So, there are a few things that have been bugging me for a while now. This blog post actually gets a little long so I’m expanding it into multiple parts. Part one talks about writing courses in college, although all of this can probably be applied to high school writing courses as well. Part 2 will focus on courses I think that should be added to the college curriculum. And, who knows, maybe I’ll expand this into a part 3, as well, topic yet to be determined.
Firstly, why is there such a tendency to curb the way we college students write? I understand that different people have different taste in genres, but I believe each genre should be an acceptable format to write in during a college writing course. We come there to enhance our skills after all, not to write something that has no interest to us. I’ll use my college experience as an example here (and I know many colleges are focused around the same way), in my junior level creative writing prose course we were meant to have a portfolio at the end of the semester with 3 short stories in it. I had an awesome teacher who allowed us to write whatever we wanted. . . Initially, anyways. I decided I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and I’ll write a short story that coincides with my larger piece that I’m working on, my novel. I loved it. I had an awesome time writing it and I feel as though much of the class enjoyed it (that last part could be due to the fact that I consider myself a decent writer). Anyways, 2/3 pieces I wrote for that portfolio turned out to be short stories that supplemented my novel, The Trials of the Core, which is a fantasy piece.
In my senior level creative writing prose course my teacher strictly forbade anyone from writing fantasy short stories and decided to stick with literary prose. Okay. I don’t mind literary prose, I can write about anything, that’s what practice will get you, but if I had a choice what would I choose? Probably my fantasy stories and again work on things that are going to compliment me later in life. Now, the problem here?
The problem is that my senior level creative writing teacher forbade us to write on anything other than her specific interest even when we had two pieces we needed to turn in at the end of the year. My junior-level teacher did not. To me a solution could be that, yes, you can write a story genre specific to your choice, but then you must also write another story that is not in your typical genre. This forces us as writers and readers to do a couple things: (1) As writers, we find our voice in different genres. We are exposed to a wider range of writing, and as such, become better versed in all aspects writing. (2) As readers, we learn to look at different types of literature and judge it in the genre that it’s in. We see the shortcomings of a specific genre, and the strengths of another. We learn to analyze differently and perhaps even take what’s specific in one genre and merge it with another (for example, merging an idea of fantasy into magical realism). (3) As teachers, you should be able to discern good writing from bad writing no matter the genre. Even if it’s something you don’t typically read, you know a good sentence when you see it—it is not as abstract as poetry is in my opinion.
I am pro-fantasy writer, a definite advocate, and so I hate it when teachers tell me I can’t write a specific way and there are typically a few reasons: (1) Fantasy is about world building and you don’t have enough time to properly world build in a short story, (2) You need to deal with magic and supernatural elements, that again, take a long time to explain and not suited for a short story, (3) there may be creatures in it that we cannot suspend our disbelief to.
Here are some reasons why we should be allowed to write fantasy (but you can apply these reasons to other genres as well): (1) The ability to create a delicate plot structure. Just think about it, imagine how much planning and timing it takes for fantasy authors to juggle multiple plot lines in a single story. J.K. Rowling had 7 books in her series, Harry Potter, and although I doubt she had all 7 outlined when she wrote her first book, she had a good idea of where she wanted the story to go. As fantasy writers we need to think about things that happen in the first book that will affect the second book, third book, and so on. That is hard! And a reason why if we can practice that in short story format, utilizing the setup-payoff technique, we are going to be well off when we actually start our career after college. (2) World building. I don’t think there is another genre (perhaps besides science-fiction) that worldbuilds like fantasy does. This is a trait that can carry over to ANY GENRE. We as writers are writers, first and foremost, but I’d scoff at anyone who says that as a writer they are not an observer—a people watcher, a world watcher. If you can dream up or think up these fantastic settings that are, for the most part, imaginary just think about how well you will be able to do describing something that takes place in Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. The language we use is the same, the reality is that in most other fiction, it literally is reality that is the difference. It’s there. Tangible. (3) To further recognize how to deal with not only cliché characters, but hackneyed scenarios. This is huge in genre fiction. In romance you have the love triangle and the most known one is the High School quarterback dating the head cheerleader and then this other undiscovered girl comes in and attracts the quarterback and they fall in love. For fantasy it’s the idea that an orphan will be the one to save everyone. And so on and so forth for the other genres. But, writing these short stories in these different types of genres allow us to practice creating different archetypes of characters, because we don’t want the predictable love triangle. By listening to others’ feedback who aren’t maybe versed in the genre as much as we are, we get an outsiders perspective which might just be the thing we are looking for when it comes to changing up our pacing, style, tone or perspective.
Well, that actually happened to be a lengthier blog post than I intended it to be, but it needed to be said nonetheless. So, there you have it teachers and professors, don’t limit your student’s creativity just because you don’t like a particular genre. Instead, embrace it. Allow them to write perhaps one of there 3 portfolio pieces in a genre of their choosing but then encourage them to go outside their norms and write in something else. This will only create better writers, better readers, and better analyzers. We as students are thirsty for variety, thirsty for knowledge, and that sort of thing is taken away when our writing habits are dictated. I think Plato says it best when he says, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Know one thing, you know nothing, know many things, and you are on the write path.