A lot of Boris Fishman's fellow writing and teaching professionals claim creative writing can't be taught. He agrees with them to a point—you can't teach talent, and teaching everyone to write the same way means many learners will simply write the same way—but he also believes those who want to write stories or poems should have guidance rather than just blindly groping around on their own.
Designed to be used along with Susan Wise Bauer's Writing With Skill or on its own, Fishman's The Creative Writer offers both guidance and encouragement, as well as down-to-earth advice for those who write and those who want to. Students read the text and complete the exercises on their own, with an appendix in the back helping the teacher/parent/mentor know how to evaluate stories and poems, and how to offer input when the student needs or asks for it.
There are 36 weekly lessons grouped according to concept, with 18 covering short stories and 18 covering poetry. While the lessons on short stories come first, Fishman urges students to complete all 36 lessons, regardless of your preferred writing focus; the best poets understand narrative writing, and the best short story writers have a grasp of meter and other poetic elements.
The core advice is familiar: read a lot, write a lot, keep a commonplace book. Much of the instructional content is pretty familiar as well—characters need to be multi-dimensional, setting determines mood, good drama is motivated by tension. What's not familiar are the exercises Fishman uses to drive home his points and help students master them.
Many of the exercises are built on speed and repetition. For instance, in the section on dialogue he has students writing twenty one-line exchanges between characters. In the section on description he has them write 500 "happy" or "sad" words about a character's perception of an object of their choice. Each exercise is challenging but fun, and (unlike those in many similar courses) pertinent to the skill being taught.
Throughout The Creative Writer, Fishman has kids analyzing portions of longer stories in order to see for themselves what constitutes good literature. He isn't content to tell anyone how to write; he must show and exemplify. And he does: his own writing style is accessible, vivid and funny, and will appeal to younger students and older beginning writers alike.
Most of all, Fishman clearly wants young writers to love words and love playing with them. He isn't interested in helping kids master the elements of good writing for no reason—he wants them to practice, practice, practice and eventually to write something they're really proud of. So whether you fancy penning a sonnet or an adventure story, a villanelle or mystery novel, this is an excellent place to start, especially if you want to write as well as you can while maintaining your own voice.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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