‘Under the tutelage of my first editor . . . I learned to turn hitherto shapeless narratives into stories. Later I saw that I was learning the hard way what I had read about in Aristotle’s Poetics. And I was constrained by the demands of commercial fiction. There was no room for tangential flights of fancy. “Why the second paragraph on page 9?” an editor might query. “It is so wonderfully well written,” would not serve as an answer. It had to play a role in the story. I learned economy and I learned to concentrate on what the reader’s likely response would be so that I could guide it by what I wrote. If you devote a paragraph to the view from the back bedroom window in a short story, that better be significant for the way things come out.
The thing about technique is that it can be taught and learned. This is true of any of the arts. You can take a course in watercolors, you can take piccolo lessons, you can take a writing course. The emphasis will be on technique, how to do it. What the course cannot give you is vision or a voice. You can mimic the masters for a while, you might do plausible imitations of them – art imitating art rather than nature – and come to realize that is all you can do.
This is why technique is looked down upon. This is why, fatally, it is thought to be unimportant. The fact that it is not sufficient does not make it unnecessary. Even E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel, laments that he must tell a story in order to amuse the masses when he would rather just write. Thank God for the masses if they made Forster write the novels he did. A contempt for the masses goes hand in hand with the rejection of technique as the means of engaging the reader.’
~ Ralph McInerny