Now I wouldn't call myself a true writer. I'm about 14 now and I'm currently preparing for my IGCSEs with a ton of subjects to juggle through and revise. English Language is one of the subjects, and in the paper, there is an entire section dedicated to creative writing. This section usually consists of 3-4 options for a creative writing task. Each option gives a topic/title to write either a descriptive essay, argumentative essay, or narrative essay on. Our teacher advises us to always choose writing a story (which would mean picking the narrative essay option), as apparently it's easier to pull more marks by virtue of the fact that you have a narrative at all.

So what I just do is practice writing short stories on loads of different topics and themes. This way I'll be keeping my creative writing skills fresh and in good use. Also, I get to experiment with a variety of ideas/themes, effectively preparing me for tackling whatever topic the exam board might throw (to write a story on).

Now the examiners are looking for something fresh and matured, pieces that deal with inherently deep issues (the likes of slavery and gender inequality) with a certain level of "sophistication" (for the lack of a better word). But when it comes to sensitive topics like drug addiction or prostitution, the problem is I might try to act like I really know what I'm doing but I will probably still end up coming across as the naive kid that I am. And I'm afraid no amount of literary techniques or genius writing can fix that. The "sophistication" element is what it'll lack.

I'm struggling to describe the experiences of an intoxicated teen specifically. This is the theme I'm working on at the moment. While I do have somewhat of an idea on the effects of alcohol/drugs and how they could make you feel, I do not have any real experience with anything of that sort. Yes, I could read up on writings by people who do have that experience, those who can connect with the topic on a personal level, but I don't think it still would help me pull it through. I simply cannot describe it as brilliantly and passionately as I could if I had tried those things firsthand.

All attempts at coming up with anything decent about intoxication have resulted in this:

Impossible colours swirled in her head, blurring her senses. The technicolour blobs floating around in her subconscious drew her in. She could only gaze at those wondrous things in part fear and part awe.

SNAP.

A rush of noise sounded, jolting her out of the reverie. She sat up bolt straight, whirling out of the silky, duvet sheets.

Soppy, ridiculous prose.

Of course, I don't actually write like that, nor is that a snippet from any actual piece of mine. Please don't bother analysing it. I was intentionally writing in purple for effect/emphasis—you needn't go and point that out to me. What I mean is that having nothing remarkable to write of intoxication, as I really don't know much about it, I worry that I will resort to covering it up with flowery, over-the-top language and florid imagery.

  • Did you consider what can happen if you succeed, and your intoxication essay would look very authentic to the examiners? :) – Alexander Sep 24 at 23:46
  • @Alexander Do you mean to say it does look authentic enough to you right now? Sorry, I don't get you. – Soha Farhin Pine Sep 25 at 6:36
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    Maybe at least ask experienced people? (Like the most upvoted answer suggests) I hardly can tell I could see impossible colors. Not at least until I could remember things. – rus9384 Sep 25 at 11:08
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Writing 'soppy prose' is an entirely separate issue from writing accurately about intoxication.

If your examiners are primarily interested in your writing skills and language use you should focus on the soppiness rather than the accuracy.

I don't know what marking schema they work to in your area but it would be incredibly harsh if they were to mark down someone in their early teens for not writing accurately about prostitution and drug abuse rather than for writing about it in a stilted or poorly expressed way.

If your profile is up to date and you are still just 13, they really are not going to be expecting you to write with a maturity significantly beyond that age. You are talking about them testing your creative writing skills, not your skills in journalism or philosophy. They are most likely looking for your writing to be 'appropriately mature in its use of language' rather than for you to have a precociously mature personality.

For my taste your prose is often on the overblown side, but that is because I am both a different age and in a different culture. I don't expect you to write like I would and your examiners will not expect you to write as though you have the life experience of a young adult in the west.

So my suggestion is that you focus on the language use. if you want to assume that someone sees coloured blobs, fine (though personally the only thing that has ever made me see coloured blobs is a classic migraine with aura)... just work on the description. eg 'impossible colours' is good , but how does that impossibility relate to 'technicolour'? What does 'technicolour' mean to you, what will it mean to the examiners? Are the colours usually described as technicolour in any way 'impossible'? How do coloured blobs blur your other senses? I'm not saying they can't but my mind snags on that because I want to know how a colored blob blurs smell... what would a blurred smell be like?

If you describe a wondrous experience of watching coloured shapes swirl and distort other senses then it becomes redundant to describe them as 'wondrous things', you've already shown us that.

Look out for redundant words generally as they make your prose more pedestrian; does 'part fear and part awe'add anything that 'fear and awe' doesn't? Does the 'rush of noise' need to also sound? Couldn't it just 'jolt'? 'A rush of noise jolted her from her reverie'.

So, my advice is don't worry about the detail of the accuracy of things you can't be expected to have experienced. Focus on the quality of your language usage, internal consistency and avoiding things that pull the reader out of the flow. Don't write like someone padding word count.

Remember that researching an issue or experience you don't have experience with doesn't just mean "reading up" on it. A time-honoured research approach is to find people with the experience you're lacking, and interview them.

Is there a family member who might have experience with alcohol or marijuana (two of the most common intoxicants)? Or, if not, is there a trusted member of your family or community who could arrange for you to meet someone with this experience (and, preferably, accompany you)?

When interviewing the person, it's important to have prepared some questions in advance, and to have considered how the interviewee might be similar to - and different from - the character you're writing about. Don't be afraid to ask naïve questions; in fact, you have a special advantage in being able to do so, that an older and more experienced person lacks!

If your character is having their first exposure to intoxication, make sure you ask the interviewee about their first experience, since this will be very different from the experience of a regular user getting intoxicated.

Regarding your example, as you've guessed, it's not very realistic. Light intoxication with alcohol usually makes the person more confident, garrulous and adventurous. Greater intoxication leads to a "warm buzz", but also impaired judgement (revealing confidences, or misunderstanding things), increased emotionality (more prone to crying or anger), diminished coordination and motor skills (slurring of words, knocking a glass over, unable to walk a straight line) and sleepiness or unconsciousness.

An inexperienced drinker won't need to drink very much at all - say, two glasses of wine - to feel intoxicated, and this can be followed by nausea and vomiting (perhaps accompanied by the visual colours and whirling sensation you describe), whereas for an experienced drinker, two glasses of wine won't have any observable effect.

Each kind of drug has a different psychotropic (mind-altering) effect, so my description of the above would not necessarily apply to marijuana or other intoxicants.

  • Thanks a ton for the answer! The problem is I don't know any person in family who would openly admit to having tried an introxicant in the past. I live in a quite conservative Muslim country, so most people tend to avoid drinking/drugs although the religious restrictions don't actually deter those who want to go down that road. There's nothing stopping them if they really want to. Unfortunately the adults in my family happen to be incredibly proper men; I doubt they would even dare to try out anything of that sort. But certainly worth a try regardless! – Soha Farhin Pine Sep 25 at 6:48
  • I guessed that might be the case, which is why I suggested "a trusted member of your family or community [my emphasis] who could arrange for you to meet someone with this experience". There might be more willingness if it's framed as "social research" with the goal of improving your capacity to score highly in the subject. A chaperone not only provides additional "properness" but also a degree of distance, e.g. they accompany you to meet (say) a respectable businessman whose foreign colleague [with Western habits, i.e. a regular drinker] is happy to help out... – Chappo Sep 25 at 8:44
  • Great idea! But how did you guess that my family members may not be willing to share their experiences on this matter? – Soha Farhin Pine Sep 25 at 8:47
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    You might try to post a questions list of the interview on a forum in a country that has less strict rules about these intoxicants. If you explain your reasons well enough I am sure people want to share some of their experiences – Totumus Maximus Sep 25 at 8:59
  • @SohaFarhinPine Your profile shows you're from Bangladesh, which is a Muslim country. You're well educated, so it's easy to guess your family occupies a respectable social position. I guessed there might be a desire to shield a young person from certain realities or practices. ;-) – Chappo Sep 25 at 9:01

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