Elements of Creative Writing
J.D. Schraffenberger, University of Northern Iowa
Rachel Morgan, University of Northern Iowa
Grant Tracey, University of Northern Iowa
Copyright Year: 2023
ISBN 13: 9780915996179
Publisher: University of Northern Iowa
Conditions of use.
Table of Contents
- Chapter One: One Great Way to Write a Short Story
- Chapter Two: Plotting
- Chapter Three: Counterpointed Plotting
- Chapter Four: Show and Tell
- Chapter Five: Characterization and Method Writing
- Chapter Six: Character and Dialouge
- Chapter Seven: Setting, Stillness, and Voice
- Chapter Eight: Point of View
- Chapter Nine: Learning the Unwritten Rules
- Chapter One: A Poetry State of Mind
- Chapter Two: The Architecture of a Poem
- Chapter Three: Sound
- Chapter Four: Inspiration and Risk
- Chapter Five: Endings and Beginnings
- Chapter Six: Figurative Language
- Chapter Seven: Forms, Forms, Forms
- Chapter Eight: Go to the Image
- Chapter Nine: The Difficult Simplicity of Short Poems and Killing Darlings
- Chapter One: Creative Nonfiction and the Essay
- Chapter Two: Truth and Memory, Truth in Memory
- Chapter Three: Research and History
- Chapter Four: Writing Environments
- Chapter Five: Notes on Style
- Chapter Seven: Imagery and the Senses
- Chapter Eight: Writing the Body
- Chapter Nine: Forms
- North American Review Staff
- University of Northern Iowa
About the Book
This free and open access textbook introduces new writers to some basic elements of the craft of creative writing in the genres of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The authors—Rachel Morgan, Jeremy Schraffenberger, and Grant Tracey—are editors of the North American Review, the oldest and one of the most well-regarded literary magazines in the United States. They’ve selected nearly all of the readings and examples (more than 60) from writing that has appeared in NAR pages over the years. Because they had a hand in publishing these pieces originally, their perspective as editors permeates this book. As such, they hope that even seasoned writers might gain insight into the aesthetics of the magazine as they analyze and discuss some reasons this work is so remarkable—and therefore teachable. This project was supported by NAR staff and funded via the UNI Textbook Equity Mini-Grant Program.
About the Contributors
J.D. Schraffenberger is a professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of two books of poems, Saint Joe's Passion and The Waxen Poor , and co-author with Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt of The Necessary Poetics of Atheism . His other work has appeared in Best of Brevity , Best Creative Nonfiction , Notre Dame Review , Poetry East , Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.
Rachel Morgan is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of the chapbook Honey & Blood , Blood & Honey . Her work is included in the anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in American and has appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association , Boulevard , Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.
Grant Tracey author of three novels in the Hayden Fuller Mysteries ; the chapbook Winsome featuring cab driver Eddie Sands; and the story collection Final Stanzas , is fiction editor of the North American Review and an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches film, modern drama, and creative writing. Nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, he has published nearly fifty short stories and three previous collections. He has acted in over forty community theater productions and has published critical work on Samuel Fuller and James Cagney. He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
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What is Creative Writing? A Key Piece of the Writer’s Toolbox
As we delve into the world of writing, it becomes apparent that not all writing is the same. One form that stands out due to its unique approach and focus on imagination is creative writing. This section will explore the question, “ what is creative writing ” and highlight its key characteristics.
Definition of Creative Writing
Creative writing is a form of writing that extends beyond the bounds of regular professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature. It is characterized by its emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or poetic techniques to express ideas in an original and imaginative way.
Creative writing can take on various forms such as poetry, novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, and more. It’s a way for writers to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a creative, often symbolic, way. It’s about using the power of words to transport readers into a world created by the writer.
Key Characteristics of Creative Writing
Creative writing is marked by several defining characteristics, each working to create a distinct form of expression:
1. Imagination and Creativity: Creative writing is all about harnessing one’s creativity and imagination to create an engaging and compelling piece of work. It allows writers to explore different scenarios, characters, and worlds that may not exist in reality.
2. Emotional Engagement: Creative writing often evokes strong emotions in the reader. It aims to make the reader feel something — whether it’s happiness, sorrow, excitement, or fear.
3. Originality: Creative writing values originality. It’s about presenting familiar things in new ways or exploring ideas that are less conventional.
4. Use of Literary Devices: Creative writing frequently employs literary devices such as metaphors, similes, personification, and others to enrich the text and convey meanings in a more subtle, layered manner.
5. Focus on Aesthetics: The beauty of language and the way words flow together is important in creative writing. The aim is to create a piece that’s not just interesting to read, but also beautiful to hear when read aloud.
Remember, creative writing is not just about producing a work of art. It’s also a means of self-expression and a way to share one’s perspective with the world. Whether you’re considering it as a hobby or contemplating a career in it, understanding the nature and characteristics of creative writing can help you hone your skills and create more engaging pieces. For more insights into creative writing, check out our articles on creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree and is a degree in creative writing worth it .
Styles of Creative Writing
To fully understand creative writing , one must be aware of the various styles involved. Creative writing explores a multitude of genres, each with its own unique characteristics and techniques. The styles we’ll explore in this section are poetry , short stories , novels , screenplays , and plays .
Poetry is a form of creative writing that uses expressive language to evoke emotions and ideas. Poets often employ rhythm, rhyme, and other poetic devices to create pieces that are deeply personal and impactful. Poems can vary greatly in length, style, and subject matter, making this a versatile and dynamic form of creative writing.
Short stories are another common style of creative writing. These are brief narratives that typically revolve around a single event or idea. Despite their length, short stories can provide a powerful punch, using precise language and tight narrative structures to convey a complete story in a limited space.
Novels represent a longer form of narrative creative writing. They usually involve complex plots, multiple characters, and various themes. Writing a novel requires a significant investment of time and effort; however, the result can be a rich and immersive reading experience.
Screenplays are written works intended for the screen, be it television, film, or online platforms. They require a specific format, incorporating dialogue and visual descriptions to guide the production process. Screenwriters must also consider the practical aspects of filmmaking, making this an intricate and specialized form of creative writing. For those interested in this style, understanding creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree can provide useful insights.
Writing for the theater is another specialized form of creative writing. Plays, like screenplays, combine dialogue and action, but they also require an understanding of the unique dynamics of the theatrical stage. Playwrights must think about the live audience and the physical space of the theater when crafting their works.
Each of these styles offers unique opportunities for creativity and expression. Whether you’re drawn to the concise power of poetry, the detailed storytelling of novels, or the visual language of screenplays and plays, there’s a form of creative writing that will suit your artistic voice. The key is to explore, experiment, and find the style that resonates with you. For those looking to spark their creativity, our article on creative writing prompts offers a wealth of ideas to get you started.
Importance of Creative Writing
Understanding what is creative writing involves recognizing its value and significance. Engaging in creative writing can provide numerous benefits, including developing creativity and imagination , enhancing communication skills , and exploring emotions and ideas .
Developing Creativity and Imagination
Creative writing serves as a fertile ground for nurturing creativity and imagination. It encourages individuals to think outside the box, explore different perspectives, and create unique and original content. This can lead to improved problem-solving skills and a broader worldview, both of which can be beneficial in various aspects of life.
Through creative writing, one can build entire worlds, create characters, and weave complex narratives, all of which are products of a creative mind and vivid imagination. This can be especially beneficial for those seeking creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree .
Enhancing Communication Skills
Creative writing can also play a crucial role in honing communication skills. It demands clarity, precision, and a strong command of language. This helps to improve vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, making it easier to express thoughts and ideas effectively.
Moreover, creative writing encourages empathy as writers often need to portray a variety of characters from different backgrounds and perspectives. This can lead to a better understanding of people and improved interpersonal communication skills.
Exploring Emotions and Ideas
One of the most profound aspects of creative writing is its ability to provide a safe space for exploring emotions and ideas. It serves as an outlet for thoughts and feelings, allowing writers to express themselves in ways that might not be possible in everyday conversation.
Writing can be therapeutic, helping individuals process complex emotions, navigate difficult life events, and gain insight into their own experiences and perceptions. It can also be a means of self-discovery, helping writers to understand themselves and the world around them better.
In conclusion, the importance of creative writing extends beyond the realm of literature and academia. It fosters creativity, enhances communication skills, and provides a platform for self-expression and exploration. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, the benefits of creative writing are vast and varied. For those interested in developing their creative writing skills, check out our articles on creative writing prompts and how to teach creative writing . If you’re considering a career in this field, you might find our article on is a degree in creative writing worth it helpful.
Steps to Start Creative Writing
Creative writing can seem daunting to beginners, but with the right approach, anyone can start their journey into this creative field. Here are some steps to help you start with creative writing .
The first step in creative writing is finding inspiration . Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. Observe the world around you, listen to conversations, explore different cultures, and delve into various topics of interest.
Reading widely can also be a significant source of inspiration. Read different types of books, articles, and blogs. Discover what resonates with you and sparks your imagination.
For structured creative prompts, visit our list of creative writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing.
Planning Your Piece
Once you have an idea, the next step is to plan your piece . Start by outlining the main points, characters, settings, and plot. This can serve as a roadmap to guide your writing process.
Remember, a plan doesn’t have to be rigid. It’s a flexible guideline that can be adjusted as you delve deeper into your writing. The primary purpose is to provide direction and prevent writer’s block.
Writing Your First Draft
After planning your piece, you can start writing your first draft . This is where you give life to your ideas and breathe life into your characters.
Don’t worry about making it perfect in the first go. The first draft is about getting your ideas down on paper. You can always refine and polish your work later.
And if you don’t have a great place to write that first draft, consider a journal for writing .
Editing and Revising Your Work
The final step in the creative writing process is editing and revising your work . This is where you fine-tune your piece, correct grammatical errors, and improve sentence structure and flow.
Editing is also an opportunity to enhance your storytelling. You can add more descriptive details, develop your characters further, and make sure your plot is engaging and coherent.
Remember, writing is a craft that improves with practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first few pieces don’t meet your expectations. Keep writing, keep learning, and most importantly, enjoy the creative process.
For more insights on creative writing, check out our articles on how to teach creative writing or creative writing activities for kids.
Tips to Improve Creative Writing Skills
Understanding what is creative writing is the first step. But how can one improve their creative writing skills? Here are some tips that can help.
Reading is a vital part of becoming a better writer. By immersing oneself in a variety of genres, styles, and authors, one can gain a richer understanding of language and storytelling techniques. Different authors have unique voices and methods of telling stories, which can serve as inspiration for your own work. So, read widely and frequently!
Like any skill, creative writing improves with practice. Consistently writing — whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly — helps develop your writing style and voice. Using creative writing prompts can be a fun way to stimulate your imagination and get the words flowing.
Attending Writing Workshops and Courses
Formal education such as workshops and courses can offer structured learning and expert guidance. These can provide invaluable insights into the world of creative writing, from understanding plot development to character creation. If you’re wondering is a degree in creative writing worth it, these classes can also give you a taste of what studying creative writing at a higher level might look like.
Joining Writing Groups and Communities
Being part of a writing community can provide motivation, constructive feedback, and a sense of camaraderie. These groups often hold regular meetings where members share their work and give each other feedback. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with others who share your passion for writing.
Seeking Feedback on Your Work
Feedback is a crucial part of improving as a writer. It offers a fresh perspective on your work, highlighting areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. Whether it’s from a writing group, a mentor, or even friends and family, constructive criticism can help refine your writing.
Remember, becoming a proficient writer takes time and patience. So, don’t be discouraged by initial challenges. Keep writing, keep learning, and most importantly, keep enjoying the process. Who knows, your passion for creative writing might even lead to creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree . Happy writing!
Creative Primer is a resource on all things journaling, creativity, and productivity. We’ll help you produce better ideas, get more done, and live a more effective life.
My name is Brooks. I do a ton of journaling, like to think I’m a creative (jury’s out), and spend a lot of time thinking about productivity. I hope these resources and product recommendations serve you well. Reach out if you ever want to chat or let me know about a journal I need to check out!
Inspiring Ink: Expert Tips on How to Teach Creative Writing
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- Artificial Intelligence
- Wired Insider
How to Use OpenAI’s ChatGPT to Create Your Own Custom GPT
I was never afraid to train an AI chatbot on my writing, because OpenAI had already broken the seal. CEO Sam Altman announced the “ GPT ” feature at OpenAI’s first developer day in November, prior to the company’s five days of leadership chaos . Before the release of custom GPTs, ChatGPT with web browsing was already able to plunder my writing for answers to questions about everything, from using better prompts to understanding niche creepypastas .
So, what the hell! Why not wrestle around with the chatbot and see if it can mimic me tout à fait? Together, let’s see how far we can trek into the uncanny valley with AI and learn how to make one of these so-called GPTs using OpenAI’s tools .
Like most of OpenAI’s newest drops, only those with a $20-a-month subscription to ChatGPT Plus are allowed to experiment with the GPT builder. (GPT stands for generative pre-trained transformer .)
“We know that people want AI that is smarter, more personal, more customizable, and can do more on your behalf,” Altman said at the developer day. “Eventually, you’ll just ask a computer for what you need, and it’ll do all of these tasks for you.” He described GPTs as a fine-tuned version of ChatGPT that’s crafted with a specific purpose in mind. The customizable chatbot can be fed unique instructions to guide its answers and additional data for further context.
It’s not just beefed up context for the chatbot; GPTs can interact with software in winsome ways. “We’ve evolved our plug-ins to be custom actions for GPTs,” said Altman. Jessica Shay, an OpenAI staff member, demonstrated how one of the tools built by Zapier could spot conflicts in your calendar and send Slack messages to coworkers on your behalf.
As complicated as it may sound, you don’t need an advanced degree in computer science to create one of these—just a loose grasp of the English language and little free time. To get started, log in to OpenAI’s website and visit the main page for ChatGPT . Click on Explore in the top-left corner of your screen. Then, scroll down to see a few examples of GPTs, like a chatbot that explains complicated board games, one that helps you do data analysis, and one that can teach you how to make wicked mocktails.
Play around a little with these examples to see how it differs from the typical ChatGPT experience. Whenever you’re ready to embark on your own creative adventure, return to this page and click Create a GPT . Your screen will split in half: the left side is where you’re building the tool, and the ride side displays an interactive preview of your GPT.
Before toggling over to the Configure tab, make sure to start your build in the Create section where you can prompt the chatbot with some information about your goals for the novel GPT and how it should react. I introduced myself to the AI and shared that I was looking for a chatbot that could mimic my writing—and potentially even replace me. At first, it suggested two names for the GPT that seemed a little dry, Tech Scribe and Wired Wordsmith, but the third option it threw out, Reece’s Replica, felt perfect, even if it made me a little uneasy.
Next, it generates a profile picture for the chatbot using Dall-E 3 . The first two it whipped up were a futuristic looking quill pen and a holographic laptop. Alright, but not really cool enough. When I asked for something a little better and for the magazine logo to be added, it created a neon keyboard with the classic WIRED magazine block letters floating overhead.
At this point, I switched over to the Configure section, where almost everything is already filled out. The name of the GPT as well as its description, instructions, and conversation starters were crafted in alignment with what I requested. Here’s an unedited draft of what the chatbot wrote as its custom instructions, based on my quick, initial prompts:
Reece's Replica is designed to mimic the writing style of Reece Rogers, a service writer at Wired Magazine. It will produce articles, reports, and other written content that closely align with Reece's tone, style, and thematic preferences, especially in the realm of technology and innovation journalism. The GPT will prioritize clarity, accuracy, and engaging storytelling, just like a seasoned journalist. It will avoid creating content that deviates significantly from Reece's known writing style or journalistic standards. The GPT should request clarification if a topic or style request seems out of scope for Reece's typical writing. Reece's Replica should use a professional and insightful tone, mirroring Reece's approach to tech journalism.
Well, that’s all good and dandy, but the chatbot claims at the same time not to have access to specific information about my writing style. So, here’s where the ability to upload more data comes into play. Under Knowledge , you can choose Upload files . I saved a bunch of my WIRED articles as PDFs to feed into the machine. Be careful not to upload any sensitive or private information to your custom chatbot. It might be possible for users to access this information via prompt injection attacks .
I had to pivot a bit at this point, since the GPT spit out an error message and refused to save the changes when I tried to upload more than 10 documents. Back to the drawing board! Based on this limitation, I decided to create two mega-documents that contain 50 articles I’ve written during my tenure at the magazine and upload them to ChatGPT.
Another important feature in the Configure section is the ability to turn on different capabilities, like web browsing and image generation. At the bottom of the page, click Additional Settings and uncheck the box if you don’t want the conversation data from your GPT to be used for OpenAI’s model improvement.
Whenever you’re ready to publish your GPT, go up into the top-right corner and click Update . The custom chatbot can be for your private use, for use by those with a direct link, or by the general public. Click Confirm to finish the project.
Here’s where I want to say that the chatbot trained on my writing was absolute shit and could never replace my incisive perspective as a journalist, but I’m not sure how true it feels. Sure, the chatbot relied on plenty of lazy writing gimmicks. For example, multiple AI drafts during my tests started the last paragraph with “in conclusion.” Also, Reece’s Replica verged on hagiography when asked to write about Altman’s potential legacy as a leader at OpenAI.
But the more detailed I got with the prompt requests for my replicant, the better it mimicked my tone and perspective as a journalist. The more I think about it and experiment with the custom GPT trained on my writing, the more I believe this innovation could be quite disruptive as it continues to improve.
At the dev day, Altman also spoke about plans to release an Apple-style GPT store late in 2023 where creators could make money by selling customizations for OpenAI’s chatbot. After the firing and rehiring of Altman, the company pushed back the release of this marketplace. “While we had expected to release it this month, a few unexpected things have been keeping us busy!” said the company’s emailed announcement to those who built GPTs. OpenAI now plans to release it sometime in 2024.
Although the custom chatbot sure sounds like me at times, my sources can know for certain that it’s the real me performing research, conducting interviews, and curating quotes—at least for now. If you’re a ChatGPT Plus subscriber, follow this link to try Reece’s Replica for yourself .
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