Hello, everyone! It's been a while since I posted anything, but I'm still lurking here, occasionally throwing in my two cents. Now, though, I have a question for you all.
I'm sure some of you remember last spring, when I took a creative writing class in which the instructor forbade writing "genre fiction" of any sort. Taking the advice of several people here, I did not let it affect me and signed up for another class, the "sequel" to the first one. Since the instructor was different, I was hoping that the "genre fiction" policy would be different, too.
Nope. It's still forbidden. At least this one gives a definition of what she considers genre fiction. Here's what the syllabus says:
quote:At the center of this class is literary fiction writing--complex, well-crafted fiction worthy of the analysis that occurs in a literature class. This means that you will not be writing "genre" or "formula" fiction. I will accept no romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, mystery, crime, fairy tale, thriller, war, or western stories--or stories intended for children or adults. Your principle characters will be living people who are still living when your story ends.
Now, there are several things in here which bug me. First of all, how dare she assume that the fiction that falls into these categories is not "worthy of the analysis that occurs in a literature class"? Why is a story suddenly second-rate simply because it does not take place in this world, or this time period?
And stories in which the principle characters die in the end can be some of the most powerful, moving pieces of fiction in the world. Especially when you've grown to love the character and the death is well-written and meaningful.
The thing that bugs me most is how much is limited by this restriction. I mean, Jane Austen novels could easily be classified as romances, and they certainly weren't classics when they first came out--no university would have dreamed of making them required reading! But that doesn't make them any less classical. I just can't get over all the wonderful stories that won't be written just because they can be construed as "genre fiction" and therefore won't be taken as seriously as "literary fiction."
I can see why she puts the restriction down. Formula fiction makes it very easy to create an unimaginative story and get it published because it follows the formula, and has all the required components for its particular genre. And it is difficult for beginners to develop another world, culture, etc. in addition to making sure that the plot and characters are still worthwhile (I think it's fun, personally, but I suppose that's beside the point). I just think that it's such a closed-minded policy to adopt in a supposedly open-minded environment that it just astounds me. And this professor is the head of the creative writing department, which is why I ran into this problem last spring, too.
So, my question for you all is: should I confront her about this? I plan to write her and tell her (much more politely than I did here, of course) how I feel about such a restriction, but how far should I carry it? On the one hand, it could ruin my grade, and after my less-than-stellar performance last semester I can't afford to botch it... though I could take it pass/fail. But on the other hand, the only reason I need this class is because it's a prerequisite for the next creative writing class, and I'm not sure I want to take that if it, too, is going to have these same restrictions.
If you've made it this far, I applaud you--sorry for the long post. So... what do you think?
The idea that something must be either 'genre' or 'literary' has always annoyed me. Certainly you could discuss this with the professor, though I wonder how much good it would do.
My question is: Did you get a lot (or anything) out of the first class despite the restriction? It seems like it would be possible to get a lot out of a class where you had to write outside of your preferred genre.
And, of course, there is nothing to stop you from writing in whatever genre you want outside of class
Wow. Just... wow. This would turn me off right away, but that's just because I read mostly genre fiction and therefore tend to write mostly genre fiction.
It's a tough call. Would you feel stifled taking the course with these restrictions? Many genre pieces could easily be turned into non-genre with a few setting and character changes, in my opinion. It should be the underlying story, I think, rather than the genre that carries a piece.
I can understand the instructor's reasoning (even if it's flawed). I suspect it really just boils down to the instructor's desire to have students/participants in the class create "meaningful" fiction. He/she probably wants the stories turned in to have all sorts of "deep" character interaction. A few obvious "moral(s)-of-the-story" sprinkled here and there.
I definitely don't understand the requirement to have the principal character be alive at the end. Is the death of a character genre specific? I must have missed that memo...
Anyway, lest my sarcasm run away with me, I'll get to my point: I don't like the idea, but if it's for a class that is a pre-req and you need it and care about continuing in that line of courses, then take it, write what they want (although I'd be quite tempted to sneak in a little genre-ish content just to spite them) and file your problem away in the "Agree to Disagree" section of your mind. In short, don't let it affect your grade if that's what important to you.
Oh, and don't get me wrong; non-genre fiction is a great genre
I had no problem reading your whole post. Years ago I was exactly where you are now and it made me decide to quit writing for many years—the teachers convinced me that what I wanted to write was somehow unworthy. Whatever you do, don’t let it make you think there is something wrong with writing genre fiction. I don’t know where you are in school, but I suggest you look around the local area for a different collage, even a community collage, go and visit the professors there, interview them ( after all you are paying and this is your future) find someone you can use as a mentor and find out if you can transfer credit to your collage. Heck, I bet you could use OCS’s bootcamp for collage credit if you worked at it, not to mention all the other summer writing schools. There may even be a writer in residence at your collage that would be willing to mentor you— I got credit for independent study that way and it was one of the good experiences I had. I do think you should write a letter to your teacher, but I think it is important for you to give examples of genre writers who you view as being of the highest merit. I actually got in a similar argument with a university professor last fall and I mentioned Octavia Butler. He did agree that her writing was worthy; however he also mentioned that she was a black writer, so I do think that her heritage had something to do with her acceptability in his eyes as well as the awards she has received. To argue his side, I am assuming he/she has received a bunch of poorly written TV and video game takeoffs and has found it necessary to lay down the law. Or it just how he learned how to teach and there is nothing you can do about it. He many not understand genre fiction; some fine teachers are lost when it comes to speculative fiction. Would the professor consider letting you not only do the assignments, but also, for no credit, turn in a piece or two of genre fiction for him to review?
[This message has been edited by Kickle (edited January 17, 2006).]
[This message has been edited by Kickle (edited January 17, 2006).]
Last quarter I had to take a women's lit. class for which the syllabus was nothing but long, dry, boring books. They were in no way pleasant to read, and they were certainly not quality literature in my eyes.
This quarter, I'm taking a required statistics course. Do I want to learn about statistics? Not even a little bit.
College is full of bullcrap classes. It's part of earning your degree; you have to sit through asinine lectures and "learn" things with which you completely disagree. Suck it up, princess. If you want the grade, there is no other option.
Just learn what you can while you're in the bad classes, and consider yourself lucky to have the good classes.
Regarding the proscription on dying: I think the reason for this (if there is any reason for any of it, which is doubtful) is that lots of beginning writers will kill off their main character as an easy way to put some emotion into the story. Blocking that easy way is, in fact, probably a good way to make the students reach further.
But the anti-genre attitude is, of course, somewhere between arrogant snobbery and unmitigated ignorance. I think it makes perfect sense to write a letter, mentioning works like Brave New World, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Flowers for Algernon, Hamlet, The Odyssey, etc., as well as authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and others. Maybe you could actually get permission to write whatever you wanted, with the understanding that it would be evaluated as fiction rather than as science fiction (or whatever). Obviously, the way these people evaluate genre fiction, that's what you'd want, anyway.
[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited January 17, 2006).]
I'll play devil's advocate here. Perhaps your teacher has read too many stories with nuclear holocausts leaving only two people alive in the entire world, or perhaps he has read too many bodice rippers. The point is, he has to grade these papers that get turned in, and perhaps he is on the verge of slitting his wrists if another cheesy story comes across his desk. He might have something to offer in the class, but if he doesn't, drop it and find somebody else whose style fits yours.
Posts: 97 | Registered: Aug 2005
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I doubt it will be useful to confront your prof. It sounds like her mind is made up.
Yes, it sticks in my craw when every genre of fiction except one, the "literary" genre, is dismissed. If you're lucky, this class will teach you how to write literary fiction. But if you want to write other types, I doubt you'll get much. (Among my various creative writing classes, the *only* ones that I found useful were by OSC.)
In my experience, it is extremely useful to be exposed to people who think differently than you do. You can decide that you're not going to learn anything from this professor if you want, but what fun is that?
My major in college was religious studies. I spent a great deal of time examining material that does not belong to my own religious traditions. I also spent a great deal of time outside of class hanging out some of the student religious groups, just seeing how things worked at a more day-to-day level.
I learned a great deal, even though much of the material I was examining in either context was openly and smugly dismissive of my own beliefs.
That may or may not be an approach that will work for you. But don't be afraid to look at things on someone else's terms for a few months.
quote:Your principle characters will be living people who are still living when your story ends.
If that's really what the syllabus says, then don't even think of going near the class.
Anyone who can't distinguish principle from principal has no business teaching.
If, however, that's just a (perfectly forgiveable - I managed to type "write" when I meant "right" the other day) typographical error in reproducing the syllabus... then while I know I'd chafe at the bit, I'd follow the advice of Troy, Beth and others in this thread.
Suck it up, learn what you can, and breathe a huge sigh of relief when the course is done.
Cross-training is a good idea in general. Extends to writing, too.
Your prof is probably not qualified to give you good feedback on genre fiction. He or she probably spent their entire education studying "literary" stuff. It might not be that they don't want to see it because it's inferior in some way; it might be that they just don't know enough about it to teach it well.
Learn another genre. It can't do anything but help, if only because it gets you actually writing.
I'd like to know how does one not write "stories intended for children or adults"?
If a writing professor wrote this, he or she needs to turn over the class to someone who can craft a sentence with a clear meaning.
Hmm...by the criteria of the class, Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" would never make the cut. George shoots Lennie at the end. Sorry, John, I guess you're not part of the "well-crafted fiction worthy of literary analysis."
It sounds like they want to see technique rather than melodrama or setting. There is something to gain from the course, but little to gain by arguing with the teacher. If this was up to negotiation it wouldn't be in print and you won't be the first to complain. Of course that doesn't stop you asking, "Hey, I'm planning on writing this story, is that ok?"
Posts: 575 | Registered: Dec 2003
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quote:complex, well-crafted fiction worthy of the analysis that occurs in a literature class.
That's the heart of your problem. Don't try to make your stories good, make them dull, unreadable, and as meaningless as possible. That's what you're being asked to do, that's what you'll be required to read. If you have a problem with that, then drop the course now. It doesn't matter why the instructor is making this requirement, and a confrontation won't change anything.
NMgal points out something from OSC that I'd to add to.
OSC mentions two kinds of ability connected with writing classes: the ability to write and the ability to teach writing.
I submit that the ability to write does not guarantee the ability to teach writing. I also submit that the ability to teach writing does not necessarily require the ability to write best-selling work.
What you want in a writing teacher is not just someone who can write, but someone who can teach writing. The old saying that claims "those who can't, teach" is not only smug, it's narrow. I've known many "who can" do something but they are miserable teachers of that same activity.
Some of the greatest editors in the history of publishing were less than wonderful writers, but they knew how to edit and they knew how to bring out the best work from the writers they worked with (taught).
So, please remember that teaching is not the same as doing. Teaching has its own set of skills, and not all writers who can write can teach writing.
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited January 18, 2006).]
The most successful friend I have is an outspoken advocate of not majoring in the subject that is going to become your career (excepting medical doctors and pilots). My friend didn't bother to take the last course that would have completed his degree, and went on to be very successful in a field unrelated to his major. When college-aged people ask for advice, he makes sure to tell them that most of what you learn about your profession you learn on the job. For a writer, that means writing, editing, submitting, and there is no reason a college student can't do this while studying some other subject that might give an interesting edge to their writing. What if you majored in history- wouldn't that look great on the cover letter of your first historical fiction novel? A minor in chemistry or biology could make you an awesome sf writer. I don't know your interests, but you get the idea.
Just something to think about.
I classify literature as fiction that focuses on writing- the use of words. Genre fiction is more interested in telling a story.
Literature has been classified by Tim Parks (author of Translating Style, among other books) as fiction that can't be well translated- fiction whose meaning relies as much on the choice of words as it does on the story. He uses examples of semi-inadequate attempts to translate D.H.Lawrence and James Joyce into Italian, to show how much these works of literature are tied to the author's use of the English language.
I love both literature and genre fiction, because I'm passionate about the use of language and about storytelling. The more resonance exists between the storytelling and the use of words, the better.
And a good point about studying other things. Kristine Kathryn Rusch (former editor of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and many-times-published author) and Dean Wesley Smith (her partner in "crime" as an author many times) teach a writing workshop in which they strongly encourage aspiring writers to go for a business degree so they don't have to pay someone else to manage their writing businesses for them after they become selling authors. They say that aspiring writers should take a few basic business courses at the very least, so they know what is going on even if they pay someone else to manage their businesses for them.
At the risk of belaboring the point, I wrote down a list of classic stories that wouldn't be acceptable in this writing class:
Shelley's "Frankenstein" - Horror "Of Mice and Men" - Main character dies Any Sherlock Holmes story - Mystery "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" - Science Fiction "The Red Badge of Courage" - War "A Christmas Carol" - Supernatural "Peter Pan" - Children's story "Stuart Little" - Children's story "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - War "Les Miserables" - Principal characters die/War "All Quiet on the Western Front" - War "Wuthering Heights" - Principal character dies/Romance "Crime and Punishment" - Crime "Madame Bovary" - Principal characters die "Animal Farm" - Principal character dies "Catch-22" - War The Lord of the Rings series (incl. The Hobbit) - Fantasy "The Jungle" - principal character dies
These are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
Actually, just off the top of my head, I can't think of a single great story that could be presented in this class, given those strictures. Which is why I suggest that you just reconsider whether you need to take this course. From what you say, the only reason to take it is so that you can take another course that will probably be even worse.
Most works by Shakespeare aren't "worthy of the analysis that occurs in a literature class" either. He likes to kill of characters at the end. What a hack.
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I think it would be fun to take the class and then try to slip speculative stories past her. But then, I've had my degree for a long long time and wouldn't care if she failed me.
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Ah, the joy of college professors. I have similar problems in my art classes. My art professors limit us on the styles we can use, the materials, even the subject matter. They hate "genre paintings" just as much as Jaina's creative writing professors do. No painting dragons or spaceships for me--just a bunch of random objects or nude figures. Bleh.
At the same time, however, I see how it is helpful. It allows me to gain the skills that I need in order to paint or draw whatever I want. I just have to deal with these professors in the meantime until I get there. I find that sometimes when I am restricted in what I'm allowed to do, it gives me a challenge--and that's the fun part. It can be irritating, yes, but it also helps me to learn how to create outside my "genre."
If there's one thing I've learned as an art student, it's that you must first please the professor. Then you can do whatever you want--outside of class. At the same time, I know this is difficult to do. I struggle with it a lot. But sometimes, you just have to know when to deal with it and move on. Professors are going to have their biases and irritating and often illogical restrictions, but there is often not a lot anyone can do about it.
I think the reason why these creative writing professors put up the limits they do is to lessen the amount of variables. They probably do it simply because it is easier to grade. They also probably do it because, just as in my art classes, it helps to build the skills necessary to write whatever you want later on. When you add a variable in like genre, you have much more to worry about than just plot and character development. Let's say you want to write a fantasy story. You also have to worry about whether or not your world is developed and if everything in it works. If it doesn't work, it might well ruin the effectiveness of the story.
Then again, these professors might be adding restrictions simply because they don't like certain types of stories. I don't know. I'm just theorizing here.
I'm afraid I'm babbling right now, so I'll just stop.
I took a creative writing class in college and the one rule we were given was "no skiing stories." (I was at the U of UT) But you know how running away from something guarantees that you are lying squarely in its path? I somehow at one point started drafting a story that began with my pathetic attempts to ski. It wasn't the main story I wound up submitting, I don't think. Or, at least I hope not.
If you decide to comply, which I think would follow from remaining in the class, try to actually comply instead of resisting the directions. Such things don't always happen on a conscious level, though. Hey, she left "disease of the week" off the list! Score! No one has to die, it just has to tear their life apart. Actually, it seems stories about AIDS, Alcoholism, and Depression are perfectly acceptable subjects for "lit-fic". Disease with a spiritual component.
I sent a nice long email to the professor and said a lot of what has been said here. Thankfully, she was very willing to work with me to find someone to help me write what I want to write. Apparently there are a couple of professors here who are knowledgable about scifi/fantasy stories and who would be willing do an independent study in the subject if I want (not this semester since neither they nor I have time, but in the future).
And she is willing to help me set up a scifi writing group of class members. We can't submit our work in class, but we can form a critique/support group on our own and that might be something worth looking in to.
I can't get her to change the policy on the creative writing program, but at least she gave me a reason: she and the other creative writing professors really can't offer good crits on stories in every genre because you have to know the conventions of the genre to be able to critique it well, which they don't. I could have mentioned that perhaps they could train a few, maybe have some upper-level "genre" classes and so forth, but I don't want to push it. If she's willing to work with me, I'm willing to work with her. I can fight more after I have my degree and some power in the world.
Last time, I wrote a story about a girl who has an imaginary boyfriend and stuck her in her little fantasy world... it has since evolved into a fantasy story like Narnia in that her boyfriend's world is real and she ends up living there, though I haven't decided if she comes back yet. It's still in progress. But I always laugh at how it STILL ended up being fantasy, despite everything.
This year, I had 2 stories in mind before class started in the event that I would be restricted to "literary fiction" again. Ironically, both involved the deaths of characters. One is about a woman who is forced to choose between her religion and her husband, and she already knows that she will not deny her religion, so her husband dies in the end, after she's wrestled with God and everything she believes. I'm playing with leaving the ending open, implying but not stating that he dies (he can escape... but the odds of that are about 1 in *insert amazingly, mind-bogglingly large number here*). The other story is about a couple whose child is stillborn but who can't accept it, so they go about life as if the baby was alive. Since the baby is already dead and the "principle" (I think that was just a typo on her part... she has more respect for the language than that, but that *is* what the syllabus says) characters are the parents, I think I can get away with it. Though, originally the idea for this story was that it took place on a colony world where a couple was NOTHING if they couldn't produce a child to make the colony grow. But I suppose I could just make it like "A Rose for Miss Emily" and creep everybody out, right?
So... I'm going to stay in the class. I know I can learn things from her (I did from the last one, as much as I hated to admit it) and it will force me to finish something, which is always good. If people are interested, I'll keep y'all up to date on what she's doing as far as working with me on this.
And I think I have a new career goal. I want to be the head of the creative writing program at CSU (at least the fiction part) and change their policies to cater to a broader range of writers, including genre writers.
Great news. It looks to me like with a bit more work and organizing you may not only help yourself, but future students in the creative writing program as well.
Posts: 397 | Registered: Mar 2004
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Do literature professors think good books are written only by and for other literature professors? That would leave everything else for the leftover category of adults and children. It was probably literature professors that voted Ulysses as the best novel of the 20th century. :-)
Posts: 136 | Registered: Nov 2005
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Why not look at it as broadening your horizons. Your professor may be giving you the chance to venture into unchartered terroritory. Do what they want, you can always come home again.
My major is music theory and composition. Sadly, I never worked in the field. However, Like many of you, I remember being confined in terms of creativity, not being allowed to venture into the genre with which I was more familiar, and it allowed the creative side of me to grow.
I remember being given an assignment, a five minute, multi-instrument piece utilizing percussion and classical strings and being told no popular genre of music. The theme of the piece was the rhythm of life. I chose LSU football. I centered the piece on, then LSU running back and Heisman candidate Dalton Hilliard. There was a piece that the local television station showed where Dalton was cutting and jooking through an opponent's defense. I copied it and put the percussion to his movements of his feet and threw in the strings it was kinda like Carribean voodoo rhythms and Mozart, who would have figured. Got an A.
*shudder* No offense, Scott, but I hate the term "broadening your horizons." Something about it seems so... fake. Maybe I've just heard it too many times.
Still, I understand what you mean. And I have nothing against literary fiction... some of it. I enjoyed some of it - Crime and Punishment was kind of fun to read (though it might have had more to do with the people I read it with...) and I really liked Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I also read a whole bunch of genres, not just scifi/fantasy. And I think I've written in almost everything I've read (except historical fiction, because I just don't know enough to do that with any sort of accuracy and I don't really have the time to do all that research right now). My objection is to limiting us as to genre at all.
Now, one of my friends is taking Intro to Creative Writing (the one I took last year) and her teacher says they can write in any genre they want. But the stories have to be good enough that they don't need to be defined in terms of their genres, and can be undrestood by people who don't read that genre. Why can't the whole department be like that? Guess that's what I'll have to change when I get in charge there.
Errm, as for the "children or adults" bit, that's a typo on my part. It should read "children or young adults" which makes a lot more sense. Too bad, though... it was funnier when I messed it up.
It also made more sense, frankly. I mean, you could read that as meaning "with 'adult' content". But young adults...if this is a second year class, then most of the students are only in their first/second year of not being young adults, and probably a few of them still are. How the hell are they supposed to write anything other than young adult stories?
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I'm glad you decided to stay with the class. Even from the lousiest classes, something can be gleaned. I took a class at Emory. My instructor was a literary fiction snob, but she taught me one thing: When a scene isn't working, write it from another person's point of view. That little bit of advice has saved me more times than I can say. You're bound to get something good from it.
I'm currently taking an on-line mystery writing course from Ed2go, and I've learned more in four weeks than in the last 5 years of classes. I highly recommend these folks.
Hmm, Survivor, I never thought of it that way, but you do have a point. Still, I don't think the objection is being raised to stories about young adults, but to stories geared toward young adults. Which is still stupid, when you think about it, because the most successful YA fiction has managed to be enjoyed by people of all ages and really isn't strictly YA fiction any more (look at Harry Potter - that's not YA fiction any more, that's a cultural phenomenon).
lyndafitz, I think I'm going to have to use that advice. A lot. Thanks! And I agree - if you're willing to learn, you can learn from any class, no matter how badly it's taught. That's a big part of the reason I stayed in it.