Theory of Storytelling: Or Is All Writing Creative Writing?

I grew up with stories. The top shelf of my childhood bookshelf held my mother’s faerie tale books from Japan, Russia, Mongolia, and Germany. I devoured the stories when I was a child. When I got older I still went inside my old room, picked my favorite book off the shelf, and lost myself in the stories. I look back on those days now, and I understand what I was only able to experience at that young age: that all of writing has a common origin in storytelling, and that is what makes it memorable.

Storytelling is one of the most ancient and beloved forms of communication and art. Beowulf and The Odyssey are classic examples of bardic storytelling. Stories like these have been spoken aloud since before writing was a prominent form of communication; people relied on memory and song to recreate tales of adventure and peril. This origin story has been in some ways forgotten in today’s academic world. This is due, in part, to a shift in focus from the credibility of the individual, personal voice to the more authoritative, omniscient voice of the “professional” writer.

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This neglect of personal voice is a problem in today’s academic field, particularly in the more specific context of writing fields. I am writing today to put an idea in your head: what if all writing was, in some way, creative? What if we got rid of those two poles of “academic” versus “creative” writing, took away the contrived space between them, and integrated them. This way, research could have narrative, and if someone wanted to include statistics in their short story, they could, and it wouldn’t be considered abnormal. What if we paid more attention to the narrative threads that we try so hard to carve out of professional writing in the name of research and revision and professionalism? I am not denying that there is a certain audience that requires professional and conventionally academic writing – but I believe there is a barrier created between the author and the reader of such works, and that barrier comes from an enforced notion of objectivity that I do not believe is attainable. This is not to say that research is not objective to some degree; however, there is an inherent subjectivity because of the opinion of the author in response to the research.

This barrier of objectivity enforces the notion of an authoritarian author. Perhaps the reason novels and stories are so beloved is that we feel that the author is like us: fallible, complex, without all the answers. Yet, even though the story is such a powerful form of communication and knowledge, there is an underlying notion that creative writing is somehow outside the scope of academia. Creative writing classes are often the elective classes, those experimental classes you attempt when you’re sick of pottery. It’s true: we break some rules. But I believe creative writing has long been one of the most progressive, inclusive, and innovative forms of communication and art in the academic world, and therefore a field of study that should be more prominent in the academic setting because of its themes of inclusion, equality, and individuality.

There are several reasons why I believe creative writing should have more prominence in academia. First, creative writing prizes the author’s voice above all. At the CAPS Writing and Language Center, we are passionate about retaining and honoring the student author’s voice, whatever type of writing they are working on. We resist the outdated notion that there is a set “standard” of American English, and we actively work to promote individuality in writing. Voice is what distinguishes one piece of writing from another, one written experience from another, and, ultimately, one author from a sea of authors. Diversity and individuality are as crucial in academic and professional writing as they are in creative writing.

Second, creative writing embraces the author’s unique place in their writing. There is less feigned objectivity in creative writing, because we know that what is being written is personal and meaningful to the author. Literary journalism is a good example of professional writing embracing a degree of individualism. In this context, journalists include themselves as subjects in their own work, which lends a personal and genuine flavor to the work, as well as further establishing the credibility of the narrator – since it is apparent that they witnessed the events. It also lends a sense of fallibility to the work. The presence of a narrator makes the writing seem more human – which in turn makes it more meaningful and memorable. Fallibility is a sure sign of humanity. This is a necessary element in writing. We are all human: let’s embrace that humanness in our communication and expression.

I have loved writing since I was a child. I chose to major in creative writing because I believe it to be a powerful expression of self, and a style of art that is able to support all the weight of academic research as well as a moving narrative. Both components are equally important and credible: neither is more or less academic than the other. However, the element of storytelling in creative writing allows it to be more relatable to the reader. My mother’s stories taught me the importance of artistry in writing from a young age. The integration of self into any kind of writing can be liberating and powerful. So I pose the question again: can all writing be creative writing? I believe it can. Let’s unearth all the unheard voices in essays and theses, and bring back the magic of individual expression into academia. Let’s not be afraid to tell stories.


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