‘Creative’ Writing on the current GCSE specs isn’t really ‘creative’ in the real sense of the word. Students must respond to an unseen prompt in timed conditions and attempt to demonstrate a particular set of skills within that limited frame. It’s not creative writing. It’s a strategically crafted show-piece.
Frustrating as this is, I actually enjoy teaching this unit. It feels like a little puzzle to solve: how might one demonstrate descriptive flair, narrative shaping and beautifully crafted moments in such a limited space? Like one of those incredible artists who build 18th Century frigates inside bottles…
Rather than writing an extended piece of prose, I teach my students to craft a narrative which is a series of other forms. This has endless possibilities, but some options might be:
This is a structure inspired by epistolatory novels. The idea is that an event has happened, but the reader is gradually given clues about it via sources from different perspectives.
A person has gone missing.
- Transcript of an answer phone message – a woman apologising for something she has said and asking for the person to get in touch to let her know they are OK.
- A series of text messages or DMs on social media between two people – person 1 is clearly angry about something but isn’t giving much away. Person 2 is trying to find out where they are and what they are planning to do. The messages stop with person 2 asking questions but getting no answers.
- A news report describes a missing woman. It says she was last seen in a hospital A&E department, describeds what she was wearing and how her hair looked. Appeals for any witnesses to contact the police.
- A police report states that officers were called to a scene where someone had broken in to a house which had long been boarded up. The report describes what officers found at the scene – it has clearly been ransacked and lots of papers have been strewn across the floor. Something has been taken from the mantlepiece – they can tell because there is a clear marking in the dust and something is missing.
- A letter from person 1 – they explain to their loved ones where they are and what has happened.
This basic idea can be used to build any number of possible narratives – students can demonstrate their ability to write in different styles, voices, and from different perspectives. This is a really great way of presenting a narrative in a way which can be controlled: nobody has to have all the answers, and the student can have ‘fragments’ which are extremely simple, and some which are heavily descriptive and everything in between.
A version of this which I’ve been playing with this week is below. It is the diary time hop model.
The idea is that you write a series of diary entries which are out of chronological order.
I wrote this model with my Y11 class this week – we did it live under the visualiser, and then went back to make a few changes to demonstrate how we might add some other features. This one is mostly diary entries, but also includes a short text exchange and a letter at the end.
*Important note* – this story includes some allusion to alcoholism and domestic abuse. I know my class, and this is something which they were able to handle. Feel free to show to your students, but use your teacher judgement as to appropriateness..
Diary Entry: 21.12.2022
It’s so quiet here. I wish there was someone to break the silence, but I am alone. Alone with my thoughts. I need to get out of this house and clear my head. I think I had a whole bottle last night, but I can’t remember. Who cares, anyway? It’s not like anyone would ever notice or even care.
Diary Entry: 21.12.1999
Why won’t anyone in this house be quiet and let me think?! I can barely move with all the wrapping paper and to-do lists but the kids won’t stop screaming and creating mess. Stephen is like a hurricane. He destroys everything in his path and doesn’t stop until he falls asleep – usually on me; face tilted upward like a perfect little cherub. The effect is somewhat lessened by the inevitable patch of drool which then soaks into my shoulder. Motherhood is just a non-stop attack of intense love and extreme irritation. For me, anyway.
I’m not a drinker, but having young children must push many parents over the edge, and I wouldn’t blame them.
Diary Entry: 23.12.22
I went up to his room today. I almost knocked on the door before entering – eight years later and I’m still not used to the fact that he’s gone. There are a few things left in there. It always saddens me that he left that photo behind. The Christmas one – chaos everywhere, but all of us together. I stayed up there for quite a while – lost track of time. I have tried, again and again, to face reality and open those letters, but I can’t. They sit, sealed and stamped, on my bedside table. In my head, while they stay closed, I can still imagine that he might come back. Once they are opened, all possibility might vanish. Schrödinger’s lost child.
Text Messages: 23.12.14
(11:03pm) Me: Where are you?
(11:38pm) Him: Out. Back soon.
(11:39pm) Me: Did you get to the shop?
You went out hours ago and they’re closed now.
(11:42pm) Me: I need milk for the kids tomorrow.
Diary Entry: 23.12.14
Why does it always happen like this?! I work so hard to make the holidays perfect for the boys and John just can’t help himself, can he? He came back late – again – stumbled around downstairs. I heard Stephen come out of his room and I tried my best to get him to go back to bed. He wouldn’t. He’s had enough, too. He confronted his dad. I didn’t hear it all, but I did hear the sound as he fell to the floor.
Diary Entry: 24.12.22
Why is the sun always so bright? Remind me to never walk this early again. I don’t need the bloody birds and the breeze and the smiling people to remind me of all the things I’m not. All the things I’ve lost. I’m here though. That’s what Janet said I should do – go for walks – fresh air or whatever. Write it down, she said. Well here goes – we used to come here a lot. You can still see the scrap of concrete where the little park used to be. The kids would spend hours playing and pretending they were something else. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been sitting here for so long. Perhaps if I wait long enough, I can be something else, too.
I don’t know if you’ll ever open this. I know you aren’t good with your emotions or confrontation, but I have to explain. Living in this house has been like existing in separate dimensions. We are together, but apart. Nobody talks. We float down corridors and through rooms on our own little paths, never crossing each other or even considering how we might connect. Fear stalks this house like a spectre and I can’t do it any more. I have to take some time away.
I won’t ask you again – I know you won’t leave him – but I’ll be here if you ever decide to choose me.
Your loving son,