Posts Tagged With: creative writing

Aristotle Shares His 7 Writing Tips

Okay, I have  a confession to make:  Aristotle never compiled a list of rules for creative writing. If you didn’t realize it by now, Aristotle lived in the 4th century BC, which was a significantly long, long time before “first novels” like The Tale of Genji (1010) or Don Quixote (1605) – and I don’t think there’s any debating that it’s impossible for anyone to foretell the rules of the literary art by 1300 years, even a man as brilliant as Aristotle.

. . . Or is it? Is it, really?

In reality, these are Aristotle’s “Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling.” They’re meant to apply to the visual arts of storytelling; in particular, Greek theatre. But as a writer, I’m always translating advice on any art into a context that fits my own; and I discovered that Aristotle’s rules actually translate into surprisingly accurate and well-rounded elements of writing.

1. Plot

Plot means different things depending on who you ask. We could have interesting discussions just looking for the nature of plot. Some say a story is nothing without it. Some (take Stephen King) “distrust” it. But we’re all agreed that it’s a thing, and that all proper fiction has some form of it – and typically, it’s your first step to a story.

The plot is the “what” of a story. If you’re writing, you’re bound to write about something happening; that’s your plot.

2. Character

Now that you have a plot, you need characters to populate it. No writer will tell you different.  Characters are people, and there’s no story without a) a person to tell it (you), and b) people to live in it. There’s simply no getting around this one. And I don’t know about you, but I like it that way.

3. Theme

Why are you writing your story? Why is the story happening? Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? That’s your theme, honey.

This is another place where writers don’t always agree. Some say Yes, every story has a theme, if you don’t have one you’re missing something; some say No, don’t do the thing, that’s gimmick not story. Most writers (and I can include myself here) will tell you something in between: every story has a theme, yes, but every theme doesn’t have a story. If you start with a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you tack on a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you let the theme grow organically in your story in whatever nooks and crannies it chooses, you’re doing something right.

4. Dialogue

Talk is cheap . . . except when it’s not, because it’s one of your most valuable tools as a writer. Verbal communication is thousands of years in the making, please of all the mistakes you may make do not butcher it by making your characters talk like rocks. They can talk like rockers – or aristocrats or scientists or cockneys or rednecks – but please please please remember they have to talk like human beings.

So far so good. Everything obviously applies to writing. We have four elements no story can go without. Now let’s see what else Aristotle has to share . . .

5. Chorus

In the Greek theatre, the chorus was the part where the actors came out to sing and dance, and to perorate on the nature of the play’s moral. It was a kind of commentary, description, or exposition; and I don’t know what kind of grades you got in your elementary school spelling tests, but to me that clearly spells P-R-O-S-E. This is the only place where writing itself intersects with Greek theatre.

Good plot, bad plot, no plot, you can still have a story; good prose, bad prose, but there has to be prose to be a story. (Unless you’re Paul Fournel. But have you ever heard of him? There might be a reason for that. It’s this: You’re not French and you’ll never be as cool as the French.)

So don’t stint here. You have a compelling plot, complex characters, theme, strong dialogue; it all falls apart if you can’t write it down and do a good job of it. You have to write words good.

6. Decor

You’ve seen a stage: it’s a big platform, usually made of wood, with great big curtains and arcane mysteries behind them. But when you watch a performance, you don’t see the stage; you see the library in a British country villa, or the streets of New York, or the Opera Populaire. Thanks to the decor, you don’t see a stage: you see a setting.

Your story needs to happen somewhere. It could be on Main Street in a rural Minnesooota town, or it could be on Mars. It just needs to be somewhere you can get excited about traveling to, so you can be the tour guide to make your reader excited about being there.

7. Spectacle

I’ll tell you what. I’ve given this one some thought, and I’ve interpreted it in my own way; but I’m not entirely sure about this one. What I’d like you to do is learn a little about the spectacle, the opsis in Greek theatre, for yourself. Make your own interpretations, figure out what you think it means for literature, and then come back for my opinion. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

. . . Ready? You want to know how I interpret the opsis? I think it’s just this:


I hope you don’t feel cheated. But I’m serious; just hear me out. I really think this is the most pivotal of all the seven rules.

The action is what the reader really wants. Whether they’re reading James Patterson or Charles Dickens, readers crave action. It’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction: nonfiction tells about something that happened; fiction shows something happen. Characters have to do something. Plot is what happens; action is the happening. I think Chekhov says it best:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov*

Nonfiction will tell you the moon is shining, and when the moon shines and why. Good fiction will tell you what the moonlight revealed, what the moon meant to the person seeing it shine, what the lovers did in the moonlight, and what they learned in the moonlight.


* Supposedly, Chekhov never actually said this. You probably noticed the similarity to a quote credited to Mark Twain. It seems that somebody took Chekhov’s words and rearranged them to sound like Twain’s (supposed) words.


What do you think? Do Aristotle’s commandments apply to writing? What was your interpretation of the seventh rule?

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The Only Ten Rules You’ll Ever Need to Write

Do you want to the secrets of a writer? Do you want one quick, simple resource to tell you all you’ll ever need to know about writing? Do you want all your questions about writing answered in one place? Then this article here is everything you want, and more. Read on.

The Only Rules You’ll Ever Need to Write

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc  (altered)
Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc (altered)
  1. Make your own rules.
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How Real Writers Learn to Write

How Real Writers Learn to Write

Writing is not a science. Writing is an art. If you want to learn to write, there’s only one way to do it.

You have to write.

Learning to Write

That’s not something anyone can teach you to do. It’s something you learn to do yourself, by writing. You can bury yourself in a pile of books and learn everything there is to learn on the science of writing, or you can relax and let your own creativity flow.

You can flout every rule and still be great or you can follow every rule and still be rotten. This is creative writing. Where’s the creativity if you’re just doing what someone else told you to do?

There’s a writer inside of you. Your hands are itching to write. Get them off the covers of a book and onto a sheet of paper. Let your inner writer out.

How You Can Write Like a Professional

Are you one of those people who have had dreams of writing but always figured you didn’t have the talent or the time?

Would you like to learn to write, right now? Give me fifteen minutes, or even just five.

Put away those writing workshop applications and those how-to books.

The only way to learn to write is to put the goldarn pencil to paper and write. This is creative writing. You won’t find creativity sitting in class or reading someone else’s book. You’ll find creativity by sitting down at a keyboard and being creative.

I’ve made the mistake of reading how-to books. I’ve made the mistake of expecting other people to teach me how to write. Do you want to know what I learned from them?

They taught me that they have nothing to teach me. That is the most important lesson, and just about the only lesson, anyone can teach anyone else about writing.

You have to teach yourself. How do you do that? Sit down right now and write something. Start with this:

afaslfh emhg

Feel good? Don’t stop now; keep going. Pretty soon you’ll realize that you’re writing.

How Real Writers Improve

Now here’s a neat trick. Wanna know what real writers do to improve their writing?

They read.

Fiction and nonfiction, novels and magazines, advertisements and street signs. Just read. Exercise those mental muscles that feed on words. Bodybuilders get stronger by exercising and eating right. Writing is great, but if you’re not feeding your mind on words, you won’t build much muscle.

Even how-to books have their place here. They can’t teach you to write—but they can give you ideas.

Go read. Broaden your horizons. You’ll be amazed by the places inspiration will hit you from.

How to Excel

This is where it comes down to separating the wheat from the chaff. This is the one uncontestable law, outright law, of writing. If you do not obey this commandment, you will not succeed in writing.

Be passionate.

That’s what makes good writers great writers. That’s what turns ordinary people into artists. Passion.

Without passion, your writing will be flat. Without passion, you won’t find creativity. Without passion, you won’t be able to dedicate yourself.

Because writing is tough, it’s true. It takes hard work and dedication; two things that come from the root of all writing, passion.

Do you love writing? Do you really love writing so much that you couldn’t live without it?

That shouldn’t be hard to answer, if you’re passionate. Are you?

Good. That’s what I thought.

Now do yourself a favor and go write something. “Once upon a time adujiahfuehg . . .”


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