This is a call for writers everywhere. Break away from your genre and write it all.
I imagine the idea of branching into an unfamiliar genre is intimidating, daunting, or perhaps completely uninspiring. After all it takes so much time and effort to write what you know the best – why would you spend a single moment on anything else? I’ll tell you why.
What are the fundamental characteristics of verse? It has clear pacing, a musical quality, sometimes it rhymes or alliterates, and a lot of people are terrified of it in college. Even this much knowledge hints at valuable lessons for the prose writer. By first studying , and then attempting to write poetry, the prose writer is opened to concepts that the novice is at best subconsciously aware of, namely pacing and the specifics of vocabulary. In prose it’s much easier, and therefor far too common, to use tired language. This is due in part to the novice writer’s idea that prose is easy, and that its direct style does not require as much attention as some of the other writing forms. Poetry, meanwhile, lives and dies by its rhythms and the specificity of the language. By practicing this highly ornate form the prose writer is awakened to possibilities in story writing that are often dismissed as white noise in the back of our minds. But pace, rhythm, even the more ornamental qualities of poetry work very well, and indeed are required, in prose. Poetry raises our awareness of these elements and can ultimately lead to better prose writing.
Drama and fiction (short stories and novels) have a lot in common. They both portray fictional or semi-fictional characters in a conflict-driven situation. For the dramatist the keys are setting, stage direction and dialogue. Dialogue is what carries the story in drama, and that story is brought to life as the actors move throughout the stage setting, thereby communicating vital information to the audience. In thinking about these details in play writing, the prose writer is brought more acutely to an awareness of their importance. Though different in their treatments, the tools of drama are just as prevalent in prose. By working through the process of writing (and perhaps performing) a play, the prose writer learns to pay more attention in their fiction writing to the details that make the story come alive. The imperative that a play accomplish its task successfully in front of a live audience should be no more urgent for the playwright than it is for the fiction writer whose audience is silent, though no less deserving of a responsible performance. The playwright suffers the risk of being booed or seeing her audience abandon the theater if her work is sub-par. For the fiction writer there is only rejection and silence, and often no understanding of why. Writing a stage-play, therefore, is one way of becoming more attuned to what is necessary in all writing – proper detail.
Non-fiction, whether journalistic or creative, requires of its scribes that they do thorough and proper research. Even a simple opinion piece is best served if the author knows all of his facts before carrying on with his diatribe. A single misquote of a fact or citation diminishes the writer’s credibility . For the fiction writer the message is clear. Even the most obscure piece often needs a little research into something – the foundations of mythology, or the ancient traditions of religion, the laws of physics, the laws of man. In order for the story to be believable it must have not only the pacing and lyricism of poetry and the definitive descriptions and dialogue of drama, but it must be as factually accurate as required in order that the writer maintain credibility in telling his story.
And the non-fiction writer benefits as well from practicing the creative angles of fiction. Fiction pays attention to deeper meanings, makes connections to seemingly disparate concepts, and makes prose more lively so long as the writer is diligent in avoiding cliches and amateur trickery. All but the most practical non-fiction can be just as entertaining as fiction if the writer understands how to tell a story.
The one caveat for the diversified writer is this – each discipline requires its own investment. The differences of each are substantial and require separate study of form and function before they can be harvested. The good news is that each form can be studied fairly quickly if writing basics are well understood. On the other hand it takes a long time to master writing in any one form. I believe, however, that consistent, earnest writing in a variety of forms develops an overall mastery of the craft, and that writers willing to delve into other types of writing not only enhance their growth but attain aptitude in new forms at a faster pace, and to the great success of all of their efforts.
So the challenge is laid out: move beyond writing fiction to poetry, drama, non-fiction. Master the language and the art of writing so that no door is closed to you. There is everything to gain and nothing (but a little time invested) to lose. In writing across genres the genuine student of writing becomes doubly, even triply informed, reinforced in those basic elements that make up the writing practice while expanding into the unique characteristics of various writing types.