Saturday, 29 March 2014

Creative Writing - to technique or not to technique?

At school, we have an elective called Creative Writing. Unfortunately, I have to do it, because they said that English Accelerants must. This elective is so, so damn boring. It's all "this is a simile," and "this is a metaphor."

But while I could spend all day ranting about the idiocies of this course, I actually want to go into detail about why I think the way schools teach a) writing, and b) English is, by and large, flawed.

Have you ever read a story and gone - "Wow, this is so ridiculously flowery that I just can't get through it." I'm pretty sure that if you've read amateur creative writing (what we do in schools) your answer will be yes. Schools are so obsessed with techniques. They force us to analyse with them - I'll get to that - and use them in our creative writing. Now, while I do not in fact think that techniques are bad, the teaching of them tends to get bogged down in similes, metaphors, [heaven forbid] alliteration, irony. Stuff like that. And an abundance of techniques do not make a good story. I mean really, who actually enjoys alliteration? What effect does it have on the reader? At a school level, these almost always result in a deadly boring piece of writing that sounds at best childish, and at worst, plain silly. If we look at actual books, how do they get their meaning across? Sure, good books contain techniques, but 1. containment does not equate to causation, and 2. they're probably not intended. In fact, good books do contain techniques to convey their meaning, but they are far more complicated than some ridiculous metaphor about how the sun is a match in a sea of melted crayons or something. These are story wide metaphors and analogies. These are allusions to past events. Good books hijack the reader's emotions to allow them to find meaning in characters and plot. No one ever gleaned a dystopian  portrait of mass hysteria through the language techniques of The Crucible. Arthur Miller did not spend hours deliberating on marks-grabbing thesaurus words to use. Instead he used incredible characterisation and parallels between various periods of time to create emotions and ideas in the reader's mind.
Therefore, it seems rather stupid to write essays surrounding techniques. In school, we are taught to analyse parts of the text we are studying using techniques. In my opinion, the individual techniques isolated are irrelevant for a larger analysis of the message of the text. In a classical education, where students were taught to quote noted experts or classical texts as evidence. This was, I believe, flawed, because it left no room for the student to use their own logical processes to justify their beliefs regarding a text. I can see how Post-Modernism would have frowned on what would have seemed like a failure to allow for individual takes and perspectives of a subject, based on students varying life experiences.
However, our new system of analysis retains the traditional lack of student agency. Students are forced to include in our analysis and identification of small techniques. For example, if a character says something which is ironic, the student would write, "When character x says "y", this is an example of irony. The effect on the reader is z." I don't see why we are required to say "this is an example of...", as we can use our own logic to explain the significance of the quote and its effect on the reader. We do this anyway, why include the techniques? We are also expected to find individual instances of techniques. We can't generally say, "the whole of text a involves an allusion to the b which is used to impart the relevant message of c." Because this would not be a technique in isolation. (I kind of do above anyway, because it makes more sense).

I find all this focus on techniques incredibly irritating, but you might not. Tell me below in the comments.
What do you think? Share your education woes.

See you later,


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