When I was a kid, way back when, I always smiled at the mention of a “fiction writing” class. “The Short Story,” “Novel Writing 101,” etc. You know what I'm talking about.
I was fascinated, elated, excited to get in there and get some godamn writing in. Sure, I thought, I'll take these courses and I'll end up being a smash hit novelist. I'll be the best.
Oh, shut up. I'm sure you did, too.
At that age I was convinced that you could teach someone to be a good fiction-writer. Of course, as I got older and more seasoned (and, admittedly, a bit more cynical) I couldn't answer a reoccurring question: Why do so many bad fiction writers come out of these classes? Shouldn't they be good? Is the class not up to bar? Is it a poor teacher? I kept spinning around in circles with all this, trying to figure out why this was happening and how I could stop from being discouraged.
By the way—the choice to become a journalist/freelancer and not a novelist had nothing to do with this. Really.
Then I read, more and more, and something occurred to me. All of the books I was flipping through were different. Each sentence, syllable, paragraph structure, etc. was a bit different. Not to say that there weren't general trends (sentences with punctuation, indenting for dialogue, etc.) but there was just so much... variety. It wasn't like a news article where things were much more cut and dry and your style had to be subtle—all this stuff was in-your-face.
I've got friends who are English majors. English majors tend to be snobby, so not many. In any case, some of them are Creative Writing majors.
Which is a terrible idea, by the way.
They specialize in creative writing. Not in article-writing, not in proofreading, not in editing... in creative writing. Stories. Fiction.
And you know what? A lot of them are just plain God-awful.
So tell me—what do you guys think? You can teach someone to write an essay, yes. You can teach someone to write an article, yes. You can teach someone to craft a newsletter, yes. But a story....?
You tell me.