Author logo GCSE English - Original Writing

Introduction
What do I have to do?
Fiction and factual writing
Written and spoken texts
One piece or several?
New stories for old
Narrative in different forms
Autobiographical and personal writing
Feature film, sitcom or soap
Scenes from a school
Through the keyhole
Scenes from a holiday
Presenting your work
Real texts for real audiences

Introduction

This guide has been written to help you write for specific purposes and audiences. It is written for students in England and Wales, doing the Original Writing component of assessed work in English in Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum (GCSE). It may be of interest to students of creative writing generally.

For a more advanced guide, please look at my tutorial on original writing for Advanced course work. Click on the link below to go to this guide:

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What do I have to do?

You are required to write for specific audiences and to explore, imagine or entertain. Apart from this there is no restriction on what you may do. You should not think of writing as a “school task”. Try to write what might really be written and published in the outside world.

Write about what you know, and in forms which you know. Make sure your work is original - that is, not the same as everyone else's. This guide will suggest some helpful approaches.

Please note that exam boards may require you to do some written coursework in your own handwriting. Some of the tasks outlined here are suitable for writing by hand. You may still, if you wish, use a PC for drafting and planning.

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Fiction and factual writing

You may write fiction but do not have to. You must not write at length, and short fiction is very hard to do. Do not try to write a novel. An opening chapter is not much good either, since you will not continue it. You may not have time to establish character and situation.

If you do write fiction, think about different forms and genres - it may be a short mystery tale for a magazine, in which case first or third person narrative may work. You could try a dramatic monologue. Alternatively, why not write a scene for a soap opera which you know well? You can show awareness of character and situation, show that you can sustain current plot lines and show that you know the conventions for this kind of writing.

Much of what you read is not fiction. The media you read or watch are full of profiles, interviews, real-life stories, lifestyle articles, reviews of soaps, film, books and music. Why not write in some of these forms? Again, this lets you show awareness of your audience.

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Written and spoken texts

You do not have to write to be read on the page (though your teacher and examiners will read your work in this way). You may write a script for performance on stage, or to be broadcast on radio or television. Much of the writing in the real world is for broadcast media.

You may write drama, but could also write a script for a documentary broadcast, a magazine programme (like The Clothes Show, Changing Rooms or even Blue Peter). You could script a news broadcast (like Newsround), using stories from real news media. What is important, is that you show awareness of your audience.

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One piece or several?

You may do either, but if you do one piece, you will need to find ways to vary your style, so that you can achieve the criteria for higher grades. The description for grade A refers to a "range" of "styles" and of "effects", for example. All of the suggestions below will allow you to do this.

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New stories for old

The idea here is to take a fairly simple narrative: it may be the plot of a fairytale, nursery rhyme or something which happened to you. Tell the story in a number of different styles - each one should not take more than a page. Four or five versions would be good. Tell the story in any of the following ways:

  • As an episode of a soap opera which you know (script format)
  • As a report in one or more newspapers - a Red Top (Mirror, Sun, Star), a broadsheet (Guardian, Telegraph, Times), sports paper (Sporting Life) local free paper, and so on
  • As a case study or scientific report for a school subject you are studying
  • As a passage in a novel or story by a writer whose style you can copy (Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton) or a genre of fiction (horror, romance, bonkbuster and so on)
  • As a narrative poem, serious or comic
  • As a monologue spoken by one of the characters in the story - you may wish to write colloquially to indicate how he or she or it speaks
  • As a report to the home planet from an unseen alien observer, like ET

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Narrative in different forms

Dracula, published in 1897, is a story which is told in many different ways. It is mostly in the first person (I, me) but has no one consistent narrator. It begins with entries in a journal (diary) kept by one of the main characters. Later we will find the story told in other journals, letters, a newspaper report and typed copies of speech dictated into a phonograph (an early recording device) by one of the leading characters. For its time, Dracula was very up to date. If you have a reasonably interesting short story (with a beginning, middle and end) you can tell it in lots of different ways, to change the viewpoint. Try some of the following

  • Diary entries (like those of Adrian Mole or Bridget Jones)
  • Letters (a device used by Jane Austen)
  • Notes passed between pupils (usually female) in school (usually written in non-standard English, often illustrated and often scandalous)
  • e-mail messages
  • Telephone conversations
  • Conventional first and/or third person narrative
  • Passage of dialogue (scripted like a play)
  • Monologue
  • Official letters or reports (from a headteacher or social worker, say)

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Autobiographical and personal writing

A full autobiography is usually written (or ghosted) when someone has lived long enough to make sense of his or her life: the opening will lead in due course to some discovery or idea of meaning and purpose - if only that the hero knows he is destined to play soccer for England. You are not likely to be in this situation - you are too young. But you do have some good memories, and may wish to write about them. You could try some of the following:

  • Obituary: imagine what your life will be, and write your own obituary for some far off future time, when you have done some amazing things
  • The child's viewpoint: write about events from your early childhood in a style that mimics the voice of a young child (real authors have done this successfully, as in Keith Waterhouse's There is a Happy Land and Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha)
  • Photo-journal: dig out old photographs, and write short essays and captions to go with each
  • Photo-story: using a sequence of photographs, write captions to turn the event they record into a photo story (you need not tell the truth)
  • Poetry:Write a poem about some memorable event or experience, perhaps in the style of a real poet you have studied (I am very sorry that I killed your gerbil [Simon Armitage] or In Mrs. Hitler's Class [Carol Ann Duffy]).

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Feature film, sitcom or soap

This enables you to write in a wide range of styles, but is fairly easy for most students. Choose a film, sitcom or soap which you know well, and write some of the following:

  • One or more reviews, written in a suitable style for the publication where they will appear
  • A letter to one of the characters, asking him or her about things he or she has done
  • Part of a script for an extra scene
  • A monologue or diary entry from one of the characters, looking back on events in the story
  • The text for one or more advertisements for the film or programme, to be broadcast, placed in a newspaper or magazine, and so on
  • Why this film/sitcom/soap is the most wonderful thing ever - a fan letter to a media mag
  • An entry for a 22nd century encyclopaedia of Elizabethan culture, explaining to people in the future what this film/sitcom/soap was about

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Scenes from a school

You can base this on schools you have known, but should not let truth get in the way of a good story. You will write about a page (or less) for each part. Make the examiner laugh. Do at least four or five:

  • Third-person narrative: relate a typical scene in, say, the girls' toilets at break, a corner no teacher can see, the back of the bike sheds, smokers' corner (girls' toilets, again?).
  • Dialogue (play script): use this for the luxurious scene in the staff room, where teachers swig coffee (neat or laced with booze), moan about horrid children, feed their faces and visit the palatial toilets, with the duo-flush and gold-plated taps.
  • First-person narrative: the speaker/writer can be, say, the head or deputy, or an unusual teacher, who has just had to humiliate some other teachers, children, the school cat. Alternatively, the speaker could be the school cat!
  • A report: write a record of achievement for an unusual pupil - a genius, the school bully, the adult pretending to be younger so he can qualify for medical school (this really happened) and so on.
  • A page from the school prospectus: find ways to praise the school's doubtful charms (tell lies).
  • The school song: a bit of a challenge, but you may be able to write one (use a well-known tune).
  • An exchange of notes between two friends: use a mix of standard and non-standard forms, and bleep out the swear-words with asterisks - remember to libel everyone else.
  • Ransom note: the kidnappers offer money to anyone who will take back the school dragon!

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Through the keyhole

Imagine a block of flats, or row of houses, into which you can see. All have different people in them, different furniture, different lifestyles. Tell the reader about them. Use these different forms:

  • Dialogue (play script): Write as dramatic dialogue what is going on in one of the homes. Remember to use stage directions (in italic) for actions.
  • The Tenants' Association Annual Report: write a typical page of this thrilling document.
  • Changing Rooms feature: imagine that one home has had a makeover. Write about it either as a script for a broadcast report or a magazine feature on what has been done. This can be straight or silly in style (just like the real programme).
  • Third-person narrative: depict in this straightforward way what is going on in one home.
  • Estate agent's leaflet: one home is for sale. Present it to potential buyers, as estate agents might do ("Beautifully presented desirable residence for sale...") If you like you can give a "true" translation for the agent-speak: conveniently located for rail travel: next-door to the station; in need of some modernization: some walls have not yet fallen down.
  • A letter: write this from an occupant to a friend who has moved away. Report on how life goes on in Celestial Mansions or whatever this place is called.
  • A Martian Sends a Postcard Home*: Write a report from an alien visitor to his or her or its home planet, explaining the bizarre things you have seen in one of the homes.

*This is the name of a very entertaining poem by Craig Raine. Your teacher may show you a copy of it, to give you some ideas! Alternatively, think of ET phoning home.

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Scenes from a holiday

You can base this on a real holiday you have had (dig out the old photos and travel brochures), one you'd like to have, or a fantasy holiday on one of the moons of Jupiter, or other unlikely place. Write some of the following:

  • A page from a travel brochure, praising the beauty of your possible destination.
  • Script for a broadcast: write a five-minute (or shorter) feature about your holiday resort
  • First person narrative: an account of a sight (or site, or both) which you found memorable.
  • Third-person narrative: what happened at another exotic location.
  • Dialogue: the scene at the table in the taverna/bistro/Bierhof as the family watches the evening's entertainment, with suitable alcoholic accompaniment.
  • A letter or postcard home: you can write more in a letter - you choose which to do.
  • A letter of thanks/complaint to the travel company, written when the family come home.
  • Opinion column: you are a columnist working for a newspaper, using your holiday to finish your column (a few paragraphs at most). Give your readers your views on either of these statements: Travel broadens the mind or To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.

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Presenting your work

Whether you use the PC or write by hand, set your work out to look like the kind of text you are trying to write - use suitable layout and type, as far as possible. Use a style of writing or speech which is appropriate: read real published texts to find out what this is. You may use illustration or paste in pictures.

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Write real texts for real audiences

Don't write things which you have only ever met in school. Write things which you would like to read. Write in forms which you know. Think carefully about your readers - make your style suitable for them. Why not try to get your work published? Write a letter to a magazine which you read, for example.

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© Andrew Moore, 2000; Contact me

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