I’ve blogged before about my adventures teaching creative writing (see my previous posts Please Don’t Ask Me and The Case of the Stolen Idea) and I met a lot of interesting people during my three years of teaching, with some notable exceptions which haunt me to this day.
The assignment for one course was to write the first draft of a short story and present it to the class. After some group discussion and critiquing, the student would then write another draft and present the story again. If I was having a busy week I didn’t always have a chance to read the first drafts before they were presented. But one particular student gave off bad vibes, and I thank my lucky stars that I decided to read his story the night before it was due for presentation.
Halfway through reading his work, it was clear he was a very disturbed individual. His ‘story’ was basically one, long torture scene in which the main character slices all the limbs off his victim and reattaches them to the opposite sides.
Difficult to read for so many reasons. First of all, I have a weak stomach for that sort of ‘fiction’, although I always tried to keep an open mind when reading students’ work. I don’t like horror, fantasy or vampire stories as a rule, but I can still appreciate good writing and compelling plots. I really enjoyed Misery by Stephen King. Believe me, there was nothing ‘King-like’ in this story.
There were so many grammatical errors and syntax issues it wasn’t a story so much as the ramblings of a sadist. And since I used to be a nurse, I took issue with the lack of medical knowledge on the part of the writer. A victim whose leg is being sawed off would not be able to speak in coherent sentences. He’d be unconscious from major blood loss. Also, you would not be able to stop the bleeding of a femoral artery by simply cauterizing the wound. You would need clamps, suction, sutures and probably an OR nurse (or two) assisting you. This student’s sloppy research, on top of his obvious psychological problems, made me lose a little sleep.
I caught up with the kid before the next class began, and told him he would not be allowed to present his story. He took it well. I told him I found it disturbing, and asked what compelled him to write it. He told me it was based on real life events.
I somehow made it through the class and then called my supervisor, who got in touch with security, who had a little chat with him. He admitted to being off his meds, and thankfully didn’t return to class, to my great relief.
Another time the assignment was to write the first three pages of an original novel. A female student handed me the story of a vampire named Edward who falls in love with a young girl named Bella.
I get the whole fan fiction thing. I really do. But I had asked for ‘original’ work. When I suggested that rehashing someone else’s work wasn’t going to help her move forward as a writer, she got lippy, stopped attending class and I never saw her again. Begging the obvious question: Why are you taking this class?
Which led to the next question: Why am I teaching this class? Why aren’t I writing my next novel?
That semester heralded the beginning of the end of my teaching career, such as it was. I have to say, I don’t miss it.