1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

I Don't Care About Your MFA: Writing Vs. Storytelling

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Chessie, Dec 21, 2016.

  1. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Figured I'd share this here. It's something to keep in mind when the words aren't coming out so easily: focus on story. Article: Writing Vs. Storytelling.

    **A couple f*** bombs included**
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,318
    1,365
    163
    Caged Maidens long lost twin sister? :)
     
  3. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    No way. Maiden is way more maidenly. :)
     
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,608
    1,499
    163
    Wait, what? The f-bombs?
     
  5. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    4,318
    1,365
    163
    No, more the description of her writing. Lots of words, lots of description, interesting characters...

    better stop while I'm behind. :)
     
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,765
    1,847
    163
    Ironically, the author of that article spent many years learning how to "write" before learning how to tell stories. So we'll never know by her example if learning how to be a storyteller is simply enough, without also learning how to write well. Heh.

    I don't know. I've never been anywhere close to getting an MFA. Probably I could have learned whether to use "a" instead of "an" there; yes, this troubles me hah. If I pronounce the letters, it's "an." But if I read out the full words, it's "a." This happens to me here on MS whenever I type "MC." So is it "an MC" or is it "a MC?" I've troubled myself worrying about that more than once when writing out a comment. [The author of that article used "an MFA." Yep, I double-checked myself this way.]

    I think that the importance of leaning how to tell stories, for those who want to write fiction at least, cannot be overstated, and that telling stories is about more than learning how to write pretty sentences and wallowing in feeling...For me, this goes without saying, but I don't suppose there's any harm in saying it as well.
     
    kennyc likes this.
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,162
    1,129
    163
    There is actually value in getting an MFA. It is a terminal degree and offers up lots of teaching opportunities.

    Did I miss something or did the author never study in an MFA program? Some of them are actually designed to teach storey telling and get published as their primary component. I actually know one successful writer who has a masters in Storytelling.

    When I taught in a fiction MA program (which is now an MFA program but was not when I was there) there was almost no emphasis on basic grammar or sentence structure.

    I am left with the impression that the author is not very familiar with what is taught in graduate writing programs these days.
     
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Both are important, I think (decent prose with good storytelling). Very. Without clear prose, readers can't access your story. But I also am in the camp that story should come first, and that should be the focus from the beginning. By all means, study grammar and spelling and how to tie story elements into your prose. But also study story structure. And I think that may be what she was getting at--

    Instead of focusing on writing rules and proper grammar, sometimes we need to just let the story do what it needs to do: short sentences, one word sentences, adverbs, italics, ellipses, etc. Whatever tool is going to allow the writer to tell the story they want to tell without focusing on pretty yet meaningless words.

    Ages ago, I was part of a fantasy writing group and one of the gals was this type of writer. Her words were like poetry, yet they didn't say much of anything. It was a real shame because she loved to write, but her stories were boring. I have no idea what happened to her but I do hope she's snapped out of it.

    Far as the MFA goes, you don't need it to be a fiction writer. I think that one is pretty obvious. But I've come across writers who've gotten MFAs and don't have much good to say about it. Maybe it depends on where you study? Idk. Professional fiction writing can be accomplished without an MFA, all you need to learn is how to tell a bomb story. I agree with her on that.

    But don't ask me what I think about degrees. My Biology & Poli-Sci degrees are languishing for eternity.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 21, 2016
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,646
    3,134
    313
    If it's a vowel sound you use "an." So you have a house but an honorary degree, because the "h" is silent in the latter. You can get "an MFA" because "M" sounds like "em," but it "a UFO" because "U" sounds like "you."
     
    Trick likes this.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,765
    1,847
    163
    I usually use "an" in those cases, but if "MFA" sounds like "Master of Fine Arts," then...This is probably more of a problem for me in the informal forum setting, because "MC" is sometimes just shorthand for "main character." I tend to read/pronounce "MC" as "em-see" when reading or writing a comment, so I opt for "an MC." But not everyone does.
     
    Devor likes this.
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,608
    1,499
    163
    Oh, F-bomb, yeah. I learned to write, but I'm just now learning to tell a story. Sad. What a mess. HA!
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,673
    1,935
    163
    Chessie at first I wanted to hate the article (having a degree in English lit) but I agree with it 100%. Story is what matters. Being able to write clearly enough to get the story out is important, but without good story writing is pointless.

    I do think that having a degree in literature is helpful, vs. A degree in fine arts only because I spent five years studying story, not writing. I mean, I had to write essays, but they were an analysis on a story... structure, characterization, foils, symbols... basically dissecting story to see why it worked. And when we were taught writing we were taught "keep it clear and simple" because we were being taught how to write essays. How to make a clear argument, which I actually find more helpful now, writing fiction lol.. because I find it's the exact same thing, being clear and concise trumps being abstract and poetic any day.

    So if a young person wanted to take something in university to help their writing career I would suggest a degree in lit over one in fine arts. But that is my personal bias lol. ;)

    Otherwise, I felt this article was bang on.

    But then I believe "stories" are intricately made emotion machines. They are Swiss watches of precise gears and spinning wheels that make them tick. You have to be able to take them apart and put them back together again. (Blake Snyder, Save The Cat). And all that involves understanding the formulaic structure of plot... which I know is a contentious issue on this site... so I will show myself out now.
     
  13. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

    604
    252
    63
    I think the big impression most folks have of MFA programs is the arrogance that sometimes comes with it. A lot of authors that I've tried [especially modern lit authors] that overly emphasize getting the MFA I think are twits and arrogant a-holes. I hardly ever make it through one of those kind of books. [The exception being Lev Grossman. That MFA served him well.]

    I'm also saying this coming from reading for one of the SFF magazines, and making minor editorial decisions, that the more the person emphasized receiving an MFA the worse their actual idea to story ratio was. Great ideas, terrible story execution, but put in very acceptable grammatically correct writing. I had a devil of a time going "can I pass this up to the editors without there being an actual story here?", because clever writing is clever writing. Nothing more. And it doesn't make up for the flaws in the story.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,869
    3,761
    313
    The arrogance doesn't come from the degree or from the study itself. Some people are arrogant. Some arrogant people go to university. Some go into business or the military or the clergy. None of those fields cause arrogance.

    I confess I am unaware of the degrees of any author, except by chance. It's hard to miss, for example, that Tolkien was a full professor. (a favorite line from my major professor: Him: "Are you a full professor?" Her: "After a good meal, yes.")

    Otherwise, though, I pay no attention. Doesn't seem to have affected my reading enjoyment index much.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,869
    3,761
    313
    There is so much jealousy seeping through the words in that article, it's hard to take much of it seriously. It's another writer who feels she writes better than some successful writers, and is looking for something to blame. She really listened to people claim the only way you could write was to get a teaching job? Where did she think movies and books come from? *shakes head*

    As Russ said, there is much value in an advanced university degree, especially in one where writing is a key component. That will be true in most of the humanities, so I would recommend pretty much anything that comes out of English, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and of course that Queen of the Humanities, History. I would steer any writer away from the hard sciences or the social sciences, for in those fields writing is neither craft nor art but an unavoidable adjunct to the primary activity.

    The whole writing vs storytelling is a false dichotomy. It's like arguing brush technique is less important than composition. Or that songwriting is more important than learning chord structures. All are part of the craft. How does it benefit any of us to value one over the others? Except to fuel a blog post, of course.

    *harumph*
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,673
    1,935
    163
    I did agree with skip on the jealousy factor. I saw the green eyed monster in much of the post as well.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,646
    3,134
    313
    I've been reading a lot about creativity of late. For everything that an MFA might be worth, there is also a reason that many people are successful without one, and that many people do not get very far in publishing with one.

    The more you know about something, the less creative you are - or at least, there's a curve that suggests your creativity will peak long before you finish an MFA. At some point you end up learning the answers instead of innovating the answers.

    There's a lot to learn in an MFA, and there's more to writing than creativity, of course. But those degrees are a double-edged sword. And writing is one of those fields where that drawback can hurt.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,869
    3,761
    313
    >The more you know about something, the less creative you are

    I don't buy this one at all, sorry. As an academic, I do recognize that I spent most of my professional career in expository rather than in creative writing. So I would buy the argument that pretty much any graduate-level work is going to emphasize the former rather than the latter.

    But I don't believe creativity is some delicate flower easily crushed by the blundering beast of formal learning. Creativity is as tough as a badger. It does not die. I side with Hemingway and others who essentially said, if you can quit writing, you aren't a writer.

    Nor do I believe learning the mechanics of a craft lessens one's ability to innovate in that craft. The facts simply don't bear it out. True, any number of people in a field go into it thinking they are going to be creative and revolutionize their world, only to find out they are merely mortal, after all. But I still say that's on them. One can blame the education, but doing so misses the mark.

    That said, I do think it is a mistake to go into some graduate program thinking that it's somehow going to make you more creative. It isn't. You will learn technique. That's it. You can learn technique outside of school as well. Most of the time, it's a less efficient and reliable a path, but many have trodden it with success.
     
    Michael K. Eidson and Heliotrope like this.
  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    We all have the green-eyed monster. It's part of being human. Let's not kid ourselves here.
     
  20. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    It depends on the person, I believe. Anchorage is an artist town. The joke is that you either know a musician or someone with a gallery. I've known several artists that went to school for the arts: photography, sculpting, drawing, etc. All of those people either make a living from their art or earn part time money. Are those Art degrees different than MFAs? Again, it depends on the individual and where they study.

    Writing, though, is an art too and it can't necessarily hurt to take an MFA if that's what you're interested in. My idea always was to work for Fish & Game while writing on the side. It didn't work out that way. So were my degrees useless? Kind of. It all depends what it's worth to you (degrees, that is). I say it can't hurt but it's not necessary either.
     
Loading...

Share This Page