I graduated from Kansas University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing, an experience from which I am still recovering. Not that I mean to disparage KU’s writing program. Science fiction notable and KU Professor Jim Gunn was one of the best instructors I’ve ever had.
What bothers me is the fact that I left KU having learned a lot about words, and very little about story. This is remarkable considering my experience with a wide variety of classes and teachers. I studied British and American literature, Shakespeare, drama, poetry, short fiction, novels, technical writing, ancient myths, medieval English, essays, even sci-fi. I studied every conceivable kind of writing. But out of all those courses I encountered only one teacher who seemed to understand the magic of compelling fiction.
So when I left the college I began—unconsciously at first, and later with deliberation—to search for what should be every writer’s holy grail: the answer to the question, What makes a story a story? Every writer needs to know the answer. Many don’t. Worse, they don’t even know that they don’t know. I suspect this is why the university couldn’t give me what I needed.
Eventually I recognized the source of my writing frustration. I didn’t know how to tell a story because I didn’t really even know what a story was. Oh, I thought I did. But I mistook familiarity for comprehension. I thought because I recognized a story when I saw one that I also knew what made it work. I approached books and movies and plays the same way I approached cars. Yep, that’s a car all right. That’s the front and that’s the back.
This revelation of ignorance came as a relief. Once I admitted my problem, everything became much easier. Hope always begins with honesty.
You cannot be cured until you know your disease.