The Genres of Writing
At a dinner, not too long ago, I was asked about writing. I struggled to put into words my thoughts on the different forms of writing, but since then, of course, after some time to think about it, I’ve had some ideas:
Poetry . . . lyrics . . . they’re a thought, a movement, a feeling grasped. Poetry and songs tell a story of mood that captures the listener and causes them to feel the same feeling for a fleeting moment. It’s small but powerful, the way we influence others with our emotions through writing. I can listen to a song and feel like a party or a funeral or anything in between. I can want to give . . . or want to take what’s mine . . . want to worship . . . want to sacrifice . . . want to sing along or lie down and sob, all from a song.
Short stories are down and dirty. Characters are full-color from the moment they hit the page. There’s no time to mess around . . . only time to be messy and real. Their message is told in a few short scenes, every word counts. Literally. But there's a raw beauty to it. I find it thrilling when I've accomplished it.
Novels are a long, slow sweetness. We can take our time learning our characters and their stories. We can take our readers on a leisurely walk through the woods, discovering things we never knew ourselves. There’s room for error here, because there’s always the next chapter, the next time to make it right. Novel readers are so forgiving, so long-suffering in our efforts to tell a great story. Our greatest challenge is that climax, that final ending page. These are the characters that will live on in their minds for as long as they will live on in ours.
Screenwriting is all about action, dialog – the visual and the heard. Camera angles, color and motion, fill our minds as a story meshes out. Imagination isn’t needed so much as it’s lead. Lead into a labyrinth of thought and design. I’ve barely grasped this art. It’s hard. It requires tying my left hand behind my back and only using select senses. But in that, we can find another way. Like a blind man who has more attuned hearing, a better sense of touch, so has the screenwriter without exposition, twisting and turning with the medium of film.
Journalism. Sterile. Without right or wrong. Such a challenge of viewpoint. To write as if you have no voice. As if you have no background with all your morals and values and beliefs. Suspend all that and state the facts as your eyes and the eyes of the eyewitnesses see them. Let the readers decide. This must take discipline. Suspend poetry. Stop story. Allow the facts to simply speak for themselves. Wow. Did Jesus do this when He described heaven? So often it reads like he's just "stating the facts" and letting the truths He revealed blow our minds.
I’m sure there are more disciplines in the writing world. But these are the ones I’ve lately considered. My advice? Try them all. Write poems and songs and story, long and short. Write your day as if you had no emotion attached to it. And then, turn around and write that same day like a sit-com or a Hallmark Hall of Fame drama. Try them all. If you do, you’ll grow stronger and you will use each devise to better the others, to better yourself. Your readers will thank you.
And now, I think I’ll go back to this short story I’m working on. It’s about a forty-something man on the road . . . and (smiling) I know so little about him yet.