Friday, May 07, 2021

Writing: Can Writing Be Taught?

One of my mentors (James Scott Bell--yes, Jim, you have to accept your responsibility for getting me going) says that writing can be taught. Matter of fact, he's written books, a number of which I refer to periodically, that teach it and do it well. But is there some ability within the true writer which helps them tell their story in a way that keeps the reader coming back? 

To begin with, I believe there are certain admonitions (I hate to call them rules) which are basic. Show, don't tell, is a famous one. It's best typified by Chekov, who said not to tell him the moon is shining, but to show the effect. There are many others, things that we learn early on, and they're all valuable--but they can and should be broken if they get in the way of telling your story. I note that, although I learned early in school that one should never end a sentence with a preposition, now it may be acceptable at times. No rule is inviolable.

I'm rereading some of the early novels by Robert B. Parker, and when his protagonist speaks of learning to paint, she says something that is applicable to writers as well. "Other (writers) could sometimes tell me things not to do, but they didn't even know how or exactly why they did what they did." In writing, we call it your "voice," and it's hard--maybe impossible--to explain.

What to do you think?


Patricia Bradley said...

Voice is very hard to explain. It's like that old adage, I don't know exactly how to explain it, but I know it when I see it. I call it the author's personality on the page.

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, that's as good as any definition I've heard. I agree with Jim Bell that he can teach writing (his books and lectures taught me), but the true writer has a unique voice, and it can't be taught.

Priscilla Bettis said...

I think a writer's voice includes the tone toward his or her subject and a vocabulary that ever-expands over the years with an accumulation of books read.

Richard Mabry said...

Priscilla, I think you may be right with the tone, but writers have to remember not to send the reader scurrying for a dictionary, just to show off their vocabulary. You're right about reading, though. A writer should never stop reading.