On the Genres: Living Language

The differences amongst genres are mainly about what we are trying to say or do with our writing. I have always felt that what one actually writes about is more important than any particular style, or the much-lauded fact that we are being writers by putting words together. Among the creative genres of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting, I perceive a kindred design: these are the genres of the tale which longs to be told.

Poetry is the primal language, the firstborn of these. It is the language that comes from below human words. It is the language of the heart, of the back of the mind where the grip of logic does not rule, nor fully comprehend. If the human mind was not so emotionally inclined, we might not see the fruition of all other forms of writing which, at the root, flow from here. For by the sheer force of will you may conjure up the words of a factual article, a rational thesis, a streamlined argument, but you cannot fake a poem. Undomesticated feeling comes first, from which everything else draws it’s source. I once heard it was said by C. S. Lewis that a thing is not what it is made of: the sun may be made of a spherical conglomeration of burning gas, but that does not define what the sun innately is in it’s ultimate purpose or essence. Poetry is much the same way. Poetry “is”, according to dictionary.com, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”. Poetry is a flashing string of wild words shot through the woods of the unsuspecting heart. It’s very definition defies the stricture of definition -by definition! Poetry is first and fundamental to language and life.

Fiction is a fair child of poetry. As organization flourishes, the very best works of fiction emerge from the convergence of feeling and thought into a longer and more clearly expository entity which we call “story”. Fiction’s teasing links with dreams and fables on one hand, and this “real” world on another, create an important link between here and there, mundane and enchanted, lost and found. Fiction may use for it’s setting the tempestuous night of your dreamland or the tepid, daily hum of your suburban neighborhood to tell the tale. Through this organized yet unpredictably infinite source of material from which is draws, fiction is a vital link between the literary canon and the human need to chronicle.

Then comes nonfiction, the younger but more worldly progeny of language. Nonfiction’s wide-ranging versatility, enabling it to go far beyond the tender bosk of narrative and into the wind-battered plains of spear-sharp facts and weary conflict makes this beast a testy warrior. Strong and capable, respected, upheld by the powers of men in grey halls yet called upon by all for the light of proof in times of great debate, nonfiction is our more battered, yet not alien, friend. Still handsome, but with lines about his well-rubbed eyes by so many assemblies of armies calling on his abilities. He knows about the work of his sister, Fiction, who steps between worlds, though he can only speak of such. He may nod in loving reverence to his mother, Poetry, but is constantly warned to never become her, for he was destined to a different fate in the alphabet soup: one of explanation, and to be satisfied by it.

Screenwriting, taken what we know about the aforementioned genres, is then something of a metamorphosis arising from the characteristic pieces of the herd. A wholly different and radically contemporary body of work arises out of the ancient elements and floods its way into the land of vision. A film contains multitudes. Though the genre of screenwriting is radically new, appearing so recently in the 20th century with only the play preceding it, it is yet in another way very old. The best screenwriting takes us full circle, back to the original oral tradition at the root of all storytelling. But, you say, just how is film in any way similar to the oral tradition?! I hear you protest. It is similar because nobody needs to be taught how to watch a movie, like nobody needs to be taught how to listen to a very good story, provided you can understand the language. Whereas the written word relies on a complex cryptology of assembled visual symbols which only the trained eye can decipher, both movies and oral storytelling enthrall their audience through the immediacy and intimacy of sound and sight.

I have become interested in point-of-view when storytelling, the various voices and eyes an author may use. The aboriginal Poetry and the undulating Fiction genres lend themselves to first, second and third-person perspective with great versatility, but Nonfiction and Screenwriting are almost exclusively of the more discipled, more removed third-person omnipresent. When an author finds her voice she must see into and through the interlocking eyes of a story.



Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.