”To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:… …What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” –Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 3:9 (KJV)
Good, sound structure is not detrimental to creative writing.
If elementary school taught me that anything was possible and that we could do anything we set our minds to, then middle school taught me that following procedure and protocol to the letter without question was the key to success in the real world.
This would not do at all.
I spent a fair amount of time in middle school rebelling against the age-old rules of composition and MLA format. “It’s dumb!” I said. “I’m not going to be a stuffy old reporter or bureaucrat. I’m going to be a novelist! I’ll set sail on a sea of words and go wherever the wind may take me, so I don’t need to learn structure and procedure!”
In high school, I became more responsible for my creative works, rather than just pouring out whatever was in my head onto the paper. “Creative writing,” I decided, “is at its best when it has a clear direction and destination. It’s best to know how the story is going to end and where the characters will end up before one actually sits down and writes.” And yet, I still saw serious writing and creative writing as two completely different outlets. I shunned one and embraced the other.
“But why?” I later asked, after two years of college and four years of work. “Why do people see them so differently.” It all made sense. Just like writing essays and research papers, a good creative story has to have a thesis. Each character represents a supporting point or counter-point to that thesis, and they spend the entirety of the story proving your thesis. What is your thesis? Your thesis is whatever you want your audience to walk away with after your story closes. Pure entertainment has its place, but if you really want your work to truly mean something to someone, you must know what it means to you, and that means being fully aware of your structure. Once you’re fully aware of your structure, you’ll experience real creative freedom.
And really, isn’t that what every artist wants?
This encounter with the voices of my educational past taught me something else. It taught me that perhaps I didn’t know as much as I thought. And perhaps, I enjoy the field of creative writing because I’ll always have something new to learn and countless new people to learn from. Those that have never written may see this as an endless task, but I see it as a never-ending adventure.