Saturday, 7 November 2009

On Method and MAs

Many years ago I trained as an actor, then worked as one for three years. After I left acting I wrote several editions of a book called 'A Guide to Drama Training in the UK' which involved going to visit all the drama schools and interviewing staff and students. One of the questions floating around was: could acting be taught? Some schools taught using The Method, based on the methodology for acting developed by Stanislavski. Others expected drama students to pick up good practice by osmosis, giving them the chance to work with established directors.

Creative Writing MAs operate on not dissimilar principles. Students work with established writers (one hopes) and pick up good practice from them. I'm not aware that much craft is taught. When I did my MA I was surprised that there weren't any straightforward taught craft sessions. I was told that they expected students to come already knowing 'all about that.' But they don't. It's not taught.

If you read extensively then you do absorb the principles by osmosis. Jane Austen never had the benefit of reading Syd Field, for example, yet Pride and Prejudice shows a perfect understanding of Three Act Structure, including Syd Field's 'pinch'. Perhaps she'd read Aristotle's Poetics, but I think it's more likely that she simply read and read and read.

All writers should read widely, from the best to the worst, and particularly in the field in which they wish to write. But they can also learn craft techniques in a methodical way. These can be taught, but I suspect most MAs would prefer to stick with osmosis. I loved my MA course - osmosis is fun - but, just like actors learning to project and not bump into the furniture, craft should be taught as well.


Lesley Cookman said...

How true, Sarah. I did an MA, too, and my daughter is currently being taught to act and sing at the RAM, which as far as I can tell goes with the osmosis principle, acting-wise, anyway. Very interesting to find out at the end if her course will be any more use than mine.

Sarah Duncan said...

I loved my MA and DID find it useful to my development as a writer, although it didn't teach me how to write a novel. Which would have been handy!