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An argument for learning craftsmanship in fiction

In the country where I live, opportunities for learning craftsmanship in fiction are not many. Creative writing courses are few and creative writing workshops fewer still.

I have often consoled myself for this lack by repeating, whenever I was in doubt or depression, that creativity is an act of the imagination, the unconscious, not craft. Add to that constant practice, and I’m bound to become a writer in the truest sense of the word. Sooner or later.

But today, while reading “Narrative Design” by Madison Smart Bell, (described very well here)I read a few lines that made me sit up and take notice of the importance of learning craftsmanship:

-“if left to itself, the unconscious mind will never stop playtime or come down from drifting in the clouds; the unconscious isn’t terrifically fond of work, but craftsmanship can guide it into harness.”

-“instruments of craftsmanship, once acquired, are something which the unconscious mind can also make use of. In this sense, the writer’s study of craft is analogous to the sculptor’s study of anatomy, the musician’s constant practice of scales. Once fully known, these elements of craftsmanship become reflexive….Once the tools of craftsmanship have been mastered to that extent, you can use them without thinking about them, to make your imagination more mobile and ultimately more free.”

Having read this, I know what I’ve begun to intuitively feel about learning techniques of plotting, characterisation, or dialogue, and then pushing them to the back of my mind, is right.

They become part of my dream-space.

And when I write, it is not merely an image or a sketch but a fleshier being, something ready to be molded into a story.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

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