Creative Writing — Art and Craft

Stavros Halvatzis on Creative writing
On creative writing.

Those who have taught creative writing, specifically the novel or short story, will remember being asked, at some time or another, that pertinent but most difficult of all questions: What constitutes good writing? 

The question is pertinent because that’s what teachers of the craft purport to teach. It is difficult because people have been trying to provide a definitive answer to it since first picking up chisels and quills.

Here’s my take.

The First Layer: Spirit, Ethos

I like to separate the craft into three areas. The first concerns learning about the spirit or ethos of the times, and our view of it.

It concerns sharpening our powers of observation, being aware of contemporary ideas, ideals, and issues, bringing compassion to our social critiques, and learning to address old themes in new ways while acknowledging the value of the old in the new.

These insights stem from our level of maturity. They can not be hurried.

The Second Layer: Story Structure

The second area concerns the structure of stories.

“A study of creative writing that lacks awareness of the layers that make up the craft is like a rudderless ship loaded with treasure but destined to meander endlessly at sea.”

Does your tale have a beginning, middle, and end? Are the turning points, pinches, midpoint, climax, resolution, and so on, crafted in a way that encourages interest, suspense, and surprise? If not your story may lack a specific direction.

The Third Layer: Words and Sentences

The third layer has to do with mastering the craft at the micro level. Are we using vocabulary and figures of speech appropriate to our subject? Are we creating powerful textures, pictures and sounds with our words—using all five senses to do so?

Words with an Anglo-Saxon origin, for example, are grittier and more tactile, depending on the context, than their Latin counterparts—so, ‘gut’ instead of ‘stomach’, and so on. Are we using short snappy sentences or long and mellifluous ones? All of this affects how the reader experiences our story.

In my opinion, these three layers make up the craft of writing. Together they give rise to the individual ‘voice’ of the writer. Incorporating this approach when writing a new novel or screenplay increases its chances of success.

Summary

Excellence in creative writing involves mastering the three layers rooted in the micro and macro levels of the craft. Together they give rise to the ‘voice’ of the author. 

Invitation

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2 thoughts on “Creative Writing — Art and Craft

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Eating someone else’s vomit. That is a very powerful phrase to describe a wannabe writer. Picture this situation: You are a privilege white male screen writer in Los Angeles with a degree in creative writing that you acquired from the University of Southern California. You write about working class minority women and domestic abuse because you believe it will appeal to Hollywood producers who are focused on equal representation. There is a reason why the producers that have your script are not returning your calls – No matter how creative or qualified you are, you cannot write about things you do not understand. You cannot write about loss if you have not lost someone or something. You cannot write about homosexual relations or war veterans suffering from post dramatic stress if you are not gay or have not served your country.

    J. K Rowling is not from the wizarding world nor did she attend Hogwards. But the reason why she is a successful writer is because she was able to take her own pain and fears and use fictional characters as vehicles to express them. That’s what makes Harry Potter unique and original.

    In short : It’s one thing to be creative. However if your story is not personal it will not be believable or profitable.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis

      Couldn’t disagree with you more. You seem to contradict yourself. Of course you can write about things you yourself are not part of. You research, you study, and you use your imagination, sensitivity, understanding of human nature—your maturity, and your talent, to place yourself in the ‘roles’ you write about. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have science fiction, fantasy, and the like.

      Reply

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