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Just about every respected profession has a number of esteemed institutions of higher learning offering a cream of the crop curriculum to those who aspire towards greatness. Some schools are even synonymous with their famous programs. Medicine; Harvard. Law; Yale. Entrepreneurship; Babson. Film; USC. Of course with this level of popularity comes the utmost of demand, the result being only a privileged few invited to grow their minds amongst such prestige.
When it came to setting forth on my journey towards mastering story I held no false hopes. I had yet to achieve first string status in this game of life, so the University of Iowa wasn’t within my grasps, let alone reach. This however did not deter, as I already knew whose path I wanted to follow before moving my high school graduating tassel from right to left. A man rather than a program, his philosophy on the written word which spoke to my soul more enticing than the boastful badge of an Ivy League university.
His name was Professor Portendorfer and he had been featured on someone’s obscure little blog, one I happened to be subscribed to. The post had interested me so much that I ended up googling his name, and it was with this search that I found the school he taught at. Fugue Community College, located three states away on the outskirts of a metropolis. With nothing on YouTube and only a brief mention on the school’s official website I decided to drive out and observe one of his classes. You see, the college was unique in that it offered potential students the opportunity to attend a once-a-month event where its professors would put on orientation-like classes to allow possible future students to get a feel for what they would be in store for. And since it was my last semester of high school and my parents and guidance counselor were always on my case as to where I planned to advance my studies in creative writing I had chosen to take the drive out to see if this is where I wanted to spend the next two years of my life.
The campus was small and simple, the large trees spread throughout shrinking the buildings to make them look more like retreats. I liked it already.
To my surprise Portendorfer’s introductory lesson had about five hundred students in attendance, waking me up to the fact that I wasn’t the only one who had discovered this hidden gem of a teacher. So large was our group that we had to meet in the school’s auditorium, with it not being long before we all became engrossed in what this man had to say.
As a daydreamer I’ve always wondered what it must’ve been like to watch Rodin work on The Thinker, Michael Jackson perform his magic live, Nabokov netting his butterflies while weaving together Lolita. This display of greatness is what I saw when listening, watching, feeling Portendorfer’s lecture. How he related daily life to the art and craft of what we storytellers had chosen to pursue. Sometimes no-nonsense, straightforward, in-your-face, while at other moments it was as if he were composing universes of splendor with that marker in his hand. Yes, he held a marker in his hand throughout the whole session, oftentimes conducting in the air as if his thoughts flew from it. And so I share with you the highlights…
As there are infinite stars in our universe
there are limitless ways to tell a story,
and just as many stories to tell.
Every single thing around you, both living and inanimate
has within it at tale.
Every condition, both human and in nature,
every thought ever conceived.
Everything is story,
which is why it has been with us since the beginning.
On Being an Artist
You create, therefore you are an artist.
Do not misunderstand this as inherent greatness.
In fact, most who put pen to paper, fingertip to key
will be no more than mediocre,
the majority of you not having the all-consuming discipline
and/or natural talent it takes to get there.
For those of you who can identify yourselves as such,
do us both a favor and don’t enroll in my class.
For those in attendance
who need help in placing a mirror before your aspirations,
you will be weeded out.
For the small percentile of you
who possess the artistry worthy of a Nobel Prize
and not a slot on a rotating display case
within a $.99 store,
I offer to you my services as guide.
Invisible, They’re Not
Contrary to what so-called literary gurus would have you believe,
dialogue tags such as said are not invisible.
And the use of adverbs and other descriptive words
used alongside them is not always a crime.
Writing well involves many a things,
using the dialogue tag said over and over again
can be just as amateurish as the adverbs so many are against.
The bottom line is,
each story is different
and therefore each approach should be as well.
It is not what you write, it is how you write.
Storyshower It Is Not
Again with the goddamn supposed literary gurus.
For those who tell you to show, not tell,
do not turn and walk away, run!
Since when are we fucking writing screenplays?!
It is not storyshower, for God’s sake!
As storytellers we tell stories,
and each one should be told
with a delicately artistic approach
that is again determined by the universe you have created.
In Alignment with Truth
I’m often asked what is more important,
story or character.
In truth, one comes out of the other,
and vice versa.
The important thing is to make sure
that little inner voice inside is in alignment with truth.
If your characters need to bleed,
don’t be afraid to get messy.
If they want to fuck,
get as nasty as they wanna be.
Don’t just put them to bed with a few clichéd lines
like a stereotypical romance novel.
But that doesn’t mean you go down the dirty alley of smut either.
Substance is one of the few rules that should be written in stone in your writing.
Being truthful to the universe you have created
is just as important as the creation of it itself.
If you are afraid of offending your readers,
you have offended the soul of what it is to be a storyteller.
Don’t do it.
Don’t Be a Blockhead
If you’re a writer,
there is no such thing as writer’s block.
Outside obstacles will be your greatest enemy,
get rid of them.
They’ll be times when you’re just not feeling a story.
Put it to the side and come back to it later.
It just means your mind wants to write something else at the moment.
The important thing is, you write. It’s what you do.
With this no-holds-barred introduction to his writing class now at its conclusion Professor Portendorfer ended with five simple words; “See you in the fall.”
And indeed he would.