One of the questions that comes with learning creative writing is which is the best way: studying the classics, or taking creative writing courses? My argument is, well, both. Though the classics could be switched up with more current work, as long as the work is sound. This is why the classics are so useful, because everyone has agreed that the characters, plots, settings are all well developed. There is a certain style that came with the classics that isnt employed anymore, however they clearly get their point across, and every character is developed.
Reading is a vital part of writing. Reading good novels to see how it is done, and poor ones to show what not to do. It might sound simple, that if you know what to do you will instinctively know what not to do, but this is not the case when it comes to creative writing. It is hard to recognize a bad character development, or plot point, in your own writing. It is easier to see in someone elses work, you arent as emotionally involved in it.
Understanding creative writing isnt as simple as taking a course or reading some books. You need to devote yourself to it, practice it, refine it. Like any other skill, it takes time and patience to hone. I have found creative writing courses to be instrumental in my writing. Having someone go through my work and highlight areas that work, or don’t work, and make suggestions on how it may be resolved or suggesting sections to read to understand why it needs to be resolved.
With anything you need to know and understand the rules before you can break them. If you just break them without understanding why or without a specific reason it comes across as messy as opposed to artistic license. In this case taking a creative writing course, or reading textbooks, is an important step to understand why the choices made in the classics work so well and why the characters are so compelling. It shows you the reasons why certain plot devices work, and others don’t.
So, is it better to study the classics or take creative writing courses? I think it is better to do both. To build an understanding of the tools and methods and then to see them in action. These cement the concepts and allow you to translate those from observation and into practice. It takes a lot of time to hone any creative (or non) skill, and writing is no different. The best thing to do if creative writing is what you want to do is find courses or a mentor, collect as many books on writing fiction as you can, as many classics, contemporary books, and read, write, repeat.
There was one short story I wrote in one of my first creative writing courses, which I took in the midst of my degree so I had studied plenty of classics to this point. When I went back (after I finished my degree and dedicated months to continue to hone my style) and I read this story that I had been so in love with I found it to be utterly lacking. There was drawn out setting descriptions, the characters were flat, and the inciting incident lacking.
Your style and understanding of creative writing should always be growing and developing. It is something where you are always learning a more effective way of portraying emotion or setting. To create suspense. You are never finished learning. Use the tools that are available to you, if you have access to courses, take them, if you can get a hold of some textbooks, do. If you have access to classics (which are usually free to download in ebook format) then read them, read modern books, read a wide variety of genres. Ultimately, don’t limit yourself.
Deanna Roney is an AU graduate who loves adventure in life and literature. Follow her path on the writing journey at https://deannaroney.wordpress.com/