Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: Dr. Seuss

If ever I were granted the chance to teach a creative writing course–say, Fiction 101–I think the first text I would choose as a class assignment would be “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” by Dr. Seuss.

Yes, this is why it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be asked to teach Fiction 101. With all the great literature out there to study, I would start of with a children’s book? A 78-year old children’s book? Yes. Yes, I would.

“Mulberry Street” was the first published children’s book by Dr. Seuss. If you’re not familiar with it, you can read the text here (at least for now), minus the illustrations. In it, a young boy with a reputation for stretching the truth is asked each day by his father what he saw coming home from school. On this particular day, all he saw was “a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street.” As he continues on his way, he decides it’s too ordinary, and starts adding new things, just to spice it up a little. You can imagine where things go from there.

The reason I like it so much is that it starts with a grain of truth. A horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street becomes a grand parade with elephants, a magician, police escort and more. By the time the boy gets home, the horse and wagon have been totally lost in the tale, buried under imagination. And that, I think, is the big lesson for so many people breaking into fiction. It’s fine–maybe even desirable–to start with a grain of truth, but a straight retelling of personal history (with names changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent) isn’t fiction; it also might not be as interesting as you think. 

Follow the Doctor’s lead, I say.

6 Responses

  1. Yeah. He's a subtle guy in flamboyant way. There's more depth in some of his books that we think until we look beyond the imaginative drawings and colors.

  2. Dr. Seuss is my favorite children's writer. He's brilliant! I kind of go the opposite way than the child in the story. I start with an imaginary idea and then do a lot of research trying to add facts to make my fictional story believable.

  3. -Donna-"subtle in a flamboyant way"–I like that!
    -Jemi-Seuss is the man!
    -Nick-thank you. Snowball, indeed.
    -Stacy-it's in my budget for 2016!
    -Lexa-Interesting approach to it–mix in just enough truth.

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