Creative writing courses expose students to a variety of types of writing and provide them with opportunities to create their own works. Creative writing majors often take courses focusing individually on fiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting and nonfiction.
Peer critique sessions and writing workshops are common in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate programs may also include a teaching practicum or internship, in addition to the typical thesis or dissertation requirements.
This course is intended for majors and non-majors and functions as a broad-based introduction to various forms of writing, such as short fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama. Students also experiment with writing these genres. The class is usually comprised of technique and style discussions, reading assignments and writing exercises. Enrollees are introduced to the concept of a writing workshop, wherein they share pieces with peers in order to give and receive feedback.
This foundational course in short story writing is geared toward creative writing majors. Students learn about character, dialogue, voice, style and description in fiction. The course provides them with the opportunity to delve deeper into the analysis of selected short fiction and to work on stories of their own. Time is set aside for class discussion of student work as well as for re-writes.
The study of playwriting involves many of the same focuses as short story writing, such as dialogue, character and plot. Lectures about the playwright's craft are combined with writing exercises and analysis of selected plays. Traditional and experimental forms are both explored. Staged readings of student work help beginning playwrights see how plays come across in a performance setting.
Screenwriting courses provide an introduction to writing feature-length screenplays, and include the elements of scenes and plot, formatting a screenplay, and the development of treatments. Screenplays and films are referenced for analysis, and student work is often reviewed by peers
Give your characters unique goals and motivations
Ever read a book and found yourself thinking ‘I can’t believe [Character X] did that?’ Sometimes the unexpected is just what is needed in a story. If a character’s actions or choices feel too(unreasonably) unexpected or frustrating, think carefully about cause and effect. Our wants and needs shape our behaviour. Conflict is key to good pace and reader interest. Having characters hold compatible or conflicting desires and motivations creates a stronger sense of a living, breathing imaginary world. When planning character goals, ask yourself:
Whether or not your character attains her goals depends on the type of story you are writing. In a typical tragedy, the character’s motivations are often a cause of their not reaching their goals and rather meeting a sad, unfortunate end. Whatever your genre is, draw up a list of your characters’ primary desires and think about the competing or collaborative drives the inhabitants of your fictional world contribute to the story.
You have your characters’ motivations and goals clarified in your mind. You’ve given them realistic flaws or weaknesses. Yet somehow you’re still finding creating character a challenge. It’s important to give the reader immersive character description. There are 4 elements of character description:
When outlining any one aspect of your character, think about how the other elements might be used to reinforce the type of your character. For example, if your character is nervous and fearful, what kind of language do they tend towards? They might be inclined to the conditional (‘I might come…’ or ‘If I could [do x], I would…’) rather than direct assertions of intent (‘I will…). How will their body language reflect their temperament? Interlinking these individual elements of a character makes her more real, as it shows that like us she is a complex combination of past and present; feeling, thought and action. You might be asking, ‘but how do I write about characters’ appearance/body language/verbal language/psychology better?’ Here are some tips:
Describing your characters’ appearance
One thing that makes readers everywhere groan is obvious cliché. Character description is an aspect of fiction writing particularly prone to cliché (such as the wringing of hands to express distress). Read more about describing aspects of your character’s appearance in the posts below:
Describing your characters’ body language
Body language can speak volumes about your character. It can say a lot about her psychological or emotional state. It also provides the means to convey atmosphere and mood quickly. For example, a character shifting from foot to foot with crossed arms might be feeling unconfident and defensive. Read this post that examines body language and how to use well in creating characters:
Writing memorable characters’ voices
Talking about a character’s ‘voice’ can mean:
When outlining or sketching your character, think about how her voice can strengthen the reader’s impression of strengths and weaknesses. A soft-spoken character might show surprising courage and ferocity, while a loud character might be stunned to silence in a grave incident. Your character’s voice can change, thus a relatively silent character might grow more talkative or a voluble one less so.
As an exercise, draw up a list of features of your character’s voice: In one column place the auditory elements of their voice – what the reader should hear when a character speaks. In a second column, write any key sayings, exclamations, curse words or other verbal tics your character might have. Having a unique list for each character (or characters from a particular region or social group) will help to remind you to switch between multiple characters’ voices clearly.
See our guides to writing characters’ voices and speech: