How to improve a discursive

  1. Start with a snappy anecdote or tale. All the great persuaders do it.

2. Use inclusive pronouns – to give a sense of shared common purpose.

There are a few tricks to instantly improving a discursive.

3. Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction. Talk about your experience and then how that dovetails to illustrate a bigger idea such as freedom, mercy or hope.

One tip to improve a story

It sounds so simple  – but do you know what the central revelation of your story is?


How do you want an audience to feel at the beginning and end of your narrative?

If your audience walks away with one idea – what is it?

What is the central revelation?

How hard is it to learn to write?

Really hard!

Of course it is!

And how much harder is it – trying to do it in a group setting? How AMAZING does the teacher/school/principal have to be to create a climate in which a bunch of adolescents students willingly sit down and think and write?

But there are so many amazing teachers out there

I met with one a few weeks ago, showing her a draft of our essay writing book – and she had no idea how wonderful she was. As she was talking about essay writing, I had to keep saying, “Stop. Stop. I have to write down what you are saying. I have to get that down for my book.” For example…



But so many students don’t realise how wonderful the person is standing in front of them and what they can do to help them.

I do! I know how hard it is! That’s why I don’t teach full time!

After working as a journalist and writer for decades, and with a Masters in Creative Writing, I was really shocked when I did my English teaching degree seven years ago, how much teachers had to know to teach writing. It also made me realise how much I didn’t know about language and rhetoric in particular. Interestingly, I have learned so much about writing from the study of English.

The complexity and depth of what English teachers have to know in fact, motivated me to start writing my books – I wanted to put many of the things that teachers are supposed to teach their students –  in the one place – at least in part to make their lives easier – so they can focus more on the hard work of teaching students how to write.

A text to support brilliant teachers

Here are some pages from our most recent book: Essay Writing – it has killed me putting it together – but I’m so happy with it – pulling together so many different things from literary theory to representation analysis – in ONE PLACE!

So I take my hat off to all the teachers out there – doing magnificent jobs, teaching young people all over Australia to learn to express themselves. Particularly in areas of the greatest social disadvantage – as the article below shows – you are punching above your weight!

If you read the article below – one can only think of Doris Lessing’s speech – On not accepting the Nobel prize…

Finding your punch

What is your voice? What pictures do you paint in the minds of your readers when you write? Is your voice distinctive? How do you make your words carry an emotional punch?

I met a wonderful teacher from Victoria last week who said, “I am always asking my students – what is your voice? How can you make your voice unique? ”

These are very good questions. Important questions. Our own unique perspective is what makes writing enjoyable, exciting and interesting.

It is something that can be highly valued as well.  In her recent book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, writer Tina Brown scribbled,  voice “is the most precious and allusive quality a magazine can offer its readers”. This is true.

1. Be brave

Read, read, read. Write. Write. Write.

Read the best novels and articles, watch the most wonderful films, listen to podcasts  – in part to gain permission to write what is in your head.

Look at how Charles Dickens describes Magwitch eating – it is so wonderfully and uniquely observed that in turn tells a universal truth of hunger.

I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating, and the man’s. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction, of somebody’s coming to take the pie away. He was altogether too unsettled in his mind over it, to appreciate it comfortably, I thought, or to have anybody to dine with him, without making a chop with his jaws at the visitor. In all of which particulars he was very like the dog.

Charles Dickens,
Great Expectations


2. Engage with the language of film and text

Watch and read what you love and work out what the composer has done to make you love the work.

Steal. Engage. Work out what packs emotion and interest.

The TV producer Rebecca Easton, described the actor John Shaw who played the detective Inspector Morse as “Catnip for women” – that’s a great expression to steal. 

His sad eyes were catnip for her. Always.

Don’t plagiarise but as TS Eliot wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

Rowan Woods, says engage with the language of the screen. Break down your favourite TV scene or movie and work out how that screen language delivers an emotional punch.


3. Specificity always

Not hear it? — yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long — long — long — many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it — yet I dared not — oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! — I dared not — I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb!

Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar Allan Poe


How do you feel? Is this a unique voice? Why yes it is…


For these and more tips please see our books:



Are you using imagery in your writing?

Imagery. Imagery. Imagery.

Imagery is the foundation of all good writing – poetry. Short stories. Speeches. Novels. Movies. Opinion pieces.

Writers have to work hard to create powerful images which pull and position readers to see the scene. Powerful imagery or one single image can carry a whole idea.

1. A picture paints a thousand words

Writers have to make words work hard to create powerful images.

Typically, many works will start with a sensory description to evocatively describe a setting.

For example look at the opening line of The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson – it’s very simple but clearly establishes a strong sense of place in the opening lines.

The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, veranda included.

2. Use the senses

Great writers always use sensory imagery to lift and animate a scene. If you want to lift your writing write down what can your character:






If you do this, your writing will instantly lift off the page.

Look at how Wilfred Owen uses sound in Anthem for a Doomed Youth:
the monstrous anger of the guns. (sound)
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle…(sound)
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; (sound)
And he ends this poem with a final killer image in the last line –
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. (see)


These powerful images convey his message and leave a lasting impression on the reader.

We explain how you can utilise creating powerful images in your own writing in both of our books: Creative Writing and Persuasive Writing which you can see here:

Improve your writing!


The power of an emotional appeal

Great writers understand the power of emotion

Last week, a Year 11 student and I looked at the opening paragraphs of some of the greatest or most popular novels ever written and what struck us was the subtle, deep emotional pull from the first paragraph. Typically, a child was shown to be mistreated, unheard or out of place from the first pages.

Great writers understand that to pull a reader into certain types of stories, they must have an honourable character who needs to be shielded from the ravages of life. They also understand their relationship with the audience  – they don’t tell the audience everything – they allow the audience to infer and draw the pieces of the unfolding puzzle together.

Use setting, characterisation and emotional appeals to set up the emotional arc of your story

So simple? Not really.

Charles Dickens knows how. He really is a master and engaging an audience through emotional appeals…so how does he do it?

From: Great Expectations

From paragraph two in chapter one –

I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone…

A reader has to infer – father is dead (aww)…

my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.

Aww – again the reader has to infer – his mother is dead too and voice of Pip is underplayed creating ethos, therefore making Pip appear heroic.

And then…

this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness..

Oh dear – he’s on a marsh, near the graveyard, near his departed mother, father and five siblings (Aww) and then


“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”

The fearful man…immediate, specific conflict is introduced; someone who could harm the poor, noble Pip.

What does the reader think? Poor Pip! Is Pip going to survive?


No – that’s why writing is hard – but our books can help…Creative Writing: Digital edition


How to improve NAPLAN creatives

How to improve NAPLAN creatives

Teachers really are expected to perform magic tricks every day.

Every day they are expected to teach young people how to create a believable imaginary world that readers can willingly fall into.

I ask you how many adults can write a fantastic, engaging narrative?

Good old teachers, however are expected to teach a bunch of wriggly, sometimes disinterested young people, the art of crafting a story, on a hot Friday afternoon.

It’s HARD!

Children have to think about the quality of their writing plus the structure of their writing which is a little like asking Ginger Rogers to dance backwards. She did it – of course – but it took lots of practise.

I’ve got a few short cuts though which are in our ebook Creative Writing– which hopefully help.

1. Drop the reader into the action

Please, please, please start a story in the middle of the action. No – there was once a princess…It was a dark, stormy night…

The first line of Charlotte’s Web is: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”

A good exercise is to ask students to start with the following dialogue and see what happens to their story.

“Get out”.


“Don’t go in there”.

“Come back”.

2. Plan/Fail…Plan/Fail

Characters also have to move. They have to ACT. They can’t sit around and watch other people do things. A Dad has to fall off a boat. An owl has to come and visit. A pirate has to walk into a bar.

My father had an inn near the sea. It was a quiet place. One day, an old man came to our door. He was tall and strong, and his face was brown. His old blue coat was dirty and he had a big old box with him. He looked at the inn, then he looked at the sea.

My father came to the door.

From Treasure Island….

Something has to happen! If nothing happens – it’s just a description of daily life and that’s SO BORING. It’s bad enough living it  – let alone reading about it.

Fiction is life compressed into the most interesting part.

Characters, therefore, have to act and come up with plans which then fail. It works. Every time.

In the opening sequence of Dunkirk – the lead character runs away from gunfire – makes a plan, leaps over a gate – which then fails – as the gunfire continues – he leaps over a shed – makes another plan  – only to find himself in the middle of a different parade of bullets – another fail. The viewer is swept along in the action and we are left to wonder – will he survive?

Again we have some scaffolds and short cuts though which are in our ebook Creative Writing– which hopefully help.

Till next time  – master wizards!



The importance of structure in a persuasive text

Never, ever forget the importance of structure

How a persuasive text is structured can have as much impact on an audience as what is said. Just ask Brutus and Mark Antony!

When writing a persuasive, students must consider style – so all the tricks that make writing beautiful and they must also consider arrangement – so how they present their argument.

1. Do the thinking first

Before writing a persuasive text, students must first have considered a range of things such as the positive and negative effects of a problem and solutions to a problem before writing. The most effective persuasives typically include solutions which can be quite a challenge for young people to consider.

We have some scaffolds and charts which help students think about these things in our Persuasive Writing book.

2. Go beyond the self

When mounting a case – students can discuss their own experience – particularly in a creative and humorous way but within that they must also discuss what are the implications for the wider society and reflect on the wider world.  Encouraging them to write the word “because” after making a statement helps them extend their argument beyond their own experience.

3. Arrange the argument to be the most persuasive

Students have a number of choices when it comes to arrangement. They can list their arguments and add evidence, explain the cause and effects of an issue using emotive imagery, use compare or contrast, or identify problems and come up with solutions.


Not really.

Mastery takes time – for us all!

Happy writing

Writing a persuasive NAPLAN text

Writing a persuasive text is actually quite hard.

Indeed it is.

It’s hard because you have to work out what you want to say and then arrange it so that it is the most persuasive.

Not only do you have to blend style and structure, high school students also have to think about the implications for society and come up with solutions! You also have to acknowledge and rebut counter-arguments as well.

Has anyone done that lately?

I remember my daughter, in Year 9, had to write an opinion piece on the refugee crisis in Europe and she slaved over it. She got a decent mark but when she asked why she didn’t get a top mark, her teacher said, “You didn’t come up with solutions”. Um. Did anyone come up with a solution to that crisis?

1. Think and plan

Obvious yes  – but totally necessary. You have to take a position and then make a case – drawing on evidence. Include solutions and in the final body paragraph address counter-arguments. Finish with a bang.

2. Think about solutions

Again – this is a challenge. Start reading, watching and listening. One of the reasons why the War on Waste show was so effective was that Craig Reucassel used humour to disarm, he showed the scale of problems of waste and then presented solutions.

We have useful scaffolds in our book: Persuasive Writing.

3. Rebut counter arguments – the power of however

Think about what people who disagree with your position would say. What would you say then? Start your final body paragraph with: Now it has been argued…..However…

However is the most wonderful word – as soon as you use it – your argument instantly becomes more sophisticated.

Happy writing!

How to start a NAPLAN narrative

The first few lines of a story are crucial

This is a truth for all writers. JK Rowling. Year 12s – and for any young person writing narratives for the year 7 or 9 writing test this year for NAPLAN.

Create interest from the first line.

You only have a limited number of words, so use them judiciously and deploy them for the right moments. Use your words to focus on the central conflict of your story and the emotional reactions of your character.

Start your story quickly. Drop the reader into the action from the first line. Don’t wait!

Start in the middle

This week, one student defended the slow start to his story by saying, “I’m building up interest”.

To which I replied, “But it’s not interesting to read about packing for a cruise, driving to the cruise liner and boarding the boat”.

“JK Rowling takes her time,” he said.

So we had a look at the first lines of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Mmm. How interesting.

Chapter One is entitled: The Boy who lived

Well that piques the reader’s interest  – don’t you think? The reader is left to wonder – well who died?

Rowling continues:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Mmm. They are not going to be normal, are they? Rowling crafts the opening line of her story, drops the reader in the middle and keeps the reader wanting to read.

It’s hard but spend some time thinking making sure that you start your story late in the piece, close to the action.

Start with a bang

In addition to starting in the middle of the story, make sure, from the first lines of a story, you hold back information and create anticipation. Knowing what your story is about and what is the best way of telling it are two different things.

A Year 12 student was working on a story that started off with a newspaper extract. Her teacher said she needed to show more rather than tell, so we had to put on our thinking caps and come up with a killer first line. So we came up with this:

My mother always thought I would be murdered.

That works! Intrigue from the first line. We have suggestions in our Creative Writing book.

Keep writing!