Characters and Contests and Stories–oh, my

Been doing the contest reading thing, and have to say, people–writing skills are good, but story telling skills?  Bleh.  Are all the writing classes/workshops out there focused on technique, and not how to build a story (as in how to build solid characters)?

Two biggest mistakes I’m seeing on a regular basis is that folks seem to mistake backstory for characterization.  People, backstory is what happened to someone.  Characterization is how a person deals with, or has dealt, with those happenings–it’s their innate ticks that make them unique.  You can have two people both with the same event in their past–and you’ll get two different reactions.  But what I’m reading mostly just has characters shoved through a plot.  Not good.  And that brings up the other big mistake–plot needs to come from characters, folks.  If you make up events and throw them at your characters, the characters need to react ‘in character’.  If they don’t, plot comes across as ‘contrived’ — it feels made up.

And, yes, I know–fiction is made up.  But this is a magic act, people.  Story telling gives the illusion of real people. Fake people have to be more internally consistent, more structured, more real than real people ever are, or the illusion doesn’t work.

So–is this not being taught anywhere?  Are we producing people with writing skills, but no story telling skills?  I have to say, I’d much rather be bitching about untangling sentences, or making paragraphs make sense, or even adding tension to a scene, or how to punch dialogue–those are all common enough mistakes, but that’s craft you can learn.  Or is this the thing you really can’t teach?  Is this something you figure out on your own, the skill that isn’t a skill, but is a knack or a gift, or is something that you have or don’t?

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