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English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock


"Creative" Writing

Over the course of our education, we’re inculcated to notion that all writing must be in a rhetorically neutral, expository style that helps to clarify our meaning. This is why expository prose (a.k.a., exposition) is called “expository”: it seeks to expose our meaning through a use of direct statements relying on straightforward vocabulary and logical syntax.

Belles lettres, the original French term used to classify a written work as “creative writing,” translates literally into “beautiful letters” and included anything that was composed primarily for its artistic merit. The importance of this to creative writers should be self-evident: your primary responsibility is to the use of language to create something of beauty, rather than to communicate facts and expose meaning directly. A beautiful style of language, including the nuanced—often metaphorical—use of words, is essential to becoming a creative writer.

Beauty or Truth?

Don’t take this to mean that you should write only about beautiful things, or that only beautiful words can be used, which frequently leads to sentimentality and cliché. Furthermore, there is room for interpretation about what “beautiful language” in creative writing actually is. The Romantic period in literature is renowned for a florid style of narration, connecting the lavish detail of the natural world to the complex emotions of the author’s internal world. In the twentieth century, some authors have championed a very matter-of-fact narrative style, which unskilled writers sometimes misinterpret to mean “write the same way you talk.” This is the very essence of prosaic language use, and it was never the intention for plainspoken authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, and Ernest Hemingway. In their narrative minimalism, these authors may have pioneered an ostensibly stoic and emotionally reserved voice, but they also developed a beautiful literary style through the use of active verbs and subtle imagery. Even J.D. Salinger’s first-person narrator, Holden Caulfield, didn’t narrate Catcher In the Rye in a prosaic style, regardless of how much vernacular Salinger incorporated into Holden’s voice.

To put it bluntly, “understated” does not have to mean “prosaic” any more than “creative” has to mean “flowery.” The creativity of “creative writing” should be found in all the parts of speech we use as writers, and where there are deficiencies in a writer’s vocabulary, those weaknesses become evident in the writing style, itself.

However, it is similarly difficult to disabuse beginning writers of the idea that "truth" in our writing is about accuracy, and that "accuracy" is achieved by remaining faithful to facts. Even in the genre of short fiction, writers will embroil themselves in the nitty-gritty of what objectively happens, as though the story lies in the facts. This can be appropriate for larger, plot-driven works, but in most short fiction, the real story lies within the perceptions of the protagonist and takes place on the internal landscape; the external story situations and plot (if there is one) are there to facilitate that internal story. Writers preoccupied with telling stories as though they are objectively factual miss the real opportunity of prose writing: to convey a subjective truth through the experiences and perceptions of a character. As a result, their writing once again sounds more like a summary or a synopsis, rather than a work of literature, because the language needed to report the facts objectively is the same prosaic, dull, and safe language students use to "sound" objective in their expository writing.

There's nothing you can do better to reprogram yourself than to read contemporary, living, literary authors who write in the genres you're most interested in. In so doing, you'll read and hear language used subjectively, see how writers create imagery and experience, and come to understand how truth depends more on a point of view than on a collection of plot details. What readers most want to relate to in your writing is the subjective truth of it, not the objective accuracy of it.

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

The following, therefore, are some examples of literary prose. Examine each, and be aware of your own responses to the prose style. Which of these captures your imagination the most, and why? Which do you most relate to by way of experience? Which puts you in a point of view inside the writing, as opposed to making you a mere witness?

Flowery and Overwritten

The coroner grasped gingerly the soft, white, perfumed wrist of the utterly dead girl, surprisingly chilly and seemingly as hard as a clear crystal goblet faceted with prisms of colored light. He turned the silken wrist into the unforgivingly harsh light of the nearby lamp. He could trace with his modest forefinger’s freshly trimmed fingernail an exquisitely elegant cut under the dried, translucent red varnish of her exsanguinated life-fluids—her once warm aqua vita, so to speak, now cold and lifeless. This was no barbaric gash crudely hacked into her writhing flesh while she was overcome with feelings of deep desperation and longing. Nor could he espy her hesitant vacillations about whether to commit to the finality of suicide, as was so often the case in the interstices of perforated cuts, like the ones he recalled in the reminiscences of his dearest Grand-mama, whose intricate, weathered hands spryly plucked the soft, yeasty, pasty piecrust dough before gently and carefully languishing it into the awaiting jaws of her kitchen’s oven. Nay, this lean and straight slit of softly supple skin was the final and grand flourish of calligraphic splendor she had longingly used to engrave her ultimate truth upon the ardent and abject parchment of her tortured, now ended life.

In this version, the “flowery” or florid language is not the only problem. The writing style is also over-reliant on lists of adjectives and adverbs, while the verbs are largely passive. Does this seem an authentic and relatable voice to you?

Prosaic and Inadequate

Version 1 The dead girl’s wrist was cold. In the light, the coroner could see a cut under her blood. It was not a gash, nor did it appear to be in the shape of perforations. In his mind, he remembered his grandmother making piecrust that way. Opposite to that, this looked precise, like she meant it.

Version 2 Having walked to the dead girl, the coroner then knelt beside her. Next, he felt her wrist, which was cold. He found some light and, when he observed the wrist further, he saw that the cut had been covered in blood. He observed that it was not so much a gash or a series of intermittent cuts like those used in pie crust, but rather it seemed straight and precise, the way people cut themselves when they intend to go through with the suicide.

In these prosaic versions, the writing is devoid of active voice, and the descriptive style reports a series of factual events in chronological order, but does nothing to suggest a reaction to them. A protagonist's internal reality seems to be missing. Rather, it reads like a paraphrase of something seen in a movie— objective and accurate as a report, but static and soulless as a reading experience.

A Balanced Literary Style

Version 1 The coroner grasped the wrist of the dead girl, chilly and hard as a bottle, and turned it into the blunt light of the lamp. He could trace with his finger an elegant cut under the varnish of her blood, not a crudely desperate gash or the hesitant perforations he had learned from watching his grandmother pluck the piecrust before baking. No, this slit of soft skin, subtle and precise, was a final flourish of calligraphy to engrave her truth on the parchment of her life.

Version 2 The girl’s cold wrist turned in the coroner’s hand like a bottle, and in the lamp light the V-cut pointed true beneath the dried blood—not a hasty gash, nor a hopscotch of perforations where those second thoughts might have swiveled in her mind. No. She had traced the blade down the slit of skin like a bead of ink, so that she wouldn’t need to corsage a clumsy note to her sleeve. Instead, she would tattoo the daring truth of it down the canvas of her wrist: an arrow pointing to where none could follow her.

Both of these versions succeed where other versions did not. Why? Because each achieves a balanced literary style by 1) using a predominantly active voice, 2) not being so literal-

minded about diction and usage, and 3) avoiding cliches.

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

Poetical Language

Newbies to Creative Writing tend to fall into two camps: those that love expressive poetry and those that love to write genre fiction. The camps are not equally opposing forces, however. While inveterate fiction writers have outbursts in class testifying to how much they "hate" writing poetry, rarely does the opposite ever occur. Poets tend to make the transition more easily, because they bring with them the power of poetical language to the act of writing prose. Prose writers, on the other hand, frequently detest the alleged falseness of expressing the kind of sentimentality poets do (not realizing just how falsely they, themselves, cling to simulacrum in storytelling).

It's a damaging and self-stymying view of poetry, to be sure, but it's not wholly unfounded, because many beginning poets misinterpret "poetical language" to mean the language of "pure" emotion (whatever that is). The poetical use of language is hard to pin down, and it's as diverse as the poets, themselves. However, this much is true: poems can be killed by overfeeding, or they can die from starvation.

By "overfeeding," I'm referring to a poet's tendency to use a lot of rich abstractions. The resulting poems are sentimental and corpulent with lots of non-count nouns like anger, agony, bitterness, vile cruelty, pain, jubilation, evil, darkness, love, loneliness, exaltation, suffering, ecstasy, magnificence, and--everyone's familiar fave-- heart. In some earlier literature class, these were the words that turned up in students' explication of works by famous poets from those centuries when everyone seemed to be speaking a different kind of English. Because of this, beginners assume such words must somehow be on the approved list for really deep and expressive poetry. And, in composing a little missive from the heart, it can be cathartic to name the emotions getting you down. However, even at the height of the Romantic period--that era of poetry believed to be the most emotive—this was hardly the case. It is true that poets in the Western tradition have, for centuries, "written from their hearts" and tried to capture those emotional and psychological truths that are the connective threads of humanity. However, the language of poetry is not the explicit naming of those themes.

By "starving" a poem, I mean the willful refusal to use emotion at all, as though "sentiment" and "sentimentality" were one in the same. This is the kind of poem that embarrassed prose writers frequently draft the first time around, in an attempt to make their poem read more like their matter-of-fact stories. The results are lines of lackluster simple sentences where the nearest thing to a concrete detail is the use of a sensory word like "smell" or "taste," or a verb of observation such as "watched" or "listened." In the end, such poems die on the vine, withered by prosaic writing style, parched by the lack of imagery and concrete detail, and choked by their own triteness.

As with the prose genres, the answer is to open your mind and educate yourself about what contemporary poetry actually is, what poets today are writing about, and how the image and the line prefigure in the success of a poem. If you're only reading John Keats, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Edgar A. Guest—because their "verse" ends up in greeting cards and calendars—you're doing yourself a disservice. If you don't know where to start, begin with our current Poet Laureate (which, as of the posting of this article, is Natasha Trethewey). Find out who they're reading, and who credits them as an influence. Read those poets as well, and immerse yourself in the contemporary milieu of poetry. You'll learn fast that contemporary poetry is not the rhyming game that most people believe it to be, and that it has great power to move readers with its ideas and its specificity of language.

Consider the following examples. All three poems are written on the subject of Alzheimer's, but only the poem by contemporary poet C.K. Williams seems to treat the subject matter with any credibility. Why? First, consider that millions of people suffer from this tragic disease. (Perhaps you even know someone who suffers from it.) What's required to treat the delicate subject matter with dignity. If you were asked to write a poem for one or two people with Alzheimer's or dementia that you would later read to them, how would you show them your

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

respect? How would you discuss them in your poem to do justice to their particular experiences with the disease, while still making a general statement about Alzheimer's? In other words, how would you make them a representation of the more general tragedy of Alzheimer's without losing what's specific to them as individuals. What sorts of general statements could you make about the disease that doesn't just exploit the subject matter (or the people about whom you're writing)?

Now, read the three poems. What in the Williams poem speaks to you and makes you relate to it, and why doesn't that happen with the other two? Why doesn't generalizing the experience of Alzheimer's, or writing about it in a more traditionally "poetical" way, have a more powerful effect? Consider the different ways that Williams uses imagery and concrete detail to connote the emotionally complex nature of the disease.


Message For My Grandson

At this genesis of a new life, I write these solemn words, upon the pages of my heart. lest I someday not recall all your purity and promise or my own memories of pain, that impulsive awakening of the past that cruelly time forgets. As my brain corrodes, like a cancer, spreading its hopeless loss until tears, like torrents of water, come flooding back into the ocean, I will remember my love for you from moment to moment.

This poem's point of view is someone suffering memory loss. Which preoccupies your attention more, the real difficulty of memory loss or the poem's bloated, overfed diction? Which words are grandiose or clichéd, and why? Do you relate to it?


Forgetting To Remember

My elderly face looks haggard As I force my feeble legs to walk on, Barely able to maintain sufficient strength, Body aching, muscles pushing One more yard, then two more feet. As soon as I open the door As I start to wonder When this day began. I begin to realize The day is already ending. As my brain deteriorates a little more Each day, still making the motions That move me to and fro, I watch my life go by and gradually I accept I will forget who you are.

As with "Message for My Grandson," this poem is in first person p.o.v. Do you believe it is actually written by an elderly person suffering from dementia? Or by a loved one? Why would that be important? In what ways does the diction seem starved of poetical style?


Alzheimer's: The Wife (C.K. Williams)

She answers the bothersome telephone, takes the message, forgets the message, forgets who called. One of their daughters, her husband guesses:

the one with the dogs, the babies, the boy Jed? Yes, perhaps, but how tell which, how tell anything when all the name tags have been lost or switched, when all the lonely flowers of sense and memory bloom and die now in adjacent bites of time? Sometimes her own face will suddenly appear with terrifying inappropriateness before her in a mirror. She knows that if she's patient, its gaze will break, demurely, decorously, like a well- taught child's, it will turn from her as though it were embarrassed by the secrets of this awful hide-and-seek. If she forgets, though, and glances back again, it will still be in there, furtively watching, crying.

Using the other two poems at left, examine what's different about this poem's language, subject matter, point of view, and the writer's motivation. Does C. K. Williams know someone suffering from Alzheimer's? Which details tell you this, and why?

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

A Note About Self-Aggrandizement

Perhaps the hardest lesson for young creative writers to learn has to do with their own ego. Truthfully, it's a lesson that seasoned writers don't always master, either.

We all write creatively as an extension of our egos; this seems inevitable. Regardless of how altruistic, therapeutic, cathartic or well-meaning the act of writing is, ultimately it puts us in a spotlight of our own making and control. There's nothing wrong with that. All art, even art for art's sake, starts by projecting a single voice. What happens, though, when that single voice likes the sound of itself a little too much? We've all had our Saturday afternoon held hostage by that one kid in the neighborhood who, one day, learned to use his forefinger and thumb to wolf whistle, and then kept doing it for the next five hours until threatening calls were made to his parents. Or, that person who droned on at a party about all the cool places she's traveled, never hearing anyone else's stories about where they've been. Or, that date who ruined the evening by talking only about himself and his interesting life. Or the person who always takes over the conversation by starting with, "You think you've got it bad!" Why do these people bug us? Because they are consummate self-aggrandizers.

"Self-aggrandizement" is the act of making yourself seem "more" than others are: more talented; more interesting; more important; sadder; smarter; luckier; healthier; sicker; wittier; darker. In creative writing, when the author's voice is identified with self-absorbed behavior, unintended insensitivity, or both, it is self- aggrandizing. Such behavior ranges from being superficially precious to deeply intellectual; from moral entitlement to martyr-like superiority; from acting clever and cocky to self-indulged and tortured. That isn't to say you shouldn't feel these things as motives for your writing, but when you begin to call attention to your own motives, and you make it sound like you, alone, are privileged to these motives, it rubs readers the wrong way. It changes an act of ego into an egotistical act.

Self-aggrandized writing is fueled by a desire to be impressive, regardless of how that may be defined by the writer, but it always ends up feeling intrusive. Readers welcome the vulnerability, self-reproach, and self-doubt that a writer injects into his poems, stories, and characters, but when writers become unnecessarily self- indulgent, the work seems less authentic. Self-aggrandizement has become a kind of trope in the boastful lyrics of rap and hip-hop these days—one could say it is "somethin' like a phenomenon"—so you don't need to look far to find it. However, here are a few literary illustrations:


I am a warrior of words. My pencil,

a weapon. I unsheath your truths

upon this page, and stand up when you are down. I, the dreamer, dream for you these dreams.


With my mild, sparkling-blue eyes, I glanced to find the homeless man's change can was empty, so I humbly offered him a crisp ten-dollar bill and gave him a graceful smile.


There were over six billion people living on the planet. Six billion! Do they even stop to think, he wondered,

how miniscule they truly were in the universe's grand design? Was it even right to think they mattered? more he thought about it, the more he reassured himself it wasn't a silly question.



"I've seen things you couldn't even imagine," I said to my uncle.

English 126: Creative Writing


I flipped up my Ray Bans and put my Porsche into gear, watching the gates close to our house in the rearview mirror. As the engine roared and tires burnt the city pavement, I felt my sixteen-inch biceps harden under my Versace shirt, and my hands gripped the steering wheel as if a beautiful woman had just thrown herself into my arms once again. How miserable my teenaged life with my stepfather was. Yes, escape would be just around the corner: my acceptance letter to Yale arrived three days ago. But, somehow, I still had to get through the long summer ahead, living under these insufferable conditions.

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock


Her dorm mates had cleared out that morning. Gloria imagined them huddled in airport terminals, or lifting themselves into trains slowly leaving the station then hurrying them to their empty little lives with their dull suburban families, while she remained here alone, adrift in her isolation. She hated these pointless holidays, anyway. She pulled her pillow closer to her and hugged it. In that moment, she knew what Anne Frank felt like, a prisoner of her attic, alone with her diary, and understood by no one.

Some Practical Suggestions To Better Literary Style

Students are always looking for the keys to succeeding in any writing assignment, as though, if they knew exactly what the instructor was looking for, they would have an easier time completing the task. For creative writers, that's simply not real life, because writing a poem or telling a story is not a task. It's work, yes! And, of course, it's good to have deadlines and writing groups to keep you motivated. However, the rules of writing creatively are something you pick up along the way, sometimes by trial and error. The following are not so much rules as they are pitfalls that occur because of a lifelong habit of writing prosaically. (Dialogue is exempt from requiring a literary style.) Be aware of these pitfalls at every stage of the writing process: drafting, editing, workshopping, and revision. Force yourself to care about these. Besides reading and daily writing, this is the only means to improving your literary style.

1. Avoid Passive Voice


Avoid the following passive verbs altogether, if possible. (Note: the first three are commonly used as auxiliary verbs used in different verb tenses, but they can be avoided as main verbs.)

be, is, are, was, were go, goes, went have, has, had

come, comes, came get, got

Example 1 She was too tired even to eat when she came home, but she got some dinner anyway and went to the couch to have some time with her sitcoms or TV vampires before going to bed.

Example 2 She stumbled through her front door too tired even to eat, but she assembled some dinner anyway and ambled to the couch to laugh with her sitcoms or fantasize about her TV vampires. Soon enough, they would sweep her back onto her feet and tuck her into bed.

English 126: Creative Writing


Reduce the number of verbals used:

participles (adjectives ending in –ing or –ed and other past-tense endings, “

“The dried leaves

© 2013

“The gathering storm


Instructor: K. Sherlock

gerunds (nouns ending in –ing: “He was in the act of running”).

Example "Bad" Rising from an eastern sky, the illuminating moon filled the mountainside with pale light, looming like a giant sand dollar until the shadows of pine trees began arching away from all its shining.

Example "Better" The rising moon loomed in an eastern sky like a giant sand dollar, and illuminated the mountainside with pale light, until the shadows of pine trees arched away from all its shine.

2. Reduce Vague Sensory Words and Linking Verbs

appeared / appearance






felt / feelings



flavors heard listened

showed sights smelled / smells


Example "Bad" I heard his voice and sensed its calm syllables, which seemed to show me he was listening to me, too, and feeling my nervousness.

Example "Better" His calm syllables took hold of my nervous fidgets.

3. Emphasize Active Verbs, De-Emphasize Modifiers Like Adjectives And Adverbs)

instead of “began to walk”: “walked” instead of “starts to wonder”: “wonders” instead of “moved quickly”: “darted” instead of “a rainy afternoon”: “the afternoon drizzled with grey sheets of wind”


4. Avoid Clichéd Transitional Phrases

All at once All of a sudden As time went by Before the night was through Eventually In a matter of time

In the end

Last but not least Lest it be forgotten Little did I know Needless to say Out of the blue The next thing I knew

5. Avoid Clichéd Similes and Metaphors

hot as all hell quiet as a church mouse as plain as the nose on my face as far as the eye can see as angry as a hornet

rich as Croesus cold as ice pitch black dark as sin slick as snot

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

6. Don't Overuse Clichéd and Common Vernacular Phrases

freaking out dealing with being there for me

keep you in my heart my heart knows no limits these kids

some old man, old geezer an innocent babe a couple of guys

know in my heart breaking my heart

some dude this one lady

7. Avoid Predictable Patterns Of Complex Sentence Construction

Repeatedly beginning with “As” or “While”: “As the sun slowly sank into the west, people drove home from

work. And, as their cars crawled along in traffic, the city’s nightlife began coming alive. As they began arriving



Repeatedly beginning with a participial phrase: “Looking to his left, he saw a deer grazing on the embankment. ”

Stepping onto the grass, he started prepared to feed them dried corn. Reaching out his hand,

Plodding simple sentences (i.e., not compound-complex sentences): "The boy sat down at the table. The mother put a plate before him. The food on the plate looked strange. He picked up a spoon. He put the spoon into the mashed potatoes."


Use References to Emotions and Abstractions Infrequently


Avoid summarizing or generalizing feelings; instead, use specific experiences that connote these feelings:

Example "Bad"

“She was suddenly overcome with joy and an ardent desire to embrace her father and show him the depth of her love, as though she were the parent and he the child.”

Example "Better"

“Her hand reached out to her father’s lapel. She drew him to her shoulders, and in her hand his vertebrae beneath his suit lifted like a ladder from his middle back. She let her thumb climb that ladder until the small of her father’s head rested in the bowl of her left hand—as familiar to her as the first time she held an infant.”


Tone down the grandiose and abstract words; instead, use the language of concrete detail to imply these abstractions:

Example "Bad"

“In the purity of peace rose the vicious anger swelling until it consumed him like an avalanche of powerful


Example "Better"

“No one but he knew what roiled beneath that ballpoint tip as he signed the divorce papers. He laid down each flourish of a signature like a matchstick to the touch-paper, and his middle initial flamed the docket with its violet


English 126: Creative Writing

9. Avoid Hyperbole and Caricature

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock


Hyperboles are exaggerations; writers often use them unconsciously to "sell" the importance of their imagery and its emotional import, but they almost always sound manipulative and false. Quite often, they're used in

combination with clichés, which is just as much a serious failure of creativity.

endlessly waiting deathly silent sorrow screaming lies forever lost bottomless guilt to the limits of sanity

excruciatingly painful earth-shattering all but a faded memory utter darkness the deepest despair soaring heights of excitement


Caricatures are exaggerated characters, some of which are "stock" characters we have learned to identify as archetypes in certain genres of storytelling, movies, and TV. Sketch comedy often relies on the audience's familiarity with such caricatures to set up the joke, because they're easily recognizable: clichéd and stereotypical. You may have need of one-dimensional characters in some of your stories and plays, but you can still avoid the pitfall of their inherent clichés if you change the reader's eye about them. At least in this way you'll subvert the clichés, rather than celebrate them. Caricatures are plentiful, but here at least is one Major

Arcana of stock character types used far too often in contemporary storytelling:

types used far too often in contemporary storytelling: 00 the radical left tree-hugger The Fool
types used far too often in contemporary storytelling: 00 the radical left tree-hugger The Fool
types used far too often in contemporary storytelling: 00 the radical left tree-hugger The Fool
types used far too often in contemporary storytelling: 00 the radical left tree-hugger The Fool






The Fool

vegan activist




the nerd




The High

the gum-smacking prostitute


who says, "Hey, sugar!"



the waitress with the bee-hive


and the cat-eye glasses

with the bee-hive Empress and the cat-eye glasses 11 Justice 12 The Hanged Man 13 D
with the bee-hive Empress and the cat-eye glasses 11 Justice 12 The Hanged Man 13 D
with the bee-hive Empress and the cat-eye glasses 11 Justice 12 The Hanged Man 13 D
with the bee-hive Empress and the cat-eye glasses 11 Justice 12 The Hanged Man 13 D




The Hanged






the chunky, doughnut-eating cop

that effeminate "ginger" kid

the creepy funeral director





precious child



young adult)

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the
English 126: Creative Writing © 2013 04 The Emperor 05 The Hierophant 06 The Lovers the








The Lovers

the delusional psyche patient who always says "doc"

the priest who always refers to other people as "my child"

the middle-aged gay couple with the dyed poodles

07 the













Wheel of


the high school jock in the varsity letterman jacket

the "crazy" bag lady

the wheeling and dealing punk who always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady"

always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star
always says, "Hey, mister" or "Hey, lady" 15 The Devil 16 The Tower 17 The Star


The Devil


The Tower


The Star

Instructor: K. Sherlock


Dixie racist



the 40-something "cougar" on a barstool, sipping dirty martinis


unattainable model-type with the British accent


18 the Goth chick

The Moon


The Sun




The World





the mean girls trio

Grandma Sugar-Cookie, who always says “Dear” and “my child”

10. Hyperbolic Diction

No words are off limits in creative writing, since all vocabulary is the primary tool of your trade. However, there are some that are "go to" words for inexperienced writers. In a manner of speaking, they're a class of cliché,

because they're words that everyone associates with the poetical diction of high-flown quills—exactly the sort of pretentiousness that makes people decry the entire genre. Of course, camp and bathos (or bathys) rely on language like this, but only if used intentionally for its comic effect. Under ordinary circumstances, though, hyperbolic diction entails exaggeratively pretty, emotive words resulting from the writer's abrogation of his

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

charge to provide substantive detail; he instead resorts to pointing out a "certain jeu ne sais quois" so beautiful, so complex, so deeply appealing or interesting that he allegedly doesn't have the adequate words to describe it.

Let's be clear: as a writer, if you don't have the adequate words to describe something, it's not because that "something" is so deep that it defies description. The onus is on you to find the words--perhaps even make up a few--that are up to the task. Otherwise, if you're not up to the task, don't presume to call what you're doing, "creative writing." That may sound like a mean thing to say, but being a creative writer demands a degree of stubborn intrepidity: we don't give up just because something is hard to describe! We search for just the right words, look up their derivations, turn them in our minds to consider their nuances, and plug them into the fuse box of our writing to see if they carry the current. And when they fail or don't fit just right, we don't just substitute whatever nickel we can find in our loose change.

Example "Bad" 1 The prismatic light gingerly tickled his face with myriad hues, a colorful array of lustrous wonder.

Example "Bad" 2 You smilingly pierced my aching heart with your screeching daggers of vicious words.

aching ("this aching need to touch you") angelic ("your angelic beauty") ardently ("his heart ardently desired her affections") array ("an array of marvelous sights") beatific ("with beatific grace") bedecked ("shelves bedecked with all manner of curiosities") beseech ("she beseeched him for his mercy") cacophony ("their shrieks rose like a cacophony over the forest canopy") chipper ("the chipper young lad winked precociously") colorful ("colorful bottles stood like sentinels before the window") exquisite ("exquisite pain filled his very soul") gingerly ("the old man gingerly sprung to his feet") harmonious ("a harmonious blend of aromas") heavenly ("with heavenly grace she strode mildly into the room") hellish ("these thoughts tormented her with hellish visions") incessant ("the incessant beating of love's butterfly wings") languorously ("the kudzu hung languorously from the willows") lavish ("with lavish attention he bathed and fed the beast") lively ("lively dancers filled the town square") longingly ("longingly, they gazed upon the lake") lovely ("the afternoon was lovely") lugubrious ("bereft, the old woman lugubriously cried out for death's cold embrace") lustrous ("her hair, like lustrous silk") magnificent ("the sun's magnificent light") mellifluous ("the streams mellifluous burbles") melodically ("couples melodically swayed on the dance floor") miraculous ("miraculous laughter filled the hall") myriad ("a myriad of hues") orgasmic ("with orgasmic delight and lustful betrayal") panoply ("the panoply of taste sensations") passionately ("Passionately, he sang the notes.") pierces ("Anger pierces the silence") prismatic ("Color prismatic crystalline visions festooned their sight") radiant ("A radiant warmth expanded between them.")

English 126: Creative Writing

© 2013

Instructor: K. Sherlock

redolent ("the air was redolent with fragrance") rhythmic ("the butterflies rhythmic beating of wings") screeching ("hatred screeching incessantly") smilingly ("smilingly, she entered the room") soaring ("with soaring spirit") sparkling ("the boy's eyes sparkled with youth") splendid/splendiferous ("a splendiferous music awakened within") sublime ("spring's sublime renewal") tumultuous ("tumultuous thoughts raced through his head") vibrant ("in the woodwind's vibrant tones") vicious ("cruel intentions landed vicious insinuations upon him") winsome ("she was a bashful but winsome young lass") wonder/wondrous ("wondrous tears swelled within his being")