Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can You Teach Fiction-Writing? (Seriously, Tell me)

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.


  1. if you want to get better at writing, read lots and LOTS of books.

  2. You can not ... imo ... teach creativity. I am a DnD gamer and while I would love to run my own game I know I am not creative enough. My brain is too problem solving oriented. Not Problem creating. Funny part is that in my experience there are more people out there who are creative than constructive. They just may not be original.

  3. I agree with Snooby here, my girlfriend read millions and she writes like a pro!

  4. humanity improves by copying things other humans create and improves them.human evolution.same goes for writing you have to read a lot of books see how its done get a grip then take an idea and write

  5. Yeah, I think the more you read, the better writer you become.

  6. With the grain, across the grain, then against the grain. Makes the perfect shave, takes 5 minutes and you only gotta do it every other day.

  7. you learn how to write by reading a lot

  8. I think creativity is an innate ability

  9. looking forward to your next post

  10. I agree with MacPC... creativity seems to be innate

  11. mmmm. I think you learn to write by writing, but I might be wrong...