An Introduction to Writing : Some Key Terms and Ideas.
Writing to Explore, Imagine and Entertain
In this section we'll look at some of the techniques
writers use to create their effects and you'll start to
practise them in your own writing. Learning how to write
creatively will help you with your reading, too. You'll
be introduced to some key terms and ideas in this chapter
which will help you throughout the course.
enjoy a good story? I know I do. There's nothing I like more than
getting lost in a book or listening to a story tape. I love to
imagine the lives of the characters, getting absorbed in their
adventures, stepping through the wardrobe into a magical and
imaginary world. I can feel an enormous sense of loss when I reach
the end of a book. I remember putting off reading the last few
pages of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials because I
didn't want the story to end and the characters to leave my life.
It had taken me a year to read the trilogy (out loud to my son),
and as we turned the last page it was like saying farewell to an
writing can have this effect and If you've ever had this
experience, you might have wondered how writers work their magic.
How can they create characters that are so believable, they can
feel like friends? Or summon up monsters that make us afraid to
turn off the light? How can they make Narnias and Wonderlands
appear in our imaginations just by covering a page with words?
in this part of the course you'll begin to learn to do what
professional writers do. You'll find out how to make stories
really interesting and believable so that readers won't be able to
put down what you have written. But, before we start, let's look
at what goes into making a story. There are actually only a few
key things you have to remember, but they all have to be there, so
let's look at them one at a time.
You probably already know this, but the word fiction
refers to made-up stories. Harry Potter is an example of
fiction. Non-fiction means any form of
writing that is based on fact, or something that has
actually happened (newspaper articles are an example of
note: This chapter underpins the whole course but will prepare you
specifically for Paper 3, Question 2 and Paper 1F/2H Section B
(ii) where you will be asked to show you can write to explore,
know this is probably stating the obvious, but it's important
to remember that stories are always about people (or
characters, as writers call the people who inhabit their
books). Well duh! I can hear you say, but can
you imagine how boring a book would be if it just went on and
on describing a scene and there wasn't anyone in it? If you've
ever read a book that was really boring, chances are it spent
too long going on about the landscape and scenery in the
writer really wants to grab your attention they'll introduce a
character in the opening sentence. So a writer's first job is
to create interesting characters and to find out how to do this,
look at this sentence.
Brown walked towards me.
don't know about you, but I don't feel this sentence tells me very
much about Mrs Brown. I can just about picture her, but I don't
know how old she is, or why she's heading in my direction. Maybe
she's a neighbour. Or a traffic warden. Maybe she's brandishing a
deadly weapon. I haven't a clue. Besides, Brown is a boring sort
of a name, too, so I can't get very excited about that either
(hope it isn't your name...). All in all, I find myself falling
asleep...But what about if I read...
If Mavis Brown had been a pudding, she would have been a
trifle. She was fat, in a bobbly sort of way, with big bosoms
and a wobbly bum. Her cheeks were like two red cherries, and
her hair was a topping of whipped cream. She could easily have
been ninety, but her sparkling blue eyes belonged to someone
half her age. Large though she was, her legs were white and
spindly, like a pair of giant tooth picks, so when she hobbled
towards me I found myself holding out my arms, in case she
should over-topple and fall
certainly learn a lot more about Mrs Brown from this version. Both
pieces give me the same facts - that Mrs Brown is heading in my
direction - but in the second version I can picture Mrs Brown much
more clearly. What makes the second piece more interesting is that
it is more descriptive. This means it uses plenty of
describing words (or adjectives, to give them their proper
name). Describing words or adjectives are words that tell
us what something or someone is like. So, for example, fat,
red, big, large tell us what her face and body look like, and
twinkly and blue tell us what her eyes are like.
Adjectives tell us what something looks like, smells
like, sounds like, feels like and so on. As long as
you don't overuse them, they can make it easy for a reader to
imagine what you are writing about.
are also some original and imaginative ways of describing things,
such as If Mavis Brown had been a pudding, she would have
been a trifle. Writers try to think of original and
imaginative ways of describing something to make a picture of what
they are describing appear in your mind. We'll talk more about
original ways of describing in a minute, but it helps to remember
that when words are used to make a word picture like this, we say
writers are using images. In the second piece of writing we
also get a sense of another character - the person who is telling
the story (or the narrator). We are told I found myself
holding out my arms, in case she should over-topple and fall.
first thing to remember is that writers make characters
interesting by using adjectives, original words and
phrases and strong images. As you can see, these help a
picture of Mavis Brown to appear in your mind. Writers hope this
picture will be a memorable one.
you think of a memorable character you've come across in a
book? Take a few minutes to flip through a book you've read
and find a paragraph which describes this character. What's
his or her name? What words does the writer use to describe
him or her (or it!)?
It's all well and good creating an interesting character, but
characters don't just appear in a book with a blank space
around them (see Fig. 1a). Characters exist in an imaginary
place and we call this place a setting.
Writers go to just as much trouble creating a setting as they
do creating a character.
is like scenery in a film or video, with the obvious difference
that in a film the setting can be seen. But writing doesn't have
this scenery. It exists in the writer's imagination, and though
they'll be able to imagine it clearly enough, their job is to
create the same setting in the readers' minds using words. So -
you've guessed it - they use images and adjectives again.
want to understand how to create a setting with words, look at the
pictures of Ewan again. I've used a photo to show him in two
different settings and pasted some words and phrases on the photo
to show how words create a setting. Can you see the adjectives
I've used? And can you see how I've tried to use interesting words
and phrases? I've left some blank spaces. You might want to put
your own words and phrases in here.
Original and imaginative words and phrases.
already talked about adjectives. We've talked, too, about how it
helps to use images (word pictures) to make characters and
settings interesting. Here are a few other things you can do to
make your character and setting interesting.
remember that word hobbled I used when I was describing
Mrs Brown's movement? Do you remember how it told us more about
how she moved than the ordinary word walked? Well, words
that describe someone or something doing something (hobbled,
walked, ran, eat) or being something (hoping,
loving, remembering) are called verbs. You can try to
make verbs interesting too. They will tell us more about
what the character is feeling or doing.
instead of writing Ewan looked out to sea (boring) you
could write Ewan gazed over the ocean (a bit less boring).
If you wrote Ewan scoured the horizon, searching for clues
it would have been even less boring, because I would have given
you a bit of story (Ewan is feeling tense. He's looking for
something - is someone lost at sea?). In the picture of the city
I have written The traffic blared past. Blared is an
interesting word because it gives a sense not just of the traffic
moving, but also of the noise it makes.
In ordinary conversation when we want to refer to someone's
speech we don't need to use anything other than 'he said' or
'she said'. But there are many different ways of describing
someone speaking. You might say for example, he muttered,
he whispered, he yelled, he shouted, he cried, he snarled.
All these words convey different sorts of ways of speaking. So
when you write your story, try to vary your words in this way.
You get more marks in the exam for this!
way of making verbs interesting is by using adverbs. An
adverb is a word that tells us a bit more about the verb and
gives it a more precise meaning. So words like hungrily,
lazily, helplessly are all adverbs and can all be added
onto verbs to make them more specific. (Adverbs usually end in
ly). I'll give you an example.
gazed helplessly out to sea.
tells us that Ewan is upset about something, possibly that lost
vessel again! However look at this sentence...
gazed eagerly out to sea.
tells us something a bit different, doesn't it? In the first
sentence we get a sense of Ewan being upset about the lost vessel,
while in the second sentence we get a sense that Ewan is eagerly
awaiting someone's return. And the only difference between the two
sentences is that they have different adverbs, helplessly
and eagerly. This shows how useful adverbs can be.
Which adverbs go with which sentences? (I've done the first
quietly, quickly, hopefully, defensively, greedily.
didn't do it!' he said defensively.
ate the cake ________
sneaked into the house ____________
'Will you be saving an extra piece of cake for me?' he said
grabbed his football _________ and ran into the garden.
of warning: don't over-use adverbs. They can make your writing
more interesting but too many of them make your writing sound a
Tone, mood and atmosphere.
We've talked about how to create a setting, but just as
important as setting are tone, mood and
atmosphere. I call these the invisible setting,
because it is just as important as what you are able to
visualise in the actual setting; in fact it's probably
even more important, because tone, mood and atmosphere
affect the emotions of the reader and this is what grips them
and keeps them reading.
Get into the habit of reading consciously. Be on the
lookout for adjectives, adverbs, images and original turns of
phrase in books. Watch how writers create characters. Notice
how they develop atmosphere and mood.
it's useful to compare tone, mood and atmosphere in books with
what happens in films. Film directors have several tools at their
disposal to help them create a particular mood, such as lighting,
music and camera angles. This means that when a film character
walks up to a rickety old house, we can just tell from the music
and lighting (or lack of it) that something spooky is about to
also need to create a sense of tone, mood and atmosphere in their
writing. They might not be trying to create a spooky atmosphere.
They might want something exciting or relaxing or dramatic, but
they create tone, mood and atmosphere by using similar tricks to
those they use to create interesting characters and settings. In
other words they use those adjectives, adverbs and original turns
of phrase again.
can probably guess, sensory language is language that
appeals to your senses. Our senses, as I am sure you know, are
sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing. Sensory
language is very effective because human beings experience life
through the senses and any words which directly appeal to the
senses tend to instantly evoke a picture of what the writer wants
us to experience.
If you want to know how sensory language works and why it
is so effective, try closing your eyes when certain food
ads are on the TV, and just listen to the words (I am
thinking particularly of the Marks and Spencer ads).
Thick, delicious, warm, crunchy.... These words are
calculated to have you running to the kitchen for
something to eat, even before you can see that chocolate
sauce, much less smell or taste it!
language creates a much more vivid picture than language which
refers to thinking about something (we call this
abstract language). Sensory language really animates a
scene and makes the character, setting and atmosphere seem real.
To show you what I mean and demonstrate the difference between
sensory and abstract language, compare the following two
paragraphs. The first describes what a character is thinking
about a situation whereas the second describes his sensory
walked through the front door, I wondered how long the house had
been empty. The estate agent told me that the previous occupants
had just left the place, but it seemed to me that they had been
away for years. Everything seemed untouched and the house had an
empty unloved feel to it.
isn't bad writing, but compare this with the piece written as
though the writer is really EXPERIENCING going into an empty
house. Note the use of sensory language.
door creaked open, the
first thing I noticed was the smell. A
fusty, musty odour,
like old curtains. And it
was so quiet, like walking
into a tomb. Only the
shaft of light moved, or
seemed to be moving, the dust
motes dancing in the luminous pyramid, like billions of glow
highlighted the words that appeal to the senses, but even without
this highlighting can you see how the second version gives a
stronger sense of the character as well as of his surroundings?