Correspondence between Frank Fetters and Roger Rueff

by | Jul 21, 2015 | Ask the Author, Forum Archives

If I ever teach a course in creative writing, your textbook will be a necessary, required tool for anyone attempting to take the class.

Started by Frank Fetters on 2015-07-21 at 11:43

Roger-

I just want to share these thoughts with you:

1. The failure of most creative writing courses comes from instructors who don't know how to convey the first principles. Anybody taking a playwriting course can focus on technical aspects and do okay. Fiction writers can scribble to their heart's content and think that feedback from others in the same course really has a chance to help them improve what they write. The main reason that these approaches fail is because the feedback comes from others who are at the same level. There is a tacit agreement among creative writing students that expresses the idea that , "if you don't trash me too hard, I won't trash you." Hence: everyone gets a C or higher and mediocrity flourishes. What's missing from any of these classes is the very approach you developed, which answers the following questions:

-Just what the hell is a story and how do I write one?
-How do I make a story move forward?
-What are the separate pieces and parts of a story?
-How do I know that all the pieces and parts I've assembled fit together?
-How do I'm know when I'm finished and the story is over?

I didn't get ANY of that from the courses I took previous to yours. If I EVER teach a course in creative writing, your textbook will be a necessary, required tool for anyone attempting to take the class.

2. Old habits die hard. It is easier to learn the first time than it is to unlearn the false information we were told at first. Examples? I was taught poetics from Aristotle and Horace, among others. In ancient Greek, "protagonist" means "for the idea" and "antagonist' means "against the idea". So there's an "agon", which means "argument" or "struggle" between these two factions or personalities. Your dismissing all this in favor of a Main Character, who indexes and drives what the story is all about is infinitely more practical. The other thing that confuses me is the importance of sympathy (an 18th Century driven by the Germans and by Englishmen like William Hazlitt). So the first person I run into in a story who seems to be embody and defend the idea that the story is trying to promote jumps at me, screaming, "I am the MAIN CHARACTER". Or if that fails to trap me in a false idea, I simply rush to the side of the most sympathetic character. That's why I thought the main character in HOSPITALITY SUITE had to be either Phil or Bob. Clearly, it is Larry, as you pointed out to me. For OBVIOUS REASONS (I see that now). Other aspects of your "system" (I hope you don't mind me calling it a system) are similarly lost on me at first glance because of ingrained first impressions perpetrated by creative writing instructors at universities. Clearly, I need to do more work to unlearn and relearn important concepts. In the future I will be coming back to the soul of your story academy with my play, CLOSING TIME, to find out how to make it more effective, more publishable and more performable.

Roger Rueff replied...

Hey Frank,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Feel free to keep writing. I’ll reply whenever I can.

For some things, though, like your comments about Aristotle and Horace and the meaning of “agon,” I hope you’ll consider (no obligation, just a request) posting them in the Forum on the website, under the category “Ask the Author.” Even if they’re your own observations, you can put them there. Or if you have personal tips to give, put them in “Share Thoughts and Tips.” That way, others who visit the site can benefit from the conversation.

Re: those ideas, though, I find them really fascinating. And given your observation about the meaning of “protagonist,” that fits really nicely with my concept of thematic imprinting, because the main character is carrying the central element of the theme by his actions and path in the story and, by so doing, advancing the premise of the story based on an issue (which might be considered the “agon” idea).

Fascinating stuff. That’s why I’d like to see it in the Forum if you care to put it there.

Frank Fetters replied...

Roger-

Yes, of course, I want to keep this dialogue going, and rather than send my comments to you in emails, I will post these to the forum. Hopefully, you'll begin to see how extremely valuable this course was for me. It's hard being this far away, not being able to benefit from a lot of the social activities, workshops and meetings. I think everyone who is a network playwright who can't get to the local CD activities should be an active participant on your Soul of the Story forum.

Frank Fetters replied...

Roger-

I am now to the point where I am enjoying how little I know about how to create/construct an effective story versus how much I thought I knew. Reading HOSPITALITY SUITE challenged my thinking quite a bit, as I explained in an earlier message attached to this discussion. So I was torn, given my limitations, between wanting to declare that Phil or Bob was the Main Character. Yet, given your test for determining the Main Chracter, it had to be Larry. So here is my next question:

Given that I still have this irresistable urge to declare either Phil or Bob, the Main Character (for reasons I have already explained), can you see the value for me in wanting to call Larry (or any other Main Character in any story by your definition and Main character test results) the Index Character? Or am I just confusing the issue?

Frank Fetters replied...

I've been thinking about this for a week now. I AM confusing the issue! I'm trying to superimpose old ideas on top of new ones. You criteria is clear for what identifies a main character and the function of a main character. I just need to unlearn some things that are no longer working for me.

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