There are a number of things we should think about when engaging in creative writing. It’s no secret that writers – great writers – don’t just magically get their ideas. They are also great readers. If we read more literature, we’ll get more ideas and our language and vocabulary will be a lot stronger. We’ll have more inspiration for our writing if we’ve read widely and we’ll understand (and thus be able to construct) character dynamics more effectively.

Creative writing is a craft and can be learned. There a few things we should pay attention to though.

1. Structure: It’s important that you pay close attention to the orientation, conclusion and paragraphing within your story. Like an essay, the orientation should somehow connect to the conclusion (or ‘resolution’) in your story. In the orientation you must establish the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’. The orientation should suggest that a complication is coming and, then, the complication should be resolved by the conclusion. Make sure to use the orientation effectively. Literally try to ‘orient’ the reader. Place us in a specific context and allow us to embark on an imaginative journey with your character.

2. Cohesion: There needs to be some sort of consistent idea that permeates throughout your story. All good stories have a central thesis, or in other words, a fundamental didactic purpose. A good story will teach us something and leave us emotionally moved. How can we create cohesiveness in a story? There are a few answers to this question. Usually, the best students will have a recurring motif or extended metaphor. These two techniques have the effect of ‘gelling’ different parts of the story together. Other students utilise the setting itself to provide cohesion. In such stories, the narrative doesn’t move outside of a single setting. It allows the exploration of the setting to become a focal point.

3. Voice: This is probably one of the most important aspects of creative writing. You need to think about your character carefully. How would your characters speak within the context you’ve placed them in? Does your character sound like you? Or is it more appropriate to have them sound different to you? Your character’s voice needs to be authentic and believable and this often involves research into the kinds of phrases your character is likely to use.

4. Language Techniques and Sentencing: It’s important that you pay some attention to the mechanics of the English language itself, or in other words, your use of technique and sentencing. It’s important that you pay attention to diction and syntax. Vary the lengths of your sentences depending on the nature of the story, or, to create drama, suspense or a particular emotional reaction. Before writing, loosely plan out the types of techniques you’re going to use. For example, if your character is someone who values and appreciate nature, it’s likely that they’d speak more figuratively (through metaphor and simile). If, however, your character was a military leader or stern politician, they’d speak more imperatively with blunt declaratives. Plan out the techniques you’re going to use. Don’t wing it and hope for the best.

5. Characterisation: This is the biggest one! If you read the HSC notes from the marking centre, you’ll notice that the better stories are character driven (and not plot driven). Consider your character’s idiosyncrasies. What makes them unique and complex? What perspectives and values do they hold? How do they conduct themselves within the setting you’ve chosen? What might their dialogue and voice be like? How do they engage in and build relationships with others? What are the consequences of their behaviours and actions? Here’s what the student who came first in the state for creative writing in 2013 said: “For creative writing, make sure you have a central character who has distinctive traits, and ensure that your character is shaped by the events that take place in your story. It is also important to write imagery that appeals to all the senses – write with language that describes the look, smell, sound, taste and feeling of the world you set your story within.”

All in all, planning is everything. Apply the five tips suggested above and you’ll be one step closer to a top band.