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Writing Workshop Wisdom

Writing Workshop WisdomThe other day I was thinking about the creative writing workshops I’ve attended.  Whilst these were given by different writing tutors, they did have a certain thing in common – what I call “received writing wisdom”.

So take a common piece of advice given on Short Story workshops – a short story should only have three or four characters maximum.

I’ve heard this said by a number of tutors.

I was reminded of a short story I heard some years ago at a “writers” group meeting.  One of the members read her story, which comprised approximately of 1,500 words, and contained seven or eight characters.  When it was time to critique the story another member raised the following point, quite forcibly.

“A short story should only contain three or four characters at most”, she stated and some other members nodded their heads in agreement.

Yet a minority of us, including me, thought it was a very good story, which wasn’t at all confused by having more than the “regulated” number of characters.  At the time I thought of a quotation I knew, Rules are for the guidance of the wise and the blind obedience of fools”.

So, are there “writing wisdoms” that should be followed dutifully, like the number of characters in a short story, or does good writing take risks and flout the rules when appropriate?  We’d love to hear your views in the comments below.

About Tony At The Word...

In addition to my own reading and writing activities, I am passionate about promoting both.

I hope that through “The Word Runs Through It” we can encourage reading and writing and a connection between people.

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  • Barbara Henderson December 17, 2013, 12:17 pm

    For writers who are new to the craft, guidelines such as limiting the number of characters in a short story can be useful – as long as they are ‘rules of thumb’, rather than strict rules. And I find it staggering that someone would insist on imposing a restriction on a writer who had already attempted something so interesting.

    What really gets my goat about creative writing classes is when teachers trot out tired, well-worn old exercises without any attempt to refresh or adapt. Or anything constraining such as ‘each word begins with the next letter of alphabet’ or ‘use only words of one syllable’ – so the writer is constrained by rules and unlikely to produce anything of worth. If I wanted that sort of thing I would go to a ‘Prescriptive Writing Class’ not a ‘Creative Writing Class’!

    • Tony at the Word December 20, 2013, 9:31 am

      Good points Bea and I agree that when starting out a potential writer may benefit from some guidelines. I also strongly agree with your comments on ‘prescriptive’ guidelines and tired examples. I guess it comes down to the abilities and conscientiousness of the ‘teacher’.

      Looking back on my school days (all too long ago!), I had a brilliant history teacher who, for homework, would ask us to do things like make a model of a Viking boat, which we would then set alight and sail on the school lake as though we were burying (perhaps drowning) a Viking King. The whole exercise made you want to understand and learn. Sadly he left the school and was replaced by another teacher whose lessons comprised of us reading a couple of chapters in our history books in silence and then being grilled on the content towards the end of the lesson. Riveting!!!

      Let’s hope that the vast majority of Writing ‘Teachers’ are those that will come up with new and innovative approaches to passing on their knowledge and experience.

  • Ruth October 25, 2013, 10:48 am

    I do feel that the number of characters is not too important, there can be a few or a lot, but one must stand out – be The Hero. He must be seen as taking charge of “The Mob”.

    • Tony at the Word October 29, 2013, 11:16 am

      Good point Ruth, although some writers have tried to include a number of heroes in their work, e.g. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, but I guess even then a principle character shines through.

  • Mark May 25, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Good points. Think of those kind of rules or pointers like grammar. Understand it first then you’re in a much better position to ignore the rules.

    • Tony at the Word July 4, 2013, 11:14 am

      Thanks Mark for a very useful tip.