Why the Teachers Tell You Not to Write Idea

My fiction writing professors at Fresno State and the University of Oregon urged us not to write “ideas.”

Spoons copy

One time I told Steve Yarborough, who was my Fiction professor, that I had a good idea for a story.

“Stop right there!” he said in his thick southern accent. “That’s where you’re going wrong. A story should not be about an idea, but about a person.”

This same principle was differently articulated by many other of my fiction writing mentors, and, albeit, there are some valid reasons.

But as young Chicano writers, Andrés Montoya and I wrestled with the subject of didacticism, of a political assertion in poetry and fiction. We thought anything that contradicted our political statement was an attempt by the cultural oppressor to impede our voices. Stories and poems without political purpose?

Cracker Craft! Art for art’s sake!

Montoya used to quote Roque Dalton, calling nonpolitical poets clowns.



But I think the important thing for a fiction writer is to not let the ideas give form to the novel or story.

When you use the sound of language to enter into a landscape, you cannot not help but to create one in your own image.

Your ideas and values cannot escape from being released into the universe you’re imagining.

If you believe something to be a true principle of reality, it will reflect strongly in the fiction you write.


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