Sunday, 1 December 2013

Can't you just let a story be a story?

"I don't understand this at all. I don't understand any of this. Why does a story have to be a socio-anything? Politics... culture... history... aren't those natural ingredients in any story, if it's told well? I mean... can't you you guys just let a story be a story?"

Stephen King, from "Bill Denbrough Takes Time Out" - It (1988) 

This quote is taken from a flashback scene in It where horror writer Bill Denbrough takes a creative writing course and becomes frustrated by the dismissal of his thrilling work by his classmates and the teacher.

Bear that in mind while you read this description of the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Kent:

It is extremely disappointing to see Kent dismiss "children's fiction" as not worthy of a course that purports to teach its students "high quality literary fiction" that is "full of ideas". I would also like to know what is wrong with "mass-market thrillers", or "old fashioned ballads" in a literary context.

I understand the drive to want to write fiction that isn't disposable, but to dismiss more accessible forms is pure snobbery. As Bill Denbrough points out, a story that's "told well" contains truth, and the best literature should always be more than just a vessel for delivering ideas.


  1. It's funny that people should be so dismissive of mass-market thrillers and other popular genres. Not everyone's a fan of "high quality literary fiction" and I can't really picture children choosing Dostoevsky and Murakami over J.K. Rowling. Literary snobbery simply puts people off reading as they begin to worry that they're not reading the "right" books.

  2. Well quite. Isn't it more important that children are reading at all? In practical terms the alternative to them reading an acknowledged literary masterpiece is not them reading something "merely" entertaining, it's them not reading at all. And I have my problems with Harry Potter but I will happily acknowledge that as I child I went through a fairly long phase of reading nothing but, and had that not been there I would probably have filled that time with TV and video games (which I obviously think are great, but in moderation).

    I'd also argue that accessibility and literary quality are not mutually exclusive, especially where children's fiction is concerned. Iron Man? His Dark Materials? Skellig? The Little Prince? The oevre of Roald Dahl? Those are just a few of my favourites but the list is enormous.

    It's also worth pointing out that writing for children is extremely demanding; where an adult has been conditioned to accept things at face value, a child will almost always ask "why"? Further to this, they're more susceptible to boredom, so the plotting, editing and language really has to be spot on.

    I'm sure whoever wrote that blurb probably didn't mean to dismiss children's fiction in that way; maybe they just meant to clarify that children's fiction wasn't covered on the course. But you'd think that in a blurb for a course that teaches people how to write, they'd have read over the wording a little more carefully...