Tag Archives: seven basic plots

Can writing be taught?

#wpad blog challenge, day 19.

Can writing be taught? Yes.

But storytellers are born.

What can – and indeed ought to – be taught?

There is a lot that aspiring writers ought to learn about structure, plot and character development. Going back to Aristotle: beginning, middle and end including reversal. The basic categories and their elements – comedy, tragedy, satire etc. Know your format and its rules – this goes especially for screenwriting (yes yes, once you know them, you can break them). Do I have to mention good grammar and orthography?

You can learn – at least to a degree – to write good dialogue. You can learn about George Polti’s 36 dramatic situations or the seven basic plots (or three, or eleven, whichever taxonomy suits your writing). You can read (and hear film people talk forever) about “The Quest” or “The Journey” – and by the way, I do recommend Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” as essential storytelling wisdom.

Born to tell stories

But if you know all of the above, if you have mastered various tools and techniques, you still need the one basic ingredient without which there are no books, films, plays etc. You need to be a storyteller. And that, I believe, cannot be taught. You have to be born that way.

This is more than a knack for telling funny or enthralling stories to entertain your listeners / readers. It is not just a question of “talent” or a certain “gift”. To be a true storyteller means you want to tell stories. It means there are stories inside you clamouring to be let out.

It does not necessarily mean you want to offer your stories to the world at large. And without the skills and knowledge described above you may be too shy or embarrassed to tell them. But they are inside you and want out. Even if “out” is a folder stashed away in the depths of your computer, or a piece of scrap paper in the bottom desk drawer. I have met people who would never consider themselves “writers” but oh how I wished they would apply pen and paper to their stories!

So this is my humble opinion: writing can be taught. But storytellers are born.

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