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A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice.
Derek Neale ed.
Packed with stimulating writing exercises, numerous quotes and over 30 extracts from literature across a wide variety of genres, the book can be followed as a complete course or dipped into throughout.

Accessibly written by three published writers and experienced teachers from leading creative writing institutions, this is a rich sourcebook of techniques containing:
  • challenging writing exercises to expand the writer's technique and 'voice'
  • innovative ways of developing fiction and poetry styles
  • in-depth introductions to stage, radio and film writing
  • insights into the way different genres interact and how to adapt stories for performance
  • advice on layout and professional presentation of work


The aim of this handbook is, as editor Derek Neale states, to 'refresh and sustain you as a writer'. The book works on the premise that writing is a 'craft', and that creative pieces need to be re-drafted and revised.  Interestingly, the book also suggests that techniques used in dramatic writing can be utilized in other genres.

The book's contributors, Derek Neale, Bill Greenwell and Linda Anderson, are all experienced lecturers, and are currently members of the English Department at the Open University. In addition, they are all well-published writers. Linda Anderson and Derek Neale wrote Writing Fiction (2008), and Neale co-wrote Life Writing (2008). Both these books were reviewed in issue 48 of Writing in Education.

A Creative Writing Handbook endeavours to provide writers with 'the technical know-how' to develop their writing.  It covers three genres - prose, poetry and drama, and is divided into four parts. Parts one, two and three are broken up into sections, with individual headings. Each section includes writing activities and discussions based on relevant example extracts. Part one "Ways of Writing", introduces genre, characters, conflict and revision. Part two "Writing drama", explores writing stage plays, radio drama and screenplays. In addition to covering some of the basics of dramatic writing, including staging, subtext and status, part two also addresses methods used when adapting material, citing, for example The Hours (the David Hare screenplay and Michael Cunningham's novel). Part three "Developing style", focuses on using 'film technique' in fiction.  It also explores the technical aspects of writing poetry, for example the repetition in the Villanelle form.  Part three of the book takes an interesting approach to developing style; of particular note is the section on "Time and Timings", which addresses narrative pacing, and "Theme and Sequence", which addresses how to lay 'the trail of your theme'.  Part four consists of "Readings" by established writers: short stories, poetry, novel excerpts and dramatic excerpts by writers such as VS Pritchett, Harold Pinter and Sarah Waters. These readings are used for the activities and discussions in part one, two and three of the handbook. 

A Creative Writing Handbook is published in association with the Open University, and it forms part of an OU writing course (Advanced Creative Writing). I feel the fact that this text is an OU course book is important to bear in mind. Neale, in his introduction, explains that the exercises in the book can be completed consecutively, or out of sequence. He also suggests that the handbook would prove valuable to individual writers, to tutors developing writing courses, and to writing groups.  However, I believe it would be used to best effect in sequence by a creative writing tutor, to complement a programme of study, as indeed it is originally intended.

On reading A Creative Writing Handbook, I would like to highlight two main strengths of this text.  Firstly, the more technical aspects of Part Three on developing style, as I have briefly mentioned above, would be particularly useful in honing writing technique. Secondly, one of the most refreshing elements of this book is its focus on using dramatic writing techniques to revise other genres. This attention to dramatic writing does not prevent the handbook from being of equal use to any writer whose main interest does not lie in that form. The broad scope of this handbook, covering as it does, some of the main components of writing prose, drama and poetry, in addition to the use of writing activities, discussion and readings, makes it a valuable and stimulating resource for creative writers. 

Ellie Piddington

Additional Information:
£16.99, paperback
A & C Black Publishers Ltd in association with The Open University
Issue Number:
ISBN 978-1-4081-0941-0
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