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About this book

This revised and updated edition of The Creative Writing Handbook now includes new chapters on writing for stage and radio and on writing screenplays for film and television. Written by professional writers and tutors, it covers all aspects of the writing process, from drafting first thoughts to shaping them into polished and publishable work. In a series of lively and stimulating chapters, all major areas of writing are explored, from screen-writing to short fiction, from autobiography to experimental prose. The Handbook offers new and experienced writers a whole range of creative ideas, sound advice and open-ended tasks for exploring experience, mastering technique and thereby releasing the full potential of the imagination. As most taught courses in creative writing are in workshop form, each chapter includes invaluable ideas on how to run group sessions and offer a rich fund of suggestions for developing writing beyond the workshop.

Table of Contents

1. Making a Mark

The English word for writing derives from the Old German verb, writan, to scratch. In a sense all writing starts from scratch, and though this origin emphasises writing as a material activity, the process described also involves thinking and imagining. Joan Didion, the American novelist and journalist, defines writing as ‘pictures in my mind’, and says her purpose is, ‘to find out what I am thinking … What is going on in these pictures in my mind’. Here then is one of our major objectives as writers — to find out who we are and why we think and feel as we do.
Mary Luckhust, John Singleton

2. The Workshop Way

For many writers the time spent in workshops is time they spend experimenting and trying out new ways of approaching their writing. That word experiment brings to mind the laboratory, a place where transformation takes place under controlled conditions. We all have at our disposal the basic elements — language — but perhaps unlike experiments conducted in a laboratory, with writing, the results are less predictable and measurable. It’s important for you to realise that the work you are expected to produce in workshops is first draft raw material for reworking and extending in your own time; a workshop is more about process than product.
Liz Almond

3. Words Words Words

A thousand years ago we had about 30 000, now English has 500 000 and the figure is rising daily. They belong to the nation, are listed in dictionaries and each one of us has a usable store or word-hord, as the Anglo-Saxons called vocabulary, of about 15 000. This is 3 per cent of the total in The Oxford English Dictionary and only half the number used by Shakespeare.
John Singleton, Geoff Sutton

4. Writing the Self

As we reach the end of a frenetic century, our world is largely shaped through nostalgia. Postmodern culture regenerates images from the past, apparently having exhausted new possibilities. The children of the ‘Woodstock generation’ turn into New Age hippies in the nineties. At the time of writing, Star Wars toys (c. 1980) are being featured in The Face. No matter how young you are, you’re a part of history.
Ailsa Cox

5. The Short Story

Some writers think all prose, including autobiography, is fiction. Writing about self is really alibiography they say — stories invented to explain (away?), rationalise, excuse, justify and disguise the truth. The same writers would also doubt whether there is any such thing as truth. For them there are at best versions of the truth, partial glimpses perhaps, no more. Fictions. John Barth, the American novelist, sums this up. ‘The mother of all fiction,’ he writes, ‘is surely our common sense that our lives are stories — more exactly that each of our lives is a story-in-progress whereof each of us is perforce the central, if not necessarily, the dominant, character.’
John Singleton

6. Innovative Fiction and the Novel

‘Technology … to a very real extent that’s what we are.’ These are the words of William Gibson, author of the cyberpunk novels Neuromancer and Virtual Light, contributing to a recent TV documentary about the fundamental changes taking place in our society. It was William Gibson who coined the word ‘cyberspace’, and thus conjured up the concept of a ‘space’, hitherto unknown, reached through computers, but arrived at beyond them: a new dimension where we all can connect.
Elizabeth Baines

7. Writing Verse

Listen! When anyone speaks, some syllables are more stressed and higher pitched than others. Only a robot would say ‘how-is-it-go-ing, then?-all-right?’; a person would say ‘HOW’s it GOing then? All RIGHT?’, with their voice rising and falling. The patterns of stress and pitch vary from language to language, from person to person, and according to what is being said, the urgency and emotion: and, as you can see if I put the stresses in capitals and divide the syllables into pairs, sometimes | the PAT — | tern’s VE — | ry REG — | uLAR; | AND SOME- | times it | CHANges | irREG- | ular- | ly: but there is always a pattern. Nor is this pattern of sounds wholly lost in writing: it is often suppressed, especially in reading non-fictional prose; but poetry (like drama), even when printed and read silently, remains close to the spoken and the heard, so the play of stress and pitch is unavoidably active in both writing and reading poetry. Writing without it is impossible, and the choice is simply whether you attend to it, writing to a design, or allow it to happen haphazardly.
John Lennard

8. Narrative Fictions for Film and Television

The word ‘cinema’ has its roots in the Greek word for motion, ‘kinema’, and this etymology points the screenwriter to an important lesson: that narrative film and television show their stories through motion or movement.
Mereiel Lland, Robin Nelson

9. Drama: Writing for Stage and Radio

Drama, according to contemporary theatre histories, has its roots in ritual; in the sacrifices and celebrations held in the name of the ancient gods and in the music, dancing, chanting and singing of a communal act of worship. The doing or ‘drama’ of these acts can be seen as a profound expression of the respective culture. It has the potential to be both sacred and blasphemous. It may summon up forces that are both light and dark. It may be both idyll and nightmare. It may reassure or chill the blood. Western theatre then, as an organised form of entertainment held in specifically designed buildings, has grown from this — and some would say has been trying to get back to it ever since.
Mary Luckhurst

10. Journalism

The advancements in electronic and computer technology, the advent of satellite communications and the speed with which we can now travel the earth, have combined to produce highly sophisticated news networks in the press, on radio and on television. Twenty-four hour news channels are transmitted in many parts of the world, reports of major events can be logged within minutes and mass production and distribution means that an ever-growing volume and diversity of newspapers and journals are appearing on the shelves. This explosion of the news industry has been one of the phenomena of the twentieth century.
Mary Luckhurst, Betty Princep

11. Editing and Rewriting

‘Everything is negotiable,’ says Michael Donaghy, talking on a BBC tape about writing poetry, which means he thinks you ought to do a lot of negotiating if you want your writing to be successful. Margaret Atwood, trying to explain the writing process in The Writer on Her Work by Janet Sternburg, makes nine attempts to answer the question: Why do you write? as a way of showing that the answer itself will need the same kind of redrafting. There’s always ‘the laborious revision, the scrawled-over, crumpled-up pages that drift across the floor like spilled litter … You look at what you’ve done. It’s hopeless. You begin again. It never gets any easier.’
Liz Cashdan, Mary Luckhurst, John Singleton
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