In creative short story writing, technique is almost entirely organic, by which l mean that it is inherent in the effort at expression itself. It arises from the writer’s struggle with his material and is not imposed from without. There is a technique, of course, which can be imposed from without. We find it in the magazine type of story, for instance. People who write magazine stories work to their own rules. First of all they study markets, as they call it. This means working out what the editor of a particular magazine favours and then trying to write to that order. They make notes like this:
Readership: Girls and the newly married – better class.
Themes favoured: Light Romantic/Domestic subjects, middleclass background. Also childhood themes, especially for summer season with country cottage or seaside background.
Also Country Doctor/village setting. Domestic pets occasionally. Happy ending essential.
Best length 1 500-2000 words (approx.)
Rates 3 guineas per thousand.
So, with this basic information at their disposal, the magazine writers go off looking for plots which will give them material for 1500-2000 words (approx.), and, as for technique, that is something which they supply according to a formula which, in itself, has been extracted from a close study of the market, which means a close imitation of what every other writer published in Wendy’s Magazine has been doing.
Writing magazine stories of this kind is something that can be learned by application, if we have the inclination and a little aptitude for it. Music can be written in the same way. Ebenezer Prout’s textbook on the art of fugue, for instance, will teach any industrious student how to turn out fugues by the dozen, well-made fugues, fugues better from the point of view of the Rules of Fugue than most of Bach’s. But neither the fugues nor the stories made in this way have a life of their own, and they don’t engage us except at the most superficial level. And the reason is that as readers we are not making contact with anyone or anything, because the writer of the magazine story himself had no personal involvement with the situation he portrays or with his characters.
Creative writing, on the other hand, even bad creative writing, is creative precisely because it is involved. The creative writer struggles to express the human condition as he personally sees it. His reaction to life and to people may be compassionate and sympathetic; it may be one of disgust and rejection; he may express himself in terms of realism or of fantasy – it doesn’t greatly matter. What does matter is that life has compelled him to involve himself in an act which is one of self-expression. And, if he succeeds in self expression, we are likely to be interested. Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps at some point our understanding became darkened; perhaps it is that we are all possessed of souls that at some time or other lost their tongues, and ever since have been struggling to become articulate again. So that, when a man of genius becomes articulate in that spiritual sense through music or literature, or of the arts, we feel that we too have been granted the blessing and relief of speech.