Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

How do unsuccessful novel writers build houses? Editorial Opinion


Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
William H. Coles

You get a backhoe and dig a BIG hole. You back up a cement truck and pour three BIG mounds of cement. While cement hardens, you cut down two giant oaks, strip the leaves and throw the trunks with limbs in the big hole on top of the cement. You pour, 100 gallons of glue, a quarter ton of bolts and nails, five porcelain toilets, and three bathtubs. You add 800 light bulbs of various sizes throughout the growing muddle. You mix three hundred gallons of paint in different, preferable incompatible (noncliché) colors, and splash the paint at random over all you’ve assembled. Let the mess simmer for five months during a horribly hot summer, if possible. Add 3800 roof tiles–no need to remove from the packaging. Voila! A house.

Whats the point? Authors of literary stories need to be in control of their thinking and their imagination and then create story by mastering the elements of fiction prose and storytelling. Here are three of the important ideas to conquer:

*Structure–beginning, middle, and end.
Writers need structure, an overall outline that directs happenings, action, emotional arcs, and prioritizes ideas and timing of information transfer. Literary stories have images and movement that are delivered logically structured on a timeline. Author ideas and thoughts generated by chance and randomly applied to story, no matter the quality of idea or thought, are not as effective as imagined elements structured into coherent, logical web the supports story momentum.

*Purpose.
Fiction writers need altruism and must: not write for fame and fortune, not write to be published to claim “author” at social gatherings, but write to engage, entertain, and enlighten readers by creating and telling a story well and building characters specific for story understanding and meaning.

*Creativity and imagination.
Writers need to imagine and create, not remember and describe. Imagination for fiction does not come from sitting alone in a dark, sound proof, unheated room until memories emerge from author life experiences like sea creatures from a peat bog. In fiction, scenes are imagined that move the plot, build characters consistent with the timeline, and relate to purpose and theme of the story. Authors who default to their own worldview and life experiences often fail to reach advantages of imagined fiction available to the world beyond self.

*”The Miracle of Madame Villard” is the story of a boy on a mission to find a cure for his dying mother. Set in the 18th century France, the story and all elements of story are imagined. You can read it online free.
http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/the-miracle-of-madame-villard/
The Miracle of Madame Villard


If you find these ideas ring true, WOULD YOU SHARE THIS POST? LITERARY (character-based dramatic plots, theme and meaning, unique characterization) FICTION (imagined) needs writers who train in traditional successful literary techniques. I’m trying to spread the word.

You could SHARE THIS LINK too for original story examples, essays, interviews, a workshop, and illustrations. storyiniteraryfiction.com. (free)
And thanks.



Excessive Pride and Self-Confidence as Motive in Storytelling: Characterization and Plot Example Article About Writing Better


Friday, August 12th, 2016
William H. Coles

An example of excessive pride and self-confidence in story excerpt from "Nemesis".
___________
After he was fired from his job as audiovisual technician, Fred demanded early retirement, threatening to sue, and received forty-percent of his salary. A pittance of what I’m worth, he thought. Fred’s dismissal humiliated his wife Veronica. “Get a job,” she said, irritated to have him perpetually at home.

“I think I’ll start writing a syndicated column for the newspaper,” Fred said, emboldened by his recently acquired disgust–through his intent viewing of TV extremist news–of how seriously deficient America had become.

“You’re lazy,” Veronica said.

“Lazy people do not reach my levels of success,” he said.

Veronica was thin and had a nervous tick that shut her left eye making her right eye widen and exposing the white of the globe as if in unilateral fright. She would leave Fred after twelve loveless years. “You’re a jackass,” she said.

“Don’t be your unreasonable self, Veronica. It only demeans you.”

“A halfwit,” she said.

“Now it’s name calling, is it?” Fred said.

“It’s not a name. I’m not addressing you. I’m telling what everyone knows. You're an incompetent, unemployed, self-absorbed, idiot–the only human in existence who has pride in his failures. And I hate you.”

In an instant Fred assessed the entire scene as some hormonally induced, paper-lantern feminine crisis not worthy of his attention. She’d come around. She always did.
____________
This excerpt is from the short story “Nemesis” about an arrogant man with excessive pride (hubris), failure to heed warnings, unshakeable belief in being right, inconsiderate of others’ views, and stubbornly ignorant of knowledge, who causes the death of the only love of his life. You can READ [5085 words] or LISTEN TO [34 minutes] the story here: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/nemesis/

The Greeks knew excessive pride and self-confidence invited destruction (hubris–>nemesis). For the writer of stories, hubris is a human trait that can vitalize plot development and characterization. Look at these examples of hubris inviting destruction:

1. A famous athlete has extramarital affairs and said he thought that normal rules did not apply to him and that his excellence in his sport entitled him to whatever he wanted with no consequences. He lost respect of family, fans and sponsors and his career is ruined..

2. A president believes his status makes him invincible until his involvement in the illegal breaking and entering scandal forces his resignation.

And you might also enjoy these classical literature examples of pride and downfall: Oedipus Rex, All the King’s Men, Frankenstein.

The award winning novel McDowell incorporates full use of hubris that results in destruction of a famous doctor's career and freedom. He becomes a hunted convict that ironically allows new opportunity to regain some value to his life with unselfish caring for others. It’s a prime example of hubris and nemesis followed by a rebirth. It’s a good read. Available in all formats including audio.



Seven elements for writing fiction stories Article About Writing Better


Friday, June 17th, 2016
William H. Coles

For writers striving to improve the creation of fictional stories in prose, here are seven essential elements in creating stories.

The elements: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. The intense poetic elements of lyric prose can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. For memorable stories, most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice, for narrator and characters.

Characterization (creation of a fictional character) is most effective when developed by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling and when excellence of other elements is achieved: dialogue, narration, internalization, and voice.

Plot is all that happens in a story and is almost always dependent on a beginning, middle, and end and thrives of tried and true characteristics: character-based; momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; and often linear, interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (almost always no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Other stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings for maximum reader pleasure.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to prevent reader disinterest.

Theme/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill and structure.

References:

Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story

Literary Fictional Story

Character in Literary Fictional Story



The Seven Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
William H. Coles

There are many ways to think about the great writing of great fictional stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by learning seven elements and appreciating the interaction of these elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be more easily enjoyed and admired, and for writers, learning to determine their strengths and weakness in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. It’s importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories

Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear, and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point-of-view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose,, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Yet, some stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

Theme/purpose.
Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the readers will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events with description without imagination and discursive rumination of authorial thoughts and opinions. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill,  structure, and revision.



Imagination and Creativity in Literary Stories: A Guide for Writers Article About Writing Better


Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
William H. Coles

Imagination used in creative storytelling is the essence of literary fiction. Memoir is remembering and describing factual events. Traditional imagined literary fiction is ignored today–mostly for financial reasons–by publishing, publicity, literary-agents, literary-prize choices, and inadequate teachers of creative writing resulting in blurred barriers between memoir and literary fiction. As a result, the quality of both memoir and literary fiction has deteriorated in artistic achievement, impact, and memorability. Great literature is a cornerstone of cultural advancement and contemporary authors have responsibility to society to learn and create literary fiction and memoir to the best of their ability.

It must be noted great memoir does employ creativity in the describing, in the presentation, and the prose manipulation. Literary fiction, however, uses imagination in creatively building characters uniquely related to the story being told and creatively integrating characters and plot with a structured story created with a purpose to engage, entertain, and enlighten a reader through imaginative artistic creation. Learning the skill of effective characterization is essential to lasting success for an author of literary fiction.

To create great characters that vitalize motives and desires in purposeful plotting, authors must create by:
1) structuring stories, whenever indicated, with beginning, middle, and end.
2) creating mystery and suspense to sustain reader engagement and enjoyment as essential to allow reader to see the world in new ways from reading the story.
3) engaging the reader with credible and acceptable character thoughts and reactions that relate to being human in addition to reflexively reacting to situations.
4) creating scenes through conflict, action and resolution (dramatic) that show characters’ essential qualities and relate to overall story-plot purpose.
5) instilling believable and consistently changing motivations.
6) identifying core desire(s) that drive a character’s action in the story.
7) using effective narration to show story to the reader through images, effective metaphor, tightly constructed plot progression, and character and story related action.
8) writing in-scene “showing” (concrete) in proper balance with narrator telling of story (often abstract). In-scene showing adds an aura of truth that story could happen in the world established by the author and allows a reader to become involved to discover meaning unique to them.
9) allowing only judicious use of fatalism in plot construction; instead, depending on revelations of human strengths and weaknesses in shaping lives to provide energy for story progression and resolution.

To create successful characters, authors must think before they write. Scenes within a story–and the story itself–are units composed of interrelated parts. It is not sufficient to start a story and see what happens word by word, scene by scene, without a thorough knowledge of the whole story. Many authors pride themselves in discovering story as they go along as allowing the creative process to flourish, but imagination deserves better application to literary storytelling. Authors must not default to writing that is quality-deficient by defaulting to unfocused hyperactivity in their writing and proudly rejecting the need for experience and training in writing and storytelling, an error that bathes an author in hubris about their own authorial value as a human being and their creative abilities. All that happens in a great literary story comes from an imagined structure and formulation of related ideas before writing. Of course, every writer’s efforts relate to who they are and what they know. But that knowledge is used to stimulate imaginative use for story purpose. And imaginative changes in great fictional stories occur with both writing and revision, and changes are perceived before change as affecting and improving the whole, not camouflaging an errant part of the writing or just filling story space with extraneous ideas and images thought to be clever intellectual output of the author but unrelated to story.

Study of artistic creation can clarify an author’s approach to creating quality fiction. Look to the visual arts. To create a great oil painting, an artist does not blindly retrieve colors from a palette obscured from vision then apply random brush strokes to any surface that is handy. An artist has to have purpose that translates to some idea of the final product and how to achieve the form and appearance of that structure.

Literary stories are like sculptures too. Consider how a Rodin-like sculpture might be made. To start, the sculptor has an idea of what is to be created—a nude male athlete, a woman holding her dying son, a lion. Sketches help adjust the overall early conceptualization of the final artistic product. A model is often constructed over a wire structural support and clay is added for form and detail and before drying, the model is molded, added to, or parts removed. Casts are made of the model. Bronze heated to liquid is poured into the casted mold, cooled to harden, and the mold removed to reveal the final sculpture that is refined with subtle smoothing and polishing. Not infrequently the result may not be right and the artist must start over again to avoid tinkering to make better a poorly conceived and executed project too impaired in the creation to reach required perfection.

This way of thinking is ubiquitous in artistic creation. Think of Michelangelo as an artist purchasing a block of Carrara marble. He did not awake one day, grab a hammer and chisel, sit down at the kitchen table while the kids were watching TV in the living room, and begin to chip away at the block to see what might emerge. He knew what he wanted . . . he had a plan. It’s sad that many writers force writing on schedules to fulfill their need to be a writer without a concept of a whole story, what the story is about, or why it is being written. These writers claim creativity is stifled by structure and imagined concepts but it is almost always a rationalization for their lack of ability.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality needs the author to be aware of the creative process of accepted creators of art forms. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization, identify conflicts, mysteries, suspense; establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.

In life, great architectural structures of beauty and usefulness are not accomplished by picking up random material and any tool available by the builders on their way to work that day. Why do most contemporary authors write driven by the will to succeed as a writer rather than creating works of literary art that will pleasurably affect other human beings with enjoyment and enlightenment? In reality, a rote process of ritual writing without purpose or destination, or without imagination or creativity, results in inferior artistic attempts. Art, including literary fiction, is not work for the artist but a proud accomplishment of imaginative achievement, and definitely not a random collection of disparate ideas and memories.

Writing literary fiction of lasting quality requires awareness of the process of imagination and structure. Authors of fiction must hone the concept and purpose of story before writing begins; imagine what action will result in effective characterization; identify conflicts, mysteries, and suspense; and establish a timeline and prioritize story information in a logical and synergistic way.



A Wannabe's Guide to Literary Fiction Success Editorial Opinion


Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
William H. Coles

How can a wannabe become a literary fiction writer? Traditional commercial print publishing is becoming less reliable source to find readers of literature and online publishing has yet to establish what the future will provide for authors. Still, the future is clearly becoming the present when the internet can provide a writer’s works’ content free or at low cost to millions of international readers instantly, an opportunity never before imagined. Will those authors similar to Chekov and Flaubert and Melville, who have given us lasting literary fiction, emerge today through traditional, costly, inefficient print publishing or through the new internet channels–without middlemen and profiteers– that may have greater potential for recognition and even profit in the future?

If you look to the internet as the prime way to establish yourself as a literary fiction writer, consider these guidelines:

*Learn to write prose well.

*Learn essentials of good storytelling.

*Write with a purpose to your writing that does not include adoration and acceptance. Write for your readers’ pleasure and enjoyment; adoration and acceptance will come through your honest, selfless approach to your writing.

*Publish online—(opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of readers instantly).

*Make fame and profit secondary to engaging, entertaining, and pleasing readers you target and respect.

*Build confidence in quality of your work by submitting to contests and journals, but don’t take rejection as proof you don’t have readers waiting.

*Teach others selflessly. It establishes you as a writer.

*Use, but don’t rely on, traditional publishing when opportunity presents. Don’t succumb to giving away your talent, especially exclusively, for others to profit if you can establish large readership volume that can potentially make you money without working from inside the prison of corporate and private publishers for free or royalties at an unfair percentage of gross income from sales.

*Accept that working as an author to be read and appreciated through the internet will soon make the scorn of not being accepted in the world of traditional publishing with inflated and inaccurate sales records as the measure of your fame and success obsolete.

Although a majority would probably disagree that literature survival will never depend on traditional commercial publishing, the world is changing. Stories in prose will be less expensive, and readers will have unlimited access to writers’ works. And to struggle to scale the barrier wall of publishing houses (and academia) will soon be a humorously decadent way to fail in a writing career.



Effect of Discursive Narration on Literary Story Editorial Opinion


Sunday, November 30th, 2014
William H. Coles

Narration of literary fictional stories today allows wide latitude for authors on technique and style. Traditional, successful, memorable, literary stories depend on strong imaginative characterization, dramatic plots with conflict and resolution, and identifiable purpose for the story being told so some enlightenment occurs about the human condition gleaned from the story presentation. In the past, stories were structured for momentum and engagement, and there was careful attention to story logic and credibility for the story world created. Authors wanted to please readers. Prose was dedicated to accurate use of the language, attention to the advantages of correct grammar within story context, and readability with acceptable punctuation and rhythmic flow. But this storytelling has faded.

Contemporary writers have little or no conscience to follow traditions in literary storytelling. Stories with beginnings, middles, and ends are becoming less common and fiction has shifted to memoir about authorial self with a few falsehoods to be called fiction, simple character sketches, or description of events-happened with journalistic rigor void of imaginative influence. Authors reject dramatic conflict at all levels of story delivery for character development and story pleasing plotting. And even in fiction, the author often dominates the storytelling with subjective intrusion rather than using an objective narrator or character delivering balanced credible story and character detail in dramatic scenes. Descriptions of people or events that happened does not produce the same effects on readers as creative imaginative storytelling that engages, stimulates, enlightens, moves, and entertains.

Contemporary writers commonly default to discursive rumination for the major portion of “story” delivery, a technique that may divert attention, meaning, momentum, or understanding of authorial purpose for the story. And when using discursive rumination, authors will often abandon story to soliloquize, seek authorial catharsis, or proselytize.

Modern writers often restrict storytelling to first person point of view and narration. This places limits on internalization, credibility, veracity, size and quality of world view available to the narrator, and expansive imaginative writing. Not all stories are suited to first person narration, and the quality of fiction published and available to read has dwindled.

The message is not trivial. Many contemporary readers enjoy modern “literary” writing dependent on discursive rumination, but the true value of literary story development with imaginative structure and characterization is often lost. The writers careful to avoid obvious authorial dominance and intrusion in the storytelling add imaginative and meaningful enhancement to their work that authorial dominance and intrusion does not allow. Of course, authors are always present in some way in a literary work of fiction, but the most effective authorial presence is transparent, like a hint of mint in a pitcher of tea, the touch of orange/red diffusing through the blue sky above the horizon just before sunrise, the sound of an individual cello in full orchestra . . . sensations present and enjoyed and always gently and uniquely pervasive . . . but never rife.

Readers preferring traditional storytelling seem to reread the classics today. Traditional literary fiction is being written, but it is rarely accepted by agents, editors, and publishers; as a result, great stories in the traditional sense are not available and as a culture, we are losing an art form, a loss that diminishes the creative heritage of our generation.



Advice for Fiction Writers Taking Creative-Writing Workshops Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
William H. Coles

Many writers attending workshops online and in classroom experience frustration with: 1) quality of teaching; 2) the experience, expertise and accomplishments of the instructors; and 3) the heavy reliance on student critiques delivered mostly unsupervised by instructors.

In the main, workshops, both academic and private, will not provide knowledge for students to achieve high levels of storytelling and writing.  And in the difficult skill of storytelling, incompetent instruction can lead a student in unhelpful directions that can derail talent. 

Students need to collect knowledge and develop skills and attitudes before attending writers' workshops, to prevent misdirection for career success and to deflect unjustified feelings of failure and inability.  Students can protect themselves from negative workshop experiences by developing skills and attitudes toward creating fiction before attending.  Here are few basic essentials frequently not well taught in workshops and that are best well understood before taking workshops: 1) Characterization, 2) Purpose, 3) Writing beyond self, 4) Drama, 5) Narration 6) Learning from admired masters 7) Storytelling modes.

1. Characterization.

Learn to build characters from story actions, emotions, and thoughts.  Particularization in descriptive narrative is important to help establish the character in the reader's mind but needs experienced modulation so as to not be overdone. 

On one hand, character building is a sculptor working in clay adding characteristics piece by piece, always aware of the whole.  One the other hand, the awareness of character as revelation by the student is also essential–like meeting a stranger at a cocktail party and discovering who she or he is sentence by sentence, idea by idea.  In many ways, revealing a character is like shelling a pecan to savor the nut. 

Building and revealing are the tools of the writer; good judgment and creative imagination are essential with tethered reliance on narrative description from reality alone, which is more intuitive to write.

2. Purpose.

Determine a purpose: what is it you want to do with your writing?  Most rewarding for literary writers is fiction that affects the reader–moves them and enlightens them in some way, usually about what it means to be human.  In literary fiction, characterization almost always supersedes plot to achieve literary excellence.  But  no matter what the storytelling goals, before writers start to write, they must know what they want to achieve . . . and whether it's genre, memoir, or literary, they should be in control.  Most workshops, mainly for financial reasons, teach creative writing as if there is no difference between fiction, memoir, nonfiction, and essay.  Students need to cull those skills that relate to fiction, or whatever their goal is for their writing.

3) Writing beyond self.

Learn to write from a broad view of the world.  Separate you, as the author, from the narrative telling of the story so that the characters and story you deliver are not just an author repeating his or her life and trying to make it significant, an error that leads to sentimentality and insignificance.  Significant literary characters and story need to come from more than the author, although the author, of course, is still creating this knowledge of the world and life experience.  Here's a common quote: Your character's have to be better and smarter than you (about story and the story world).  Don't put yourself, or your world exclusively, in your writing.  Reach out for ideas and actions.

4) Drama.

Write dramatic story and prose.  Fiction is drama.  Drama is conflict, action, and resolution that results in logical, meaningful reversals.  Therefore, focus as much on learning dramatic storytelling with meaningful lasting effects on readers as much as learning craft.  Learn to write prose with momentum and how to insert conflict and action into writing.  Learn judicious use of poetics so that immersion in lyricism does not swamp the effective clarity of prose and delivery of story, often not emphasized in workshops.   Drama is rarely given the intensity it deserves in workshops, a habit that tends to emphasize less effective techniques of storytelling by default.

5) Narration

Consider narration of literary stories as an art form.  Best stories have a strong narrator presence and provide narrator's perceptions.  It is more than conquering POV; it includes control of voice, attention to suspension of disbelief, addressing reliability, and effective use of psychic and physical distance.  Those who do master narration continue to refine it over the span of a career to apply techniques effectively and seamlessly.  In workshops, instructors frequently reveal inadequate knowledge of narrative control of a story, which results in dictums and ultimatums, usually about POV, that are wrong for student advancement. 

6) Learning from admired masters.

Determine what great authors you feel accomplished effects you admire in readers–enjoyment, enlightenment, emotion, memorability–and then dissect how you think they accomplished that to direct your leaning to be able to create for the reader effectively. 

Successful  authors learn and understand humanity and the metaphysical questions about life–they write from the world, not self–and they learn to create stories delivered with the unique and highly effective techniques of objective prose writing, learning to make all the thousands of effective decisions about craft, life, emotions, drama, and clarity in communication necessary to achieve authorial success.  This knowledge is rarely available in workshops, and students who do not have a solid understanding of what has gone before can be led by instructors to admire and imitate authors that work against a student achieving their individual, specific goals for writing.

7) Storytelling modes

Know thoroughly the essential modes of telling a story, and know how to identify what mode is predominant: diction, theme, POV, characterization, plot, imagery.  Workshop leaders tend to have experience and express prejudice for one mode, a deficiency that can direct a student away from mastering all modes of story delivery.

Conclusion

Should a writer take a workshop?  Of course, but only with realistic expectations of adding to their knowledge, and not expecting to carry away anything but suggestions for improvement that may or may not be beneficial for their careers.  Workshops should be an addition to a student's consistent practice, seeking quality mentors, learning storytelling, mastering craft and studying the literature to crystallize what style and type storytelling is desired.  And always consider that contemporary workshops do not teach basics well in a field where lack of knowledge and preparation by a teacher can default to dictums and ultimatums about writing that are not easy to interpret and can be dangerous to a writer's improvement.



Rapping on the Teaching of Creative Writing Editorial Opinion


Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010
William H. Coles


The backbone of writer failure may well be the inability to learn and/or the lack of opportunities for beneficial study.  This may not be the fault of the writer.  There are few resources to learn fictional prose story telling that is memorable and significant.  Consider these learning sources:

1) Learning in writing groups is the blind leading the blind through a maze of bear traps and landmines.  No one would believe a group of briefly educated humans who wanted to be neurosurgeons would get together weekly to discuss the experimental surgery they have been practicing in their garages and basements.  Yet, both surgery and writing require study with experts as well as knowledge learned from many intellectual and skilled disciplines over many years.  Writing groups, plump with inexperience and discordant ideas, are almost never of any useful value to the serious writer.

2) Learning in organized workshops is the carpenter teaching musicians with hammers and saws to play Beethoven’s Archduke piano trio.  Even in high profile traditional workshops, teachers are rarely capable of developing the special talents of an individual writer to achieve creation of an art form (a fictional literary story).  Fundamentally, there is no right way that is applicable to all.  As a result, many teachers use the wrong tools for the wrong job, and their teaching is little more than useless for the dedicated fiction writer.  At worst, the incompetent teacher can, and does, inappropriately humiliate and discourage a talented writer in the workshop setting.  And these incompetents often descend into dogmatic pronouncements that stifle understanding and creativity.

(3) Learning from popular textbooks on fiction writing, which–with a few significant exceptions–are often writing efforts of poor writers with teaching appointments or responsibilities who write the learning of fiction as Lego instruction, with rigid rules and inflexible actions, like assembling a bicycle from parts while reading a fold-over slip of paper with fine-print instructions–and a diagram–on Christmas morning.  Some of these authors write texts composed of famous authors' stories with personal, short, subjective-value comments, but with little to no insight into a writer's process.

(4) Learning in MFA programs is not of guaranteed quality, and may not just be mediocre, but detrimental to a writer's improvement.  MFA programs, many hastily formed by universities, colleges and organizations to maintain relevance and solvency, often hire teachers untrained as educators, and untalented as writers, to teach creative writing. This practice  results in suppressing understanding of the complexities of the art of fiction and the vibrant essence of great story telling.  More than a few traditional programs are so inbred by tired, untalented teachers choosing and supporting unimaginative writers like themselves that the writing from these programs takes on a clone-like mediocrity that brands its origin.  By default, these educators promote teaching of scholarly nonfiction and pop-culture memoir as fiction, without the quality of story writing equal to that of imaginative fiction.

Creative writing programs labeled as "academic" emphasize lyricism over drama, often prefer obscure to clear prose, and mistakenly believe that a lack of understanding by a reader is the desired result of their own "writer-intellectual" superiority.  They teach revision as grammar and syntax, metaphor and oxymoron-excessive prose, rather than the dynamic and suspenseful expression of the desires and conflicts of characters about whom the reader has come to care, like, or at least respect through the story. Some academic workshops digress in education by students sitting around a table with eyes closed and holding hands for long silent periods in the hope that images and words will float up from the unconscious to write about, like images sought in a Victorian séance to communicate with the dead.  Some highly acclaimed academic workshops spend a week policing manuscripts for point of view inconsistencies, while the needs that should be addressed are imagining effective story structure and learning how to build memorable characters through meticulously crafted, interrelated, character actions in dramatic scenes.  In some workshops, a teacher presents a personal memoir story, and then details how to turn it into fiction by shifting the time line and changing the prose emphasis of certain events, teaching that might well derail a student's progress in learning to write their own great fiction.

Academic workshops and courses also fail to demand a writer have a thoroughly understood purpose for writing a story as well as, on a construction level, all the prose elements of that story.  This results in picking at prose when the writer hasn’t decided what  he or she is really writing about, and how  he/she will achieve a story purpose.  It is almost unarguable: Failure to find and build purpose in storytelling makes coherency of a prose fictional story with effective characters, plots or emotional arcs, unlikely.  And it is not uncommon that the poorly educated, poorly trained teachers who are allowed the privilege to teach creative writing are guilty of:

(1) Ignoring emotional character development for the ease of plotting from life experience.

(2) Accentuating the cute, the bizarre, and the shocking (which have only temporary effects on value in story telling).

(3) Failing to develop author understanding of the human soul, its flaws, and what really is responsible for its strengths.

(4) Ignoring the value of sophisticated narration.

(5) Thinking that lyricism alone can sustain great story effectiveness.

Quality fiction as an art form has especially suffered from the high-profile, traditional MFA programs where graduation almost guarantees publication of the work generated in the program.  The published work is rarely quality writing or storytelling.  Once published, eager, unaware readers perceive literary fiction as obtuse in meaning, boring, and with pseudo-intellectual ideation.  Many dedicated readers have turned away from reading literary fiction for enjoyment (and agents refuse to try to sell it),  while the authors from these programs read to fellow graduates or a small group of readers who admire writing credentials and rationalize that the quality is better than it is.  The detriment to fiction as an art form has been significant, and for the writer seeking to achieve their personal best, MFA programs can permanently derail that possibility.

With so few valuable or easily-accessed resources for learning available to the fiction writer, only one reliable way to learn emerges.  Each writer must discover from those authors who have gone before, what it is about the writing of a successful literary art form that will be useful for their own careers as contemporary writers.  It's not just copying a favorite author's style, either.  It's mastering understanding of knowledge, intellect, the environment and opinions (and attitudes) of the author's times; the emotional complexities of the author that affected the writing; the associations with other writers (Examples: Bloomsbury group, Shelley’s Swiss mountain writing buddies), and the effects of societies' mores (Examples: Austen, James, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Forester, Chekhov, Flaubert).

Authors need to be curious.  How did they do it?  Then, what can I learn from them so I can do it?  How can I, based on what I've learned from others, create fiction that engages, entertains and stimulates thoughtful responses about human existence?  One key question has to be addressed repeatedly with each work studied: What were these authors' purposes in writing?  One dominant purpose persistently stands out for all:  to tell a story where something happens that is meaningful and entertaining to the reader.  And without exception, successful fiction writers write to please a reader, not all readers, but specific readers seeking enjoyment through reading.  Now, the beginning writer must learn, not only how to construct sentences and paragraphs, but how stories and the creation of stories in the prose medium can be best crafted to please a reader.  It's the way they imaginatively form and narrate a story.  The craft of prose, although vitally important, is secondary.

This is an excerpt from the essay, "Anatomy of a Wannabe Literary Fiction Writer," by William H. Coles






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