The Complete Guide to Creative Writing for the 11+

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

Understanding the Creative Writing Section

The first key to success in the section is understanding what you’re being asked to do. You can find a separate article on the different types of prompts, but let’s consider the three most common here.

First are ‘continue the story’ prompts. These will see you take the reins from the author of the extract that you have already read through for the comprehension exercise. That means that you should already have a good idea of the author’s style, what the characters are like, and what their motivations are. Now, you need to take this information and use it to craft your own story. You’ll normally find that there is some extra guidance as well – like ‘don’t introduce any new characters’ or ‘focus on what happens as the two exit the cave.’ Make sure to follow this guidance and stay within its boundaries. Keep your writing realistic to the context of the story and the characters.

Next are descriptive prompts. These will ask you to imagine a particular scene, and create it as vividly as you can for your reader. These can flow from a previous extract – like the ‘continue the story’ prompts – but are more likely to be stand-alone. Examples might be, ‘Describe a bridge over a river, like the one in the story’ or, ‘describe a strange and exotic island.’ You’ll need to make great use of the different senses, as well as imagery, to bring your reader into the world that you create.

Whilst there are other possibilities, the other most common type is the short story. Here, you’ll be expected to create a short story – but of your own creation, without using an extract as the foundation. This will therefore require more work on the beginning, middle and end of the story, and of course on setting the scene, as you won’t have had context from the author of the extract to rely on.

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What You Must Get Right

Plan ahead. It might seem obvious, and you will be prompted to do so, but a good plan will set you up for success in the creative section. Even if the plan isn’t marked, it’s likely that the assessor will still glance at it. Additionally, that plan will form a foundation that you can come back to as you write. If you find yourself struggling, it will give you something to work from, and remind yourself of where you need to go next with the story. If you’re writing a solely descriptive piece, then your plan should remind you to use imagery, and where and when you might want to use it.

Throughout your writing, make sure that you bring your reader in and let them feel as if they’re really there. That means showing them, rather than telling them. As an example, better to explain to the reader that the garden was ‘sunkissed, with the green grass contrasting with the orange of peaches, with the sweet smell of lavender in the air’ rather than tell the reader that the garden was ‘beautiful and colourful, and smelled nice.’

What You Must Avoid

The first thing to avoid is unbelievable characters. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fantasy characters – if the prompt permits it, then clearly writing about an elf or a wizard would be entirely acceptable. What it does mean is that your characters should be realistic and believable when we consider what we know about them and their world. If you had an extract to draw on already and the girl was painted as being very outgoing, then to have her suddenly being very shy without an explanation would seem strange. Likewise, to have an entirely realistic short story in which your main character suddenly develops super powers would be seen as weak writing and very childish.

Avoid writing in a manner that doesn’t fit your story, time or place, or the extract before it. That means choosing your vocabulary wisely. You’ll find that doing lots of extra reading before the exam will help you develop a style that will fit well with other writers’ extracts.

Beginning your Story

For more detail on this, see the separate article on ‘Openings and Setting the Scene.’ However, there are some keys to success here that can be quickly summarised.

First, you need to consider whether you want a simple and arresting opening, or a longer opening that draws the reader in. The former option can be used to great effect, as it is in Fahrenheit 451, which begins simply, ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ Such a basic sentence can illustrate confidence on the part of the author and in turn instil curiosity in the reader. However, you’ll need to be confident to pull this off, and likely spend some time reading up and practising. When you get the hang of it, it’s not too difficult:
‘He delighted in the darkness.’
‘The blue sea challenged me again. It called out to me, and I answered that call.’

Both the above sentences are incredibly simple, but sound interesting. One has a contrast within it, whilst the second has a repetition. You might use either technique.

A longer and more complex opening could see you take some time to paint the scene, or take your reader into a character’s thoughts. However, be careful to avoid being boring or losing the reader. You should research the idea of ‘stream of consciousness’ if you want to excel with an opening that takes the reader into a character’s thoughts, or look at the works of great authors if you fancy attempting longer sentences that focus on description.

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Understand Imagery

You’ll pick up marks easily for imagery. However, you must remember that imagery is both figurative imagery and literal imagery. Figurative imagery involves using techniques like metaphors and similes. A metaphor is a comparison that doesn’t use as or like. That means a ‘dreadnaught grey sea’ rather than a ‘sea that was as grey as a dreadnought.’ A simile, of course, uses ‘as’ or ‘like.’ So the second example above is a simile. You should show that you can use both those tools. However, you must also use literal imagery. Literal imagery is describing what you see, or hear, or sense in any other way, with simple descriptions. It can be just as powerful. You must use it as part of your narrative. Look for our article entitled ‘Using Imagery in Creative Writing’ for more tips.

Finishing Your Story

You should look to finish your story with a flourish. That could be a great resolution that draws on the rest of the story and brings a satisfying conclusion, or a cliffhanger that leaves your reader wanting more. It could even be a twist which sees something unexpected befall your hero. We’ve written a separate article entitled ‘Finishing Your Story’ which will give you the tools to bring your piece to a close. In general, it’s safest to ‘resolve’ the story – bring together the plot points in a way that makes sense and doesn’t confuse the reader. However, if you’re a confident writer you may want to aim for something more complex.
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