Born to Write

My brother Tod ponders  today whether writing can be taught.

Oh, sure, you can teach someone how to write correctly — how
to format dialog, where to place a comma, how to avoid using adverbs in
dialog tags, he noted furiously, how to present plot in a cogent
fashion, what the 7 basic conflict plots are, all that academic stuff
— but you can’t teach someone how to be creative or compelling in
their fiction.

He shares some particularly scary examples of students who will never be published (at least  not without writing a check to iUniverse).

I tend to agree with him that you can’t teach creativity…or even basic story sense.  I’ve had a few students over the years in our online course who simply couldn’t comprehend what a story is. They couldn’t grasp the concept of "franchise"  and "conflict or why you couldn’t tell a story on MONK in the same way you would on, say, CSI. " Those students could take a thousand classes and it won’t change a thing. They will never be TV writers.

On the other hand, I’ve just finished teaching a course for the UCLA Extension was wowed by how creative, bright, and genuinely talented my students were.  Not because of what I taught them, but because they were born writers. I  just introduced them to a structure and way of thinking about story that they didn’t know before. There were one or two who struggled…but I think they’ll get the  hang of it.

3 thoughts on “Born to Write”

  1. Lee wrote:
    “I just introduced them to a structure and way of thinking about story that they didn’t know before.”
    As you imply, I think teachers can help unlock creativity, put students in a better position to recognize what would make a good story. Students must have the actual imagination and desire to create going in.

  2. I’ve always assumed that the trained eye could identify someone with talent versus someone with none. I wish there was a service that would read your work and tell you point blank which group you were in. I suspect analysts and readers won’t do it because they don’t want to crush the dreams of even the least talented writers.

  3. As one of the few members of our family who is not a writer I get to extra special priveledge of knowing the difference between avocation and vocation and of good and bad writing (part of why I am not a writer). To Tim’s point, I am a professional Analyst (not of books but regardless) and I have found over the years that I have many times had to be the horrible dream killer. Often you don’t have to be that cruel, just tell someone something simple like “if you don’t have an agent and you aren’t getting paid you are not an author”. If there were a service that did what Tim suggests I would gladly work for them and even more gladly inform the talentless of their plight 😉


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