This blog post is a small rant about a number of individuals and articles that have stated that technical writing is no training for creative writing. I've heard it a couple of times and although I cannot present empirical evidence, I will list a number of thoughts that weaken the argument's foundations.
I'm going to wrap all creative writing into one lump. So, I do except that perhaps it might be easier for a technical writer to move into screenwriting with its more formulaic form compared to novels or poetry, say.
1. All Absolutes are Risky
The earth is flat. The sun revolves around the earth. Gender is determined by sex. While many of these statements might have been believed by 100% of most or all societal groups at some point in history, it's unlikely that this still holds true.
2. Any Reading and Writing is training
I read a lot of comics as a child. Stories told through images, some dialogue and the odd bit of exposition as text. Iron Man, The Hulk, X-Men all told stories that were fantastical but based on personal trauma. These stories are now generating billions in revenue.
Technical writing requires an exisiting base knowledge usually in part obtained by reading. In addition, when writing articles and papers, of which I've authored several, the beginning is often a literature search of pre-existing material. Relevant sections will be pulled out for reference in the article.
After the technical piece has been written, it has to be reread and edited. Often, it's written to a brief. Many of the technical articles I've written, particulary the martket reports, required me to
- Find a topic that was new
- Ensure that it was of interest to an audience
- Pitch it
- Write to a deadline with sufficient quality
- Respond to editor's requests
Fairly useful skills I would say.
3. Story Structure
Ah, they say, stories have a structure that has to be learnt. Fair enough. In an interview with the screenwriter of Trust Me, starting Jodie Whitaker, Dan Sefton explains that his training as a Doctor helped him. He said that as a trainee, he'd have to read a lot of books, so getting through a few screenwriting books was not challenging. He even went further to say that if you finished a few of these well known books, you're already ahead of half wannabees.
Let's get stuck into story strucure a bit more. Here is the usual format for a scientific paper:
- Literature Cited
Let's see how well it might match up to a typical story structure, using Vogler's hero's journey.
- Ordinary World
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting with the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
- Test, Allies, Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- The Road Back
- Return with the Elixer
So let's so if I can match some of these up:
- Title - Something also in a story
- Authors - Ordinary World
- Affiliation - Ordinary World
- Abstract - The back cover of a book
- Introduction - Call to Adventure
- Methods - Test, Allies and Enemies, Ordeal
- Results - Reward
- Discussion - Not in Vogler's list, but fits with the resolution stage
- Acknowledgements - The credits
- Literature Cited - The credits
Not bad even if I've taken a bit of librerties with some of them, I'm sure. .