Updated: Jan 10
Written by: Henry Fleischacker
Start a story, it will be said; sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and write! Next thing you know, the blank sheet will be empty for minutes, hours, and in many cases, indefinitely, except perhaps for a “the” or an “a” here and there. What is creative writing? Where do I start? How do you continue on? “I don’t know what to write about,” said some child everywhere. So what now? Where to?
3 Creative Writing Tools:
Flashpoints: A flashpoint is a single, solitary scene which captures an important meaning in the source text, that when written down may take up anywhere between two or three sentences to several pages long.
First, as the greatest of writers will hint at in their own ways, the most often used, time-tested stepping stone to the process of creative writing is a flashpoint. You can watch interviews of J. R. R. Tolkien using the term when he started The Hobbit. You can see authors such as Alice Mcdermott, Ralph Ellison, and Dehlia Owens speak to the same effect in interviews and introductions concerning their artistry. It is a scene that does not explain itself but demands a larger context and story within which it is explained. It is quite literally a stepping stone to greatness. It is just that, a start, a flash, an anticipation of future development. It can take place at the beginning, middle, or end of a story. For Walker Percy, he always needed his writing to make him righteously angry. His flashpoints were injustices between characters and institutions or cultural norms. Different authors have different flashes of importance to them, but in common to all, they have those flashes to begin with. If you pay attention, and keep a small notebook at hand, perhaps keep track of a flashpoint or two in your own life. Write it down, and who knows, it may end up crafting a great work of art. A tutoree of mine recently crafted a storyworld based on mythological moths. Her flashpoint was in the form of a name of one particular moth, inspired by a favorite YouTuber of hers.
Conflict: A conflict not only grounds your story in drama and interest but in characters and a setting that the conflict involves. In fact, a flashpoint may very well be about a conflict.
Now take note here: One day, I shot up out of bed, and since every day that I could recount, I recited to myself once again that I was perfect. Afterall, I had no faults, no sins, no bad habits, nothing. I lived in a good world, full of constant human flourishing. I could not even ask myself what “satisfaction” was, for I was unaware of it ever coming forth? How could it come to be in a world like this?
What is missing from this story that does not represent the state of the world now? Think about it for a minute, and put forth whatever term or expression you may have before proceeding on. My term is conflict. When you are young, emotional confliction is rampant. Later in life, when one has had time and is encouraged to control one’s emotive responses to situations, other conflicts come forth. Tolkien would not have had his several languages go without a mythology of their own. And so one day he wrote, “In the hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” unbeknownst to him of what any of it was heading to. Soon, more conflicts entered in as his myth unfolded. Other popular issues include man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self, all of which demand resolutions and satisfaction, characters and settings, and plotlines upon plotlines. If you start with a conflict in mind, you are sure to need more than just that by itself. You are guaranteed more to write about, lest to be left unsatisfied.
Choosing Adjectives Over -ly Adverbs: This rule opens your creative writing to a vividness in particulars instead of a vagueness in abstract, conceptual ideas.
The last tip is a rule in journalism that applies to any writing whatsoever. Adverbs are great, don’t get me wrong. But they are not often vivid in description. I could say that I quickly ran across the street; but I could also say that the wind whipped past my panicked face as my pace quickened across the busy lanes. In journalism, it is a rule to catch the reader’s interest through adjectives and descriptiveness rather than abstract ideas. Sure, adverbs make one’s life efficient, but it comes at the cost of sustaining the reader’s interest. So build up your list of adjectives! The English language is abundant in supply. Attend to the adjectives that authors use and the contexts in which they are expressed. Grab a sheet of paper and title it: Adjectives in Abundance or some other silly name. See what adjectives can be used to replace the ones that you use now. Soon enough, you won’t just have flashpoints and conflicts but resplendent reflections on the real world of fiction and fact.
Being creative allows the mind to create worlds we only dream of. Don’t be afraid to live a little through these principles in creative writing.