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Creative Writing for Analysis

Authored By: 
Michelle Koza, English Teacher

How can a teacher trick her students into doing literary analysis? I know I am not the first teacher in history to be disappointed by my students’ analytical writing. There is something about this type of exercise that just makes their eyes glaze over. I have come to the conclusion that the reason students don’t know how to look into a piece of literature is because they haven’t thought about what it’s like to be on the inside looking out. And what better way to solve this issue than by putting them in charge of their own creative pieces?

Now this is not to say that we should pass out a creative writing assignment and see you next week. Just like we do with our analytical writing, teachers should be ready to support students’ understanding, but with a slightly different perspective. We answer lots of prompts in class, directed to help students think about particular issues in writing, such as the development of a voice or a speaker, the development of issues they want to address in their stories, and the use of writer’s moves. Instead of asking why the writer has done something or other, we can ask the student: why did you make this writerly decision in your story? 

The literature we read plays a direct role in the creative writing we are doing. Right now, we are studying “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid in Junior English, and we mine the text for all kinds of information. We look at the text for issues that arise and make a list of those. We acknowledge that “Girl” has a distinctive speaker so we make a list of potential speakers we could use in our story. Then we examine the text for literary devices or writer’s moves. What are our literary writers up to that we can emulate in our own writing?

To underpin the creative writing process, I have asked students to write a rationale in addition to their creative pieces. Here, they are doing the work they would do if they were writing a literary analysis paper. The knowledge being covered is the same as what would be covered in an analytical paper, but students are approaching it from a different direction, from the inside out. And that has made all the difference.