As a creative writer, I was extremely excited to work with other creative minds at the UCWbL when I started this past fall.
So far I have only received one piece of creative writing in my time as a tutor, and although I enjoy learning about new types and formats of writing, nothing satisfies my passion more than a writer that comes in with a short story or novel excerpt. But sometimes I feel as though many creative writers at DePaul don’t realize that the UCWbL works with ALL forms of writing, including pieces from the creative side.
Many UCWbLers just don’t have a regular opportunity to be exposed to creative writing, which can make it difficult to know how to approach an appointment about a creative piece. It’s still important to start with global issues and work towards the local issues, just like any other piece of writing. I’ve provided a couple of points that have proven useful in my creative workshop experiences, and which I hope can be helpful for tutors who are unsure of where to begin when looking at creative writing.
Are the characters well-developed and believable?
When looking at a creative piece as a tutor, one of the first things to look at is the characters. There are a few different ways to characterize in fiction or creative nonfiction, including actions, dialogue, or concrete images. If you find yourself confused by characters’ actions, or you’re wanting more information about them, they may not be fully developed, or “round,” characters. You should have a clear idea of them and the reasons for their actions and reactions. Without this clarity, everyone in the story runs the risk of coming across as boring, two-dimensional, or “flat.”
Can you tell where the story is in time/space?
Setting is a crucial aspect of storytelling. Neglecting world building or simple description can make the story and characters suffer. When the setting is well developed, you know exactly where/when the story is taking place, which helps you to better understand how and why people interact with each other. If you are trying to guess where the story is taking place, you might suggest to the reader that they should 1) explicitly state the location/time where the story is taking place; or 2) add more description and concrete details about the locale, landscapes, or features, that will tell you more about the setting.
Is the dialogue believable and unique to the person speaking?
One thing that I struggle with as a writer is creating dialogue that’s distinct from character to character. A thing to remember about real people when writing creatively is that they all have different ways of moving and speaking. When looking at the way characters portray themselves, it’s important to ask whether the portrayals are different for each person. For example, an old man from the Chicago suburbs would speak and hold himself very differently from a foreign student from the Netherlands at DePaul. Distinct speech and physical habits can make characters stand out as unique individuals that make for a more enjoyable read.
Does the plot make sense?
A story usually has some sort of arc, in which the plot is driven by characters and the conflict between them. Characters that conflict with each other or are put into unpleasant situations are generally more interesting to read about. Following the story of a person going to the grocery store is boring. But, if that person ran into an ex, or was suddenly put into a situation that they had to somehow get out of, the story would be much more exciting. If you are having trouble identifying what the story is really about, you might suggest that the writer 1) describe the character’s goals, and how they succeed or fail to meet them in the end, and 2) show how the character changes from the beginning to the end. A narrative almost always shows a change in the character that is caused by whether they are able to achieve their goals or not.
There’s a lot more that goes into creative writing, but knowing the basics of what to look for can be helpful for tutors from all academic backgrounds. These are the questions I ask myself while looking at my own writing, and I hope that other UCWbLers can use them to help creative writers improve their craft.