5 May 2013

Help with GCSE Creative Writing Controlled Assessment and IGCSE Coursework: Common Entrance and 11+

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This post will show you how to get the highest grades in your Creative writing. Get tips and tricks to make your writing easier, more fun, and more successful.

Creative writing is a fair chunk of coursework for IGCSE and controlled assessments. It comes up in the 11+, Common Entrance, and in the IGCSE and GCSE language exams - usually as autobiographical (non-fiction) writing.

At 11+ and Common Entrance, there's usually a choice. 1. You can write a fictional story. 2. You can choose non-fiction and write a story or description - about your own life. Or , 3. You can write an essay to argue a point. In this article, I'm going to deal with 1. and 2. which is what you'll find on the GCSE and IGCSE courses too - either as coursework, or part of the exam.

Very important: if you're supposed to be writing a true story (autobiography), do not have invisible flying monkeys attack your narrator, who is a married lady with superhuman strength and smokes cigars.

First, check: are you writing a fictional story - with a beginning, middle and end - or are you writing a non-fiction description, or 'story' about a time when something happened to you.

Non-Fiction and Fiction

If you're writing description only then you only need to set the scene, create a sense of place, mood and atmosphere. You'll need to do this for fiction too - though it's not the only thing you'll need. Use your best pathetic fallacy, sensory language and metaphors to bring your scene to life. Use examples of brilliant writing like this short extract from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.


Story Planning

For a story you need to begin very close to the main action. Do not give the character's whole life story, describe them eating breakfast and wandering down the street.

1. Point of View
You can read the long post I did about this here. You need to work out if you're going to use first person (i.e. the voice of one of your characters) or third. Personally, I'd practise writing a short section in each style and see which you prefer.
If you're going to use first person, you need to figure out which character is in the best position to tell the story. Either someone close to the main character, or the main character.
Who is the main character? It's the person with the big problem at the centre of your story.

2. Characters
For a short story aim to have no more then two main characters. Too many characters is a common mistake, and though it's possible, it's unnecessarily difficult to handle. Dialogue is easier to write if your main characters are male and female - i.e. different genders. Try to avoid this:
'What's that?' he said.
'It's cheese,' he replied.
'But it's green,' he said.

3. Story
For an interesting story, create a character with a problem. Problems are stressful, and in real life we avoid them, but for a short story, it's perfect. Start your story a few moments before the problem starts. For example:
[1] Girl scared of heights at the foot of the Shard. Her parents are desperate to go up, but if she won't go, one of them will have to stay with her.
[2] Boy gets lost in the forest. It's getting dark and he has to find his parents. Then he falls into a hole.
[3] Mum is arguing with dad. Then she realises one of the children is missing.
[4] Character's brother is being held captive. He has to rescue him.
[5] Character is being hunted and has to escape.
[6] Character walks through a mirror and can't get back out again. The world behind the mirror is either downright terrifying, or subtly weird and starts to get weirder.

For 11+ and Common Entrance, (Age 10-14)
Aim to write 6-10 paragraphs. Paragraphs 1-2 should create a sense of place, mood and atmosphere. You should also introduce your main character.

For GCSE Controlled Assessment and IGCSE Coursework
Follow the tips about starting your story shortly before the main problem, or action. Add detail, more tension and more subtlety. Limit the number of characters. Aim to write 600-1000 words - two to three sides of A4.
It's extremely important to check your work for spelling, punctuation and grammar and try to use more interesting vocabulary. Steal some from the post on Pathetic Fallacy or any novel you're reading. Make sure to write them on your planning sheet so you don't forget to use them. You may also like to use flashback and different types of narrative time [post coming soon].

For a story, and even for a description, you may want to create tension. Find out how to create tension here.

Punctuation and Grammar

  
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