32 things I learned about creative writing from Caroline – By @TomoWrites

By Tomo Taka


32 things I learned about creative writing from Caroline

One of the great things about SCA is the team of dedicated mentors who go above and beyond just to make us that little bit better.

Caroline, in particular, has given up two Sundays over the past month to get us doing a bit more creative writing. We – Lee, Adeline, Sasha and I – are of course incredibly grateful for what she’s done for us.

Away from our usual diet of straplines and sell words, it was refreshing to write for writing’s sake. And at least for me, it felt cathartic to write from my own thoughts and memories to create stories just for fun.

For anyone interested, I thought I’d pass on a few tips, tricks and exercises Caroline taught us in those Sunday sessions. 


Tap into you memories for story ideas. The little concrete details you remember and describe are what bring scenes to life. Look for that microscopic truthfulness. When we access our memories, we fish for the real stuff. There’s a grey area between fiction and memory anyway.


Exercise: Tap into your memories and write a passage where every line begins with ‘I remember…’


If the reader picks up on you being unauthentic, they’ll stop reading. So be yourself. Write yourself.


Writing is a conversation on paper. Make it interesting, vivid, different, original.


Listen to the rhythm of your writing.


Avoid adjectives.


Avoid adverbs. There’s probably a verb that says it already.


Let the nouns and verbs do the work.


Concrete details catch attention. They become hooks for readers to hang on to. Specific things arouse the imagination more than abstract things.


Mystery is good.


Less emotion can sometimes be more emotion. I.e. you don’t have to say you’re happy to convey happiness. There are more emotive ways of getting that feeling across.


Exercise: Use images for story ideas. Find a random photo and craft a small story around it.


Don’t be general in the words you use. E.g. ‘Smell of onions’ is better than ‘weird smell’.


It’s good to be uncomfortable in your writing.


Fiction happens when bad things happen to flawed people. Give people problems. Then pile on some more problems. Make bad things happen to them.


Restrictions can be good in your writing. Giving yourself rules or structural challenges can help create a style or mood. Examples of rules: write only in four-word sentences; write only with one-syllable words; only use the first person plural; only use the negative; don’t use any form of the verb ‘to be’; don’t use the letter ‘a’ or ‘e’; use just the second person (you).


Make writing a habit. Have a notebook of ideas, of things you’ve seen, things you’ve read. (Quick aside: Stan Lee says the same thing)


Exercise: Use objects for ideas. Think of an object that has no practical value and no great financial value. Describe how it looks, smells, feels and tastes. But don’t tell your relationship to it. Describe it in the third person. This allows you to be really detached, really literal but still convey emotion.


You can use objects to indirectly describe a person. Stories can come from objects too.


If something/someone is funny, don’t say it’s funny. Just describe the funny situation or say the funny thing that was said.


Murder your darling lines. If there’s a sentence you absolutely love, it’s probably a sentence you should take out.


Get reader to think, ‘Clever me!’ and not, ‘Clever you…’


Exercise: Map out a place that has some meaning to you. And write down in each of the rooms or spaces things that have happened there. Stories can come from places too.


Write about what you notice.


Edit. And re-edit. Often there’s a voice hiding in your writing, you just have to cut out the noise to find it.


Ask yourself with any writing, do you need this beginning.


Characters have free will. They should have a look, a historical and cultural background. Often, the minute and inconsequential details bring them to life. They should have a purpose. Characters should come alive and write their own stories.


Exercise: Write a character sketch of a family member, a man who’s committed a murder, a famous person or one of your teachers.


Exercise: Then imagine them 15 years later and have something happen to them. That creates a story.


Stories have a flawed character who have a compulsion or need they have to act on. Then problems are layered on them as they set about their journey.


Exercise: Write about dark or unpleasant situations in a really objective manner e.g. vomiting. Be forensic in your detail and that sense of disgust will come through without you having to write that it was disgusting.


Thank you to Caroline, without whom I would’ve known none of this.

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