Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Managing student expectations

First week of term! Yes, I do have a class, enrolment has met the required number. Maybe by now, exceeded it. I will go in early tomorrow to check the numbers and to be sure to get in the photocopy queue with time to spare. Also, to pick up whatever admin bumpf the college has devised over the break.

A prospective student emailed me via the college -- will The Hero's Journey teach him to write a true adventure?

Hmmm -- depends on what he means by 'teach him to write', by 'write', by 'true' and by 'adventure'. In just about every new class, someone arrives with the idea that he/she will have written a book by the end of the course, or end of the year. If only!

But this is just a 5 week course, so in the first instance I said that this would give him the tools with which to start and to continue to write a story (by which I mean story or book-length story). The same answer actually also applies to a full year course.

So that's the gentle disillusionment you have to deliver if a student arrives with that goal. Let alone the student who says he/she will write, get published and be rich and famous by the end of the course. But we cannot shatter and trample upon dreams and motivation: gently, gently.

I hope I didn't sound too snippy when I said I was sure he must already have looked at the course outline online where I explain the elements of the course.

But then maybe he was talking about genre? So I explained that the course does talk in terms of heroes and dragons, mentors and Shadows... the stuff of fantasy and sci fi, Star Wars and Lion King. BUT my exercises and lectures are about the psychological power in the hero's quest -- power that works in every story, on a domestic or a galactic canvas. Pride and Prejudice, The King's Speech, Peter Rabbit -- these too have a hero's journey template. But I don't know if his query stems from wanting fantasy or from an aversion to it. Or maybe, by 'true', he meant a real-life adventure, like the 127 Hours story? Hero's Journey can work for that too.

Interesting how so many people can't bear fantasy novels; some students insist literary novels are the only thing, and hate popular fiction of the chic-lit or crime sort. I know of one class that was nearly wrecked by one such student. On the other hand, the few (in my circles) who love fantasy/sci fi are rather lost souls in the world of creative writing classes and I believe in supporting them as well as the others.

I encourage genre tolerance -- we can all learn from other genres, even if we don't like them. Whatever the genre, it has readers or it wouldn't exist. The most important thing: beginning, middle, end -- and getting it written!

I wonder if he will join the course...

1 comment:

Dave said...

"Pride and Prejudice, The King's Speech, Peter Rabbit -- these too have a hero's journey template...." Agree. See Kal Bashir's 510+ stage hero's journey at