Even if you’re not a big reader of fiction, you’ve more than likely encountered creative writing—or at least, the outcomes of creative writing—at some point. In fact, you can thank creative writing for your favorite films, songs, musicals, and much more.
But what exactly makes writing “creative?”
Simply put, creative writing is any writing that falls outside of technical, journalistic, or academic writing.
You can think of it as classic storytelling. It can be written with a number of intentions: to entertain us, comfort us, or teach us a lesson; most importantly, good creative writing speaks to our shared human experience. It shouldn’t just tell us something—it should make us feel something new.
Creative Writing: An Overview
We’re all familiar with school-required “creative writing exercises.” Maybe you had a traumatizing experience when your eighth grade teacher forced you to write a story and read it aloud for the class (no? just me?).
Or maybe you think creative writing is reserved for the artsy free spirits who churn out novels in coffee shops or on sunny farms in Tuscany.
In reality, creative writing is much more than something for your great aunt to scoff at when discussing your major at Thanksgiving dinner.
In this post, we’ll break down creative writing and explain everything you need to know, including:
• Types and examples
• Who should practice creative writing?
• Creative writing exercises to get started
Types of Creative Writing
Examples of creative writing can be found pretty much everywhere. Some forms that you’re probably familiar with and already enjoy include:
But creative writing doesn’t have to be limited to fictitious content. It can also include:
• Personal essays
• Journals and diaries
As we can see from this list, some works of nonfiction can also constitute creative writing. After all, many books and films tell stories of real people and real events.
Take, for example, the 2010 film The King’s Speech. The film tells the story of real people and real events, but the script can be considered creative writing as much as the script for Jurassic Park, because it charges historical events with emotion and makes the audience feel invested in the characters.
Writing about your own life is no different. Journals and diaries—when they contain personal thoughts, experiences, or emotions—can also constitute creative writing. Even letters can be included, when they do more than stating facts (not just “today I went to the store” or “today it rained.”)
Creative writing doesn’t require you to make up names or inject unicorns into your manuscript. It just requires a bit of storytelling through more imaginative techniques.
Techniques Used in Creative Writing
You’ll want to make your story one that resonates with people, since creative writing is ultimately telling stories about the human experience. To achieve this, you can apply some of these techniques and literary devices:
Including conversations between characters can help bring them to life, while also moving the plot along without relying solely on the narrator.
This was a favorite technique of Ernest Hemingway. Famous for his simple, straightforward style, he let his characters do most of the talking, which also helped to make them more accessible and relatable.
One great example of character development through dialogue can be found in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
“A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
Without Austen telling us anything directly, we as readers can get a feel for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, their relationship, and what they each prioritize.
Good dialogue should sound realistic, but also carry a purpose so that the story can progress in a natural way.
Metaphors and similes
Alternatively, writers can choose to pack their prose with imaginative language, offering the reader vivid descriptions to evoke emotion. This is typical in many forms of creative writing, and it is often achieved through literary devices, like similes and metaphors.
For example, in “A Red, Red Rose,” Robert Burns writes:
“O my Love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.”
Similes create images for the reader by using comparisons, rather than simple adjectives. (What kind of poem would the example above be if Burns just told us his love is “beautiful”?)
While similes can help us to imagine a scene more vividly, they can also be open to interpretation. Because similes rely on association, one word might carry different connotations for different readers (this may very well be the author’s intention).
Metaphors, instead, draw parallels and can take up a few lines, like this famous excerpt from Romeo and Juliet:
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!”
Or sometimes, metaphors can be recurring elements in a text, like in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, where the desert setting serves as a metaphor for life itself.
Good metaphors can serve as a shortcut to understanding a text because they can convey something complex in terms that are more concise, yet universal. For this reason, metaphors can add extra depth to your story.
Point of view
Deciding which point of view you want to tell your story from is an essential step because it will determine the story’s voice.
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for example, is written in the first-person limited perspective—but imagine how different the story would be if Daisy were narrating instead of Nick! Changing the point of view can change the entire story.
Anecdotes are like small stories within the big story. When used in creative writing, they offer readers a chance to learn more about a character without simply stating it directly. They can be used to evoke empathy, to entertain, to teach a lesson, or simply to reveal other dimensions of a character.
We can turn to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for one such example:
“Justine, you may remember, was a great favorite of yours; and I recollect you once remarked, that if you were in an ill-humor, one glance from Justine could dissipate it, for the same reason that Ariosto gives concerning the beauty of Angelica—she looked so frank-hearted and happy. My aunt conceived a great attachment for her, by which she was induced to give her an education superior to that which she had first intended.”
This anecdote, delivered by Elizabeth to Victor Frankenstein, provides background for Justine’s character and reveals the history between the characters’ families. By testifying to Justine’s “frank-hearted and happy” nature, readers are led to sympathize with the character even more, especially in light of her tragic fate (she confesses to a crime she did not commit and is promptly executed).
Making proper use of the right techniques can make any writing better, but it’s especially important in creative writing if you want a well-developed story that resonates with readers and doesn’t feel forced.
Who Should Practice Creative Writing?
Now that we’ve gone over what exactly creative writing is and the techniques used to compose it, you might be wondering what exactly you can do with this information.
Because creative writing isn’t just for English majors and best-selling authors. We all have stories to tell, and even if you never show your work to anyone, practicing creative writing can be beneficial to just about everyone.
Aside from proven therapeutic benefits, creative writing exercises can help to:
Build your imagination and creativity: By stimulating the parts of your brain responsible for creativity, you’ll train your mind to think “outside the box” to find new, innovative solutions.
Organize your thoughts: Developing a plot requires the ability to think logically, since you’ll want to make the underlying point clear. This kind of thinking can of course be helpful in the workplace and many other parts of your life.
Grow your confidence: Putting your thoughts down on paper takes guts. Expressing yourself through writing and seeing your ideas translated to words can help build self-confidence.
Improve your communication skills: By refining your writing skills, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively, both in speech and on paper.
Give your mind a break: Like reading, creative writing offers the perfect escape from everyday life. You’re in complete control of everything that happens, so let yourself go and see the wonderful things your mind builds when you set it free.
How Can You Get Started?
If you’re new to creative writing, there are a number of ways to get started. Keeping a diary to write down your thoughts and ideas can be extremely helpful. Or, check out our many great writing prompts to get your creativity flowing!
What do you love to write about? Feel free to share with us in the comments below!