enter the 2019 Insight Creative Writing Competition now for the chance to have your story read by award-winning Australian authors, and be in the running to share in over $3000 of cash prizes.
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