What’s so Creative About Creative Writing?

What makes a piece of writing creative? Why do certain genres–novels, short stories, poetry, journalism, even copywriting–get the additional word “creative” attached to them?

Is it because they require the execution of certain forms? Perhaps the manipulation of form, such as the rising and falling action of a story or the line pattern of poems, and a careful choice of words constitutes creativity. But all writing adheres to form; the alphabet, the rules of grammar, etc. Creativity must go deeper than just that.

Let’s consider what the word itself actually means. I turn to the little Merriam Webster dictionary which sits on my desk and watches me write every day. It defines “create” as, “To bring into being: cause to exist.”

Creative writing brings something into being. It causes something to exist.

In his famous essay “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien called this “sub-creation,” the idea that humans make worlds of their own through imagination. We’ve all experienced the effects of this. Novels, short stories and poetry invent worlds and people which become as real to us as our friends and family. I, for one, catch myself thinking of Atticus Finch as a real person, and I swear Hobbiton must be out there somewhere if only I could find it!

Even journalism and copywriting have a sense of creation about them. Journalism takes factual and often mundane events and weaves a world of interest and relevance around them. Reporters don’t just report layoff statistics for the factory down the road; they make the story personal through interviews, and explain the relevance for the community. (For more on journalism and its often-fantastic means of creation, visit Journalism Found Dead Under Mysterious Circumstances.)

And copywriting doesn’t just give information about a product; it creates a need you didn’t know you had, and then creates the idea that this product will fill it.

How about you? What books and stories feel real to you? What characters or worlds come alive? What product advertisement made up the biggest problem you never knew you had?




Filed under General Writing

7 responses to “What’s so Creative About Creative Writing?

  1. xxhawkeyexx

    Got me think about it…thanks! Nice post!


  2. elderbonnie

    I find that I enjoy a story the most when the characters are people that I would want to adventure with. It’s not just the settings and the circumstances, but the people themselves who make a saga enthralling to me. When the characters grow, I tend to grow with them, and I often yearn to jump right in with their adventures. The more dimensions a characters has, the more flaws and facets I can find, the easier it is for me to love them. Sometimes the most interesting part of a story is not how they defeat the bad guy, but how they overcome their own shortcomings.

    The saga that came alive for me the most was the original Star Wars series as a kid. I wanted to be a Jedi! And Luke was my first big crush, so wherever he went, I wanted to go. I would spend a lot of time writing Star Wars fanfic or, even dorkier, sitting outside on our front porch and staring at the stars, wondering what was out there. It sounds like a terrible cliche, but there it is! The epic sci-fi saga was so inspirational to me, and it’s influenced a lot of my writing since.

    • rachelhestondavis

      Yes, Star Wars was a big one for many of us. My big crush was Han Solo, and I remember being pretty sure that if his character were real, I would marry him!

  3. Fishy

    I’m reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the first time since junior high (although Mr. Spencer reading it aloud to us shouldn’t really count), and I’m astounded at how superior it is to most books for that age group. I also think of Atticus Finch as a real person, and then I find myself thinking that it’s a shame he isn’t!

    I also think Anne Shirley from the mind of L. M. Montgomery is another character who almost jumps off the page. She sort of grabs hold of you and won’t let go, because she always has more to say, and it’s always worth hearing.

    • rachelhestondavis

      I didn’t realize you hadn’t read it since jr high. And Mr. Spencer didn’t even finish it when he read it to us!!

  4. Hil

    I love too many books to talk about particular favorites, but I distinctly remember a few that forever elevated the act of reading for me. I always liked reading so just enjoying something wasn’t a milestone. How could I not enjoy reading, fun characters, and fantastical things that were entertaining, etc.

    The first line in the sand for me was Catcher in the Rye. Probably an old school choice and one that is usually misunderstood because either a) you were forced to read it in high school and hated it because you were used to reading junk food books and it was the first hard book you had to read or b) you are an old fart who thinks it is evil though you won’t admit you never finished it or got through the first paragraph containing bad language. Evil, right? Catcher was one of the first books where I didn’t really like the main character. He wasn’t something you wanted to be when you grew up. He wasn’t really romantically entangled with anyone. He wasn’t on a quest. Nothing much happens in it. A lot of it was painful to get through and the ideas hurt. Why would you pick up a book like that? I found I loved a book without having the normal crutches in place. It was raw and put some words to the existentialism those of us who were old souls as kids just didn’t have the vocab for. And when I finished it I bought all of his other books, cranked up the Simon and Garfunkel, and for the first time was fully satisfied emotionally and intellectually with reading. Franny and Zooey is my fav. It takes place mostly on a couch or in a bathroom. If Salinger burns his manuscripts when he dies the death of MJ will have nothing to the mourning period I will observe. Believe it.

    My second big moment came soon after. My sister gave me Crime and Punishment to read. Once again the main character is not really a good person. Or he his too good of a person in a world of gray politics and revolutionary ideas. Having morals, I had to conclude something was wrong with him. And that is an interesting thing to go through when you don’t know how a story will end or what the author is trying to say. There are plenty of books I read since then that deal with similar themes where the final answer is so unfulfilling you end up feeling dirty when it is all over and little else. Or in the case of Kafka the author dies before he finishes his master work so you’ll never know if that figure off in the distance is Jesus who might intercede or the author as an observer or what the ending would have been. In the case of C&P you soldier through the paranoia and politics and the distinct Russian gray that is like an extra character standing in the background of it all and do get an extremely satisfying payoff at the end. A completely Biblical act of forgiveness and the first glimpse of redemption that lacked any of the Hallmark moments or American-ness that seems to remove any gravity from great acts as those. And I am not saying that there were explosions at the end or that you are trout slapped with the Bible. It is very subtle but based on all that had gone on in the previous chapters one small act speaks a greater truth than any Mel Gibson blockbuster could for me.

    • rachelhestondavis

      Now I feel I have to read both those books Hil! Especially Crime and Punishment. I can’t believe I once wrote a college-level paper on that author without even knowing what happens in that story. 😦 I fail.

      I have to admit, my dumb reason for avoiding Catcher in the Rye was that it was endorsed by the worst English teacher I ever had. This teacher’s goal in life was to use literature to prove that things were generally gray, miserable and awful for everyone. I’m not saying things don’t suck sometimes (quite often, at certain points in life) but it was like having Eyore the English teacher, or EE, if you like. Needless to say, EE’s recommendations did not sit high on my list.

      However, there were quite a few good books EE made us read, even though the in-class interpretation of them was narrow and fit to EE’s own life-sucks agenda. So I’m sure Catcher in the Rye was good. And it was probably embarrassed to be endorsed by such a person.

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