Creative Writing Techniques for the Essay Writer

"Writing", 22 November 2008
“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

In my years of teaching students how to write well formed essays, I have seen my fair share of texts written with boring verbs, humdrum descriptions and lazy constructions.  In order for a student to rise above the chaff of the mediocre scribblings of others, that student must understand that there is much to learn from the world of creative writing.

I have hereby listed several techniques that might be used to enhance an essay writer’s style.  An essay containing colorful style would go far beyond the average to raise a “C” or a “B” paper to the coveted range of an “A”.  These will take much work on the writer’s part, but then if ease is desired, perhaps another blog would be a better choice.  Writing is, after all, hard work.

1.  “To Be” Verbs – One of the most nondescript methods of writing an essay is to use “to be” verbs such as was/were/am/is.  A writer should scan their text for these words and replace them with more descriptive verbs.  For example, the sentence “Fitzgerald’s tone was colorful and whimsical in the final scene of chapter three” could be revised as “Fitzgerald’s evokes a colorful and whimsical tone in the final scene of chapter 3.”

2.  Descriptive Nouns – Many times writers will use nondescript nouns in their essays, causing their writing to become vague or cliche.  Clarity is most important when writing an essay.  Using descriptive nouns are a highly efficient way of achieving this goal.  For example, one might write the sentence “Wendell Berry‘s notes on economy and agrarianism forewarn us of things to come” but then a better construction might be “Wendell Berry’s notes on economy and agrarianism forewarn us of famine, high food prices and forced drought.”

3.  Use Metaphors – One of the greatest tools an essay writer can use is to describe ideas metaphorically.  All of us can illustrate an idea directly, but to describe an idea through the comparison of an unlike thing is a realm that few writers explore.  For example, one could write “Melville’s use of symbol in Billy Budd is full of Christ imagery” but if using metaphor one could write “Melville’s use of symbol in Billy Budd slowly rises to the summit of a mountain of carefully laid Christ imagery.”

4.  Imagery – In order to set a tone or mood in an essay, one must reach a little deeper into the human psyche.  If we can think of images that all have the same connotative meaning, we can persuade our reader even further with our colorful adjectives and adverbs.  Write a paragraph of the essay and then decided which mood is best desirable.  How does one want to make the reader feel?  List several descriptive words that are along the connotative lines of that feeling and then sprinkle as many words as you can into that paragraph.  For example, the sentence “The imagery in Elizabeth Bishop‘s poem The Fish illustrates the feelings she has about critics of her work” could read “The gritty imagery in Elizabeth Bishop’s earthy poem The Fish illustrates the primal feelings she has about critics of her work.”

There are many other ways to use creative writing techniques in essay writing.  If you have used some of these not listed above, please comment below.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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