What to Avoid in Creative Writing

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

When tackling any creative writing, you’ll need to be aware of some common pitfalls. We’ve highlighted a few below, and will make sure to think about them in the context of the 11+.

Unsuitable dialogue

It’s very easy to get dialogue wrong. With the 11+, you’ll find that you’re often asked to continue the passage. You therefore have to be aware of the style of dialogue used thus far, and take that as your inspiration for continued dialogue. Let’s consider an example. Imagine if the passage dialogue style was:

‘I’m really rather tired, Mathias. Wouldn’t you find it far kinder to pester someone else? Besides, Mother is away, so you really do have the run of the place.’

So, an old-fashioned and quite ‘proper’ way of speaking. If you were therefore to continue next lines with:

‘Look, Mathias, I told you what to do. It is what it is. Better for everyone that way, right?’

You’ll see the dialogue doesn’t flow at all. To be able to imitate dialogue, you’ll need to read as much as possible before the 11+ – most books that are used as samples will be much more toward the former style of dialogue than the latter.

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Characters that are difficult to engage with

You need the reader to be able to engage with your character. This, generally, means that they should be likeable! You will find it quite difficult to create an ‘anti-hero’ with vague motivations in the space of one page, especially under exam pressure. Better to make your character someone empathetic that the reader wants the best for, and therefore finds themselves supporting.

Characters who don’t act believably

Similarly, you need your characters to behave in a realistic manner. Their actions should fit with what we already know of them, if they have been introduced in the passage before, or with the actions one might expect of a real person. Let’s think about how this could work. A brave boy faced with a difficult situation could become scared, even terrified – and perhaps someone else might have to come to his aid. This is perfectly realistic. However, having someone who has been set up as a loving and kind person suddenly commit evil deeds in the latter half of your story would seem rather jarring – as it is unrealistic from what we know of them. You likely don’t have the time to twist a character around in that manner.

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Not varying your pacing

You shouldn’t have the same pace throughout your story – this should be obvious! Generally, an easy route to follow is keeping it slower and steadier during the introduction, whilst you set the scene. There might be more time for description here. Description doesn’t need long, winding sentences – you can often do just as much with shorter sentences too. The key though is that the reader is being brought into the narrative. As you move into the next phase of the story – the ‘middle’ or the ‘confrontation’ depending on how you look at it – you might want to play around with the pacing more.

Some examples:
‘Burnt. They were all burnt.’
‘One. Two. Three…’

Practise writing this section to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t, and draw on the work of your favourite writers too. 

Taking too much time to ‘get to the point’

Remember, you’re writing a short story of only a page or a page and a half. You don’t have a huge amount of space, or time, to begin the narrative. Whilst you need the initial context in order to set the scene and introduce the reader to your world, you need to keep an eye on the time as well. As a general rule of thumb, your first section could be a little more than ⅓ of the entire piece, but shouldn’t be more. That’s because I often find that the lengths can be
A little more than ⅓ for the first section
A little more than ⅓ for the middle section
Less than ⅓ for the final section, as the resolution can be simpler, and often will not require much in the way of description or detailed imagery.
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