How to write Fiction like a Pro and improve your English GCSE GradeLeave a Comment
Descriptive writing is a permanent fixture on all GCSE syllabuses and is an important part of the KS2 and KS3 curriculums too. Many students find it one of the most daunting aspects of any English course. Creative writing isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of people. Because of this, any tips and tricks that you can learn along the way will always be helpful.
So, how do you write fiction like a pro and improve your English GCSE grade?
Avoid the common English GCSE Pitfalls and Mistakes
The first step towards success in writing fiction is to be aware of what the common mistakes that students make are. By far the biggest pitfall is to try to put too much in. We are taught, right from primary school, that a good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, this is broadly true. However, trying to write a whole story in the two or three sides of A4 you might cover in a GCSE exam answer is unrealistic.
One of the biggest mistakes is that students try to cover too much time in their descriptive writing. Some of the best descriptions will focus on minutes of action, rather than hours, days, or even weeks.
It is generally better to focus on a short space of time but to describe that moment in more descriptive detail than to try and cover a longer period of time.
Less is More
Following on from this is the old adage: ‘less is more.’ Furthermore, although it’s a bit of a cliché, it’s also worth remembering the saying ‘quality over quantity’ as well. Exam questions often give guidelines for word counts for descriptive pieces, such as 450-500 words. Perhaps the optimum length for an English GCSE descriptive writing response is around the three pages of A4 mark.
However, this really comes with an important caveat – word counts are only guidelines, they are not actual requirements. No GCSE mark scheme expects students to have written a certain amount. Similarly, no GCSE mark schemes instruct examiners to penalise students that don’t meet those guideline word counts.
Some students see all the blank pages in their answer booklet and think they need to fill as many as possible. Wrong. In fact, in doing so, students invariably penalise themselves.
Why? Well, it’s simple really. Descriptive Writing is typically ‘Section B’ of an English GCSE exam. Although there is no requirement to do so, this means that the vast majority of students will attempt this section last. There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Indeed, on balance, it is probably complete the paper in this way.
Spelling, Punctuation, Grammar
But it’s worth remembering this: Section B – the descriptive writing section – is the only part of the paper when a student’s spelling, punctuation and grammar is specifically assessed. When are you most likely to make mistakes? At the end of an exam.
What often happens is that students who are desperately trying to fill all the pages only succeed in one thing – making more mistakes. And the more mistakes you make, the harder it becomes for an examiner to award a high mark.
So, less really is more. If you only manage a paragraph or two for your descriptive writing piece, it’s never going to be enough. However, one and half sides of well-written description will nearly always be better than three or four sides of mistake-laden work. If the only thing an examiner can criticise is the fact a piece is a bit brief, it won’t be too costly.
Setting, Character, Action
If you want to write fiction like a pro, it’s worth thinking about what makes great descriptive writing. In general, it can be broken into three simple categories: setting, character, and action. No complete story will engage purely because of its setting alone – but a detailed description of a setting to build atmosphere and to set the scene can be vital.
Ultimately, it’s what happens to the characters in those settings that interests readers more than anything. Again, in a complete whole story, there needs to be some action at some point. However, for the purposes of a GCSE descriptive writing response, it’s best to focus on the description of character and setting, rather than the action.
For more top tips on how to write fiction like a pro and improve your English grade, an English tutor can give you the individual support you need.