Writing Right with Dmitri: If You Had a Hammer
Ever hear the saying, 'To a workman with only a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail'? Genre writing can be like that.
I say 'genre writing' and not 'genre fiction', because it's not all fiction. Try reading a celebrity bio. What style is it in? You think that isn't a genre? Try looking up an actor on Wikipedia. Chances are, the Wikipedia contributor copied, possibly unattributed, vast swathes of some celebrity bio they read. Note, however, that one celebrity bio reads much like another. They use the same tone, and employ similar adjectives. The prose sort of slides by.
How about news reports? Political opinion? They tend to have similar styles, and create a genre feel. The same is true for music, television, film, and game reviews. Everybody's got a genre, these days – a filter through which they write and read. And, quite possibly, think.
How does genre affect our perception of reality? Besides niche-marketing our conceptual world, the genre phenomenon provides us with a form of shorthand for categorising experience. The words can go from the page to the image-making files in our brain in a way that is, in the immortal words of the Maliazzi Brothers, 'unencumbered by the thought process'. For that reason alone, genre can be fraught with pitfalls.
Genre also provides us with a lens through which we see events in the light of our own orientation: pre-filtered, as it were, and pre-digested. This can be a way to live in the lazy person's mental paradise. Genre expectations can change the way we see the world around us. For example, what is being described here?
- Shipping Stocks Soar as New Ports Opened
- Major International Incident May Have Serious Repercussions: Holy Roman Emperor Vows Investigation
- Latest Tech Breakthrough: Astrolabe Proves Its Worth in Naval Test
- Religious Controversy Erupts Over Sea Voyage: Spreading Christianity or Judaism?
- Super Romance Revelations: Steamy Sex Scandal Involving Court Intrigue, Sea Voyage
- Imperialist Outrage: Invasion of Peaceful Communal Settlements by Italian Capitalist
- Jerry Costello, Genoese wiseguy: 'Yeah, Chris is over puttin' a lien on them yokels over Havana way. Makin' 'em an offer ya can't refuse, capisce?'
Okay, by this point, you realize the news story is 'Columbus Discovers America'. You get the drift, capisce?
Is genre a bad thing? No, indeed. It can provide you with a framework for storytelling. Is always a good thing? Of course not. If you don't watch yourself, your writing will get stale and hackneyed, and slide right by the reader, who will become stultified and bored, bored, bored.
How to spice up the genre picture? Why not try this for fun? Take a story, any story, that is usually associated with a particular genre. The libretto of an opera, say. Or a children's story. Then pair it with a different genre. Try writing the story in a meaningful way, using different conventions from the expected ones. See what you come up with. The results may not be award-winning, but they could be amusing. If the result makes you chuckle, share it with us. We might learn something.
You want some examples of genre-bending? Try these.
- Stan Freberg's St George and the Dragonet.
- Tom Lehrer's erudite analysis of Clementine.
- The Austin Lounge Lizards' musical version of Orwell's 1984. Listen to 1984 Blues.
- Woody Allen on the subject of genre-bending. In the process of this discussion, he comes into contact with Mechanical Objects.