In most creative writing exams, you will be given an imaginary scenario and 30–45 minutes to write a story about it. Here are some examples of creative writing topics you might be asked to write about in the exam:
The natural world, e.g. Imagine you are on a desert island
Activities, e.g. Describe a hobby you like doing
Animals, e.g. What animal are you frightened of and why? or What animal would you most like to be?
Emotions, e.g. Imagine you are lost in a forest or Imagine you just got the best news ever
Practice writing about some of these themes, using the framework below.
Creative writing exercises are all about creativity – the clue is in the name! There is no right or wrong approach. However, using a framework will help you know where to start and structure your writing.
Whether you're practicing story writing for fun, or sitting an exam, here is our step by step framework. As you practice your creative writing and build up confidence, you can get more flexible with how you use this approach.
Start your planning by spending two or three minutes writing down all the ideas that come into your head. This technique is also known as 'free writing' and is a great way to tap into your creativity! Don't worry about punctuation or grammar at this stage – just get your ideas down on paper.
In an exam, we recommend keeping things simple with:
One main event
One main character
One goal they want to achieve
Try different planning methods to see what works for you. You can use bullet points to outline the key elements of your story. Or try the snowflake method of planning:
Write one sentence summarising your story idea. This can be a character or the situation they are in.
Branch ideas out from it. Each arm of the snowflake can be a character or an event. This will help more ideas come to mind as you work your way outwards.
When it’s time to write up your story, each idea can become a paragraph.
If you have time, you can then add more detail to your plan by deciding what you're going to write about in each paragraph.
Things to think about when writing your plan:
A problem: what is the key conflict?
What is the solution? (You might only work this out when you start writing!)
Who are your characters? What are they like? How will they change over the course of the story?
World building: what details are you going to include about the setting?
What literary devices can you use?
Tip: don't spend too long on the plan. If your exam is 30 minutes long, you should aim to spend about five minutes planning. If the exam is 45 minutes, aim to spend up to ten minutes planning.
Spend the next 20 to 30 minutes writing up your story. Different ideas might come to you as you write, so you may end up straying from your plan. This is totally fine and part of the fun of writing! However, it can be helpful to keep looking back at your plan as you write, so you remember your original idea.
Outside of exams we can be as free as possible with our creative writing style. But when it comes to a test, there are certain features that examiners will be looking for. To get top marks, your creative writing piece will need to have:
Correct grammar with full sentences and punctuation marks
Paragraphs, with one main idea per paragraph
Direct speech and dialogue
A plot with a beginning, middle and end (read on for our tips for brilliant beginnings and excellent endings!). The middle often contains a climax or main event, and the end contains a resolution
Descriptive and figurative language, using literary devices such as personification, metaphor and simile
Tip: When planning your story, write out a list of features you want to include (dialogue, different types of punctuation, lots of adjectives, literary devices, etc.). Tick them off as you write your story!
Try to finish writing up your story with five to ten minutes to spare. Then, spend that time checking through your work for any mistakes.
Why do we need a good opening to our story? We want readers to be captivated! Our aim is to keep the reader interested and reading.
There are many ways to do this. We might want to hint at who and what our story is about, or where and when it's set.
One way to start a story is to introduce your central character. You could start with a description of their appearance, their outfit, their personality, or give tidbits of information such as their name. This can help bring your characters to life for your reader and make them want to find out what happens to them.
You could also start your story by introducing where it takes place. You might want to describe a building, the weather, or a landscape. Think about the five senses: What can you see, hear, feel, taste or smell in the setting?
Your story can start by jumping straight into a conversation between two characters (make sure you punctuate it with speech marks!). How about a funny chat between friends, an argument, or your main character talking to themselves in their head?
Another option is to throw your reader right into the middle of the key events of your story. Starting with a description of an action scene can get your reader excited to find out what happens next.
A question is a thought-provoking and interesting way to open a story. You can inspire your reader, get them wondering and keen to learn more.
You can combine more than one of these techniques in your opening paragraph.
Looking for inspiration on story beginnings? Try this quiz and see if you can match the first line to the book. See if you can score more highly than your parents. But watch out, because one of the books is a decoy!
If you have an Atom Nucleus subscription, watch our Live Lesson on Brilliant Beginnings for more details!
Exciting and realistic characters will make your writing much more interesting for your reader.
Think about the types of characters you want to include. Here are some ideas:
Protagonist (main character) – are they a hero or an antihero? (An antihero is a main character who is lacking in heroic qualities.)
These are archetypes – tools that can be used in writing to represent common aspects of life. You don't need to include all of these character types, and you might have completely different ideas! However, if you are struggling to think of characters, it can be helpful to consider these archetypes for inspiration.
When you name your characters, it's helpful to think about:
The setting and genre of your story
The character's personality. What are their emotions? What kind of person are they?
Choosing a name that reflects this will help your character to be more memorable.
At the start of Harry Potter, the author wants us to know that Harry is an ordinary boy. This is emphasised by Harry Potter's very normal name!
In Roald Dahl's Matilda, the antagonist is called Miss Trunchbull. This name gives us the impression of a very unpleasant person!
Another great way to convey your character's personality and emotions is through the verbs and adverbs you choose to describe their actions and dialogue. Take a look at this extract:
"I don't know who you think you are," Mr Biggins snapped coldly.
What do the words "snapped" and "coldly" tell us about Mr Biggins's personality?
How might your character's personality change over the course of the story? This is known as a character arc. The change can be positive or negative.
Having a character arc helps your story to have a message. Your readers will feel like they have learned something interesting.
For example, in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the character of Scrooge changes from being miserly and greedy at the start of the story, to being joyful and helpful at the end.
Think about your main character's arc when you're planning your story. Does your protagonist turn from a normal person into a hero? Does your villain learn a lesson and become a nicer person? Or do your hero's motivations change and they turn out to be a villain?
When it comes to writing a story, the end is as important as the beginning. It can be tempting to go down the ‘it was all just a dream’ route, but at Atom Learning, we want to encourage you to write endings that will leave a lasting impression on your reader (and have them wanting to read more!).
It’s easy to jump straight into writing and lose track of what you would like your characters to experience. You don't need to spend hours planning every tiny detail, but it’s a good idea to plan the structure of your story before you start. This will help you avoid having loose ends. You can use the framework above to help with planning.
Have a brainstorm of your favourite stories and look closely at their endings. How did you feel when you finished reading? What did the writer do that you might be able to imitate in your own story?
If your plan is to reveal everything to your reader (a resolved ending), make sure you tie up any loose ends. But if you want to have an ambiguous ending (i.e. not clear, or undecided), make sure you leave something unresolved for the reader. This is particularly important if your story is going to have a sequel!
Are you writing a mystery, a comedy, a fantasy or an adventure story? It’s important that your ending matches up with your genre. If your story is a mystery or a thriller, try ending with a plot twist to create excitement. If you’re writing a comedy, you will want to make your reader laugh. Why not try ending with a joke?
This is where planning is very important. If your story's ending introduces new people or ideas that you haven’t explored earlier in the story, your reader will end up feeling confused. After writing your ending, read back through your whole story to check that it makes sense as part of the whole context.
For more tips, take a look at 6 ways to build suspense and tension in your writing.
If you're aged 7–11, you're invited to enter the Atom Young Author Award! We’re on the hunt for the UK’s best young storytellers, so we're running a writing competition, open until 31st August.
First place entrants will win an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland Paris for a family of four, an illustrated book cover for their story designed by a professional illustrator and £2,500 for their school – so get writing! We can't wait to read your story.
Why not join our Creative Writing and Comprehension course this summer? In each lesson, we will delve into a text and cover topics such as literary devices, persuasive writing or even poetry. We will look at a wide variety of passages – think spooky thrillers and Shakespeare as well as newspaper articles and famous speeches.
Running every Wednesday at 5.00pm from 20th April to 20th July.
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