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Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby glorybee » Sun Jan 26, 2014 1:21 pm

The second criterion on the judges’ rating sheet for the writing challenge is How creative, unique, and fresh was this entry? How memorable? In this week’s lesson, I hope to give you some pointers for scoring well on this criterion.

FaithWriters who have been here for a few years may remember a previous lesson that I wrote on this topic. When I wrote that lesson, I was still entering the writing challenge, and I shared a little exercise that I used to do every Thursday, when the new topic was announced.

Let’s say that the topic for the week was Jump, an example that I’ve used recently in these lessons. I’d take a piece of paper and write Jump at the top, and then I’d start brainstorming everything I could think of about that word. In fact, before you read on, why don’t you do the same thing—write synonyms, pop culture references, sayings, Bible passages…anything that the word jump suggests to you. Take about ten minutes, then come back here to see my list.

Here’s what I came up with:

Jump for joy
Jumping jacks
Synonyms: leap, bound, hop, hurdle
Jack jump over the candlestick
Jump a car when the battery’s dead
Jump (VanHalen song)
Jumping in checkers
Jump to conclusions
Parachute jump
Bungee jump
Jump overboard
John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb
Pigs jumping into sea after Jesus casts out demons

Did your list contain any of the same items? I’d be surprised if it doesn’t, as our brains tend to jump (see what I did there?) to familiar connections first. So…this is what I’d do with that list (and what I recommend you do with yours). Wad it up and throw it away.

If your mind went immediately to those words and phrases, so will the minds of many of the other writers. One of the things that makes the challenge judges weariest is reading the umpteenth entry with the same basic idea. Since this is a Christian site, writers are usually drawn to the biblical references—but once the judges have read a dozen entries about the baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, the thirteenth and fourteenth entries will no longer seem fresh or original.

Since you want your story to stand out, you’ll want to get rid of all of those ideas that are likely to occur to other writers. Start a new list, and this time work on making unusual connections to the word jump. Maybe your second list will be something like this:

That guy I knew who avoided upper story windows—not afraid of heights, but afraid he’d jump
Getting jumped in a dark alley—by a girl
Setting a world record for jumping off weird things
World’s worst ski jumper (from a tropical country?)
A Bible story—Zacchaeus jumps from tree, Noah jumps from landed ark, someone jumping overboard to save Jonah before the fish shows up

Get it? This second list takes jump one step farther by introducing something unexpected or unusual into every item.

Sometimes the topics are phrases rather than single words. You may find it harder to be creative on these weeks, since the phrases mean what they mean—unlike jump, which has several meanings, a phrase like jumping through hoops only has two meanings: the literal meaning (trained animals doing tricks) and the figurative one (to do several tasks to get to a desired end). Still, you can treat phrases like this in creative ways:

1. Play with character stereotypes. Instead of having an employee jumping through hoops for her boss, have a boss jumping through hoops to please difficult employees. Instead of a child jumping through hoops to please his demanding parents, have the parents jumping through hoops to please an unhappy child, who really only wants his lunchtime sandwiches made without mayonnaise.

2. Play with situational stereotypes. If you’re writing a romance (suitor jumps through hoops to woo a girl), have the girl reject him at the end because he tried too hard. If you’re writing a domestic drama (adult child jumps through hoops to impress snooty father), have the father so distracted by a hangnail that he never notices.

3. If you like writing biblical fiction, think outside the story. If you’re writing about Jacob (who jumped through hoops to marry Rachel, but got Leah instead), write from a unique POV (Jacob’s servant who observes it all), or from before or after the story (Jacob as an old man, Laban during the first seven years).

4. If you choose to write about the literal meaning of the saying, find a way to turn that around, too. The animals jumping through the hoops can be tortoises…it can be an act for an amateur talent show that goes horribly wrong…write it from the POV of one of the exasperated animals.

5. I'm adding this a day later, because Vonnie's post just reminded me. Don't go so far out of the box that you end up writing about the opposite of the topic. For example, if the topic was "Ordinary" and you decided to go out of the box and write about a person who was extraordinary in every way--you've really not written on topic at all, no matter how creative it might be.

You might be saying, I’m just not that creative—I can never think of “out of the box” ideas. Well, there are a few things you can do. If you have a smart phone, there’s an inexpensive app called “Brainstormer” that will give you thousands of ideas for characters, situations, and settings. For example, I just spun the “brainstormer” wheel on my phone and I got rescue of a loved one, war-torn, and temple. I may not be able to use all three of those in a jump-themed story, but I should be able to work in one or two of them.

If you’re willing to make a bit more of an investment, you could buy this box of ideas, with hundreds of cards with ideas for characters and situations. This game is a little bit cheaper, but it still has hundreds of possible combinations of characters, settings, and conflicts. And if you don’t want to spend any money at all, you can find random words right in your own house—open a book to a random page, roll a pair of dice, and choose a word from the indicated sentence to pair with the topic word. Build your entry from that pairing.

In conclusion, do whatever you can to write an entry that will not resemble the other entries. Many writers get so carried away by their eagerness to enter something quickly that they write the first thing that comes to their mind, without considering that many other people may have the same thought about the topic.

HOMEWORK:

Imagine that the topic for next week is home. Do some brainstorming, and then answer these two questions:

1. What would be an approach to the topic that is likely to be thought of by several other people?

2. What would be a creative, fresh, unique, and memorable approach to the topic?

Do you have any questions or comments about this lesson?

As always, I encourage you to invite others to these lessons—especially challenge enterers in levels 1 and 2. And if you’re on Facebook, you can join “Faithwriters writing lessons” there—I would love to have you join the discussion. Next week’s topic will be ATMOSPHERE.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby Verna » Sun Jan 26, 2014 4:34 pm

Thanks for the ideas.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby lish1936 » Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:26 pm

Jan, I'm planning to participate in this week's lesson, but I'm just taking a break from being knee deep in writing a very creative ( I think) challenge piece for this week's topic.

By the way, your post is an example of what Deb has described as a "Trojan..." On my computer, your words "scoring" and "piece of paper" are linked to a site. I won't type the site because I don't know what would happen if I do. I guess I'll have to wait until my son comes to visit to really get to the bottom of this. :x :!: :!:

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby Allison » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:06 am

Lillian, that's definitely a virus of some sort.

Now, back to the topic.

Creativity. I've been waiting for this class. I've been told I have a lot of creativity, yet I still struggle to come up with creative ideas at times.

I've been entering the challenge enough (and I used to even judge on occasion) and so I can usually figure out pretty quickly what the common ideas will be. For "red" it was the blood of Christ.

For "Christmas tree" there were a number of stories about talking Christmas trees, which brings me to another point. Often, the first idea you THINK will be creative is often the same others will also THINK will be creative, and so it ends up not being creative. (I hope that made sense)

As I said, I have a pretty good sense now of what will be creative or not, so even if it's one of my first ideas, I'll use it if I'm pretty sure it will be creative. I've found I'm usually right. I'm good at identifying ideas that could only come from my warped brain. ;)

But here's the thing. There's such a thing as being TOO creative. I've read entries that were creative, but they were SO out of the box, that they really didn't make sense.

I thought I had an idea like that.... I was afraid it would be so creative that "creativity" and "on topic" would be the ONLY two categories that would be rated high. I was afraid I'd leave the judge and other readers scratching their heads. The funny thing is it's my entry that ended up winning "Best of the Best" for 2012. Go figure! :D

Here are a couple of examples of my one.

This first one is one where the idea was NOT creative, and I ended up just retelling the Bible story everyone knew, with no real changes. It's one I kind of wish would magically disappear form the site, to be honest. But it's there to show you even people deemed to be "creative" have duds.
Cups, Crows, Cows, and Corn

And here's my "Best of the Best" entry, that I thought wouldn't do well because it was TOO creative, but surprised me. REALLY surprised me.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby Allison » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:12 am

Okay. so I suppose I should actually do the homework. :)

For "home" common idea would be homework ;), "home sweet home," and since this is a Christian site, anything about heaven being our real home.

An idea that people might THINK would be creative, but would actually be pretty common would be something about animal's homes.

A creative idea might be to write about a character at an amusement park, where the park is his home. And I mean the actual character, not the person playing the character. Maybe he's upset about everyone invading his home, and he can't understand why everyone comes up to him and won't just leave him alone.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 27, 2014 8:59 am

Thanks for your input, Alison!

I think you're exactly right with your homework answers. And I'll add that one thing people must work on when they're being wildly creative (and this is general advice, not pointed at you specifically) is reining it in, just a bit.

For example, your idea of the amusement park being someone's home is fabulous, and I doubt that anyone else would think of it. Therefore, since your story is likely to be unique and memorable, be sure that your character is someone that people can relate to. He or she should not be totally outrageous in both looks and behavior, in other words.

I've read entries that are TOTALLY creative, unique, and fresh, but they are not memorable because I couldn't figure out what on earth was happening. Too, too weird.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby yvonne » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:06 am

Jan, from the time I joined Faithwriters, I thought your stories were very creative. You'd make up characters/creatures/settings and give them personalities that we fell in love with. You'd insert poems or put in a twist that took our breath away. I learned from your creativity to put some fun into mine.
:thankssign

For my homework -

1. For the word "home," most writers would think of someone reminiscing about their childhood home or else they may describe the antics of their own home-life.

2. I think a creative touch would be to portray the life of someone who didn't have a normal home, but how they have created their own place of refuge and safety. (street kid, hermit crab, trucker, etc.)

When I see the new topic, my mind starts a list of related ideas. (My creative muse seems to work best while I'm sleeping. I often wake with a good idea.) In a couple of days, I have 2-3 thoughts and then I have to choose which one is most creative. I throw out the obvious and the way-out ones and usually write the one in the middle. :?

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:18 pm

yvonne wrote:For my homework -

1. For the word "home," most writers would think of someone reminiscing about their childhood home or else they may describe the antics of their own home-life.

2. I think a creative touch would be to portray the life of someone who didn't have a normal home, but how they have created their own place of refuge and safety. (street kid, hermit crab, trucker, etc.)

When I see the new topic, my mind starts a list of related ideas. (My creative muse seems to work best while I'm sleeping. I often wake with a good idea.) In a couple of days, I have 2-3 thoughts and then I have to choose which one is most creative. I throw out the obvious and the way-out ones and usually write the one in the middle. :?


Yvonne, thanks for your input. I totally agree with your homework answers, and your answer to #2 reminded me of something else that I meant to say in the original lesson, so I'm going back to add it. (Your #2 answer was fine, but it started a train of thought.) Thanks for the reminder!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby yvonne » Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:36 pm

Yes, my answer for #2 would have been incorrect if I stopped at the character being homeless. It would need a twist to show how they did have a home - just not like everyone else.

(Speaking of being creative - I'm having a hard time thinking of something different for this week's topic "Light at the End of the Tunnel." My mind has gone through about 6-7 obvious ideas, but I haven't gotten a different idea yet. I will ...my mind gets sharper as the deadline creeps closer.)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby lish1936 » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:21 pm

Jan, my short list of phrases for jump did not include any of the listed phrases, but other than the ones on your list, I couldn't think of additional synonyms.

    Jumping through hoops, ( I see you used this later in your lesson) jumped out of my skin, Jump start, and Jump to the next point.

I think one of the more common approaches to the topic Home might be either writing about fond memories of home at a specific time of the year (holidays, etc.) or a specific time in one's life (childhood, etc.) Another possible common approach might be writing about heaven as our eternal home.

A creative, unique approach might be ( I think), writing about a teen-age boy who lives in an orphanage but dreams about living in a real home. Or maybe writing about homing pigeons who no matter where they roam, they always return home, except one who didn't and what happened to him before he found his way back home. Let me try one more . :D What about a run-a-way who discovers there's "no place like home?"

I have one question that might border on another topic. If so, then I'll wait until you cover the topic. I've always found the term, "Creative Non-fiction" difficult to understand. I was wondering if my article for last week's topic might fit that title, since I view it as more like a devotional. If you have time to take a look and tell me why it doesn't comply, then here's the link:

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47589

Thank you again for these wonderful lessons.

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby lish1936 » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:58 pm

Jan, one more question...How much does style, word choice, and form impact creativity? In other words, can the usual be dressed up by the above so as to appear out of the box?


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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby Allison » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:28 am

lish1936 wrote:Jan, one more question...How much does style, word choice, and form impact creativity? In other words, can the usual be dressed up by the above so as to appear out of the box?


Lillian


I'm not Jan, but I would say that style, word choice, and form DEFINITELY have a huge impact on creativity. And I'd expand, but I should have started getting ready for bed about 25 minutes ago, so I'll expand later, if I have anything to add that Jan doesn't say before then. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby glorybee » Tue Jan 28, 2014 9:48 am

lish1936 wrote:I have one question that might border on another topic. If so, then I'll wait until you cover the topic. I've always found the term, "Creative Non-fiction" difficult to understand. I was wondering if my article for last week's topic might fit that title, since I view it as more like a devotional. If you have time to take a look and tell me why it doesn't comply, then here's the link:

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47589

Thank you again for these wonderful lessons.

Lillian


Lillian, your lovely story definitely falls under the category of "creative nonfiction." That's a relatively new phrase in the world of literature, and not particularly well-defined, but basically it's writing based on factual events and observations, written with the tools of the fiction writer and with literary effect in mind. Creative nonfiction can be contrasted with journalistic writing, which presents facts and observations with far less emphasis on the craftsmanship or art of writing.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby glorybee » Tue Jan 28, 2014 9:55 am

lish1936 wrote:Jan, one more question...How much does style, word choice, and form impact creativity? In other words, can the usual be dressed up by the above so as to appear out of the box?


Lillian


In short, absolutely.

The judges' rating criteria definitely have considerable overlap. In my first two lessons--on "writing on topic" and "creativity," each lesson has referred to the other criterion. It's the same with the third rating criterion, which deals with the writer's craftsmanship, and which I'll cover in more detail in a few weeks.

But to briefly answer your question: even on weeks when there are many, many entries that take the same approach to the topic, the ones that are written exceptionally will separate themselves from the pack. In a week when the topic is "Home" and every other entry is about longing for heaven, our true home, an entry that uses language beautifully will definitely rise to the top.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CREATIVITY

Postby lish1936 » Tue Jan 28, 2014 10:54 am

Jan wrote:Creative nonfiction can be contrasted with journalistic writing, which presents facts and observations with far less emphasis on the craftsmanship or art of writing.


Jan,

Thanks for clarifying the term for me. Contrasting the term with journalistic writing was a great analogy because now I view creative non-fiction as facts dressed in high-fashioned "style" as compared to non-fiction with less window dressing. :D

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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