Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2010.
I think finding the right form is important for any writer. Just like an athlete has to pick what kind of sport to dedicate themselves to, a writer needs to know what form fits them best.
When I was growing up, I loved the short story. Like many kids, I had a short attention span, and the time and patience it took to write a short story was something I found favorable. “You mean all I have to do is write a couple of paragraphs! Cool!” That was my thinking at that age.
But somewhere at the end of high school, and the beginning of college, I stopped writing. I mean I was still writing, but I wasn’t really Writing (with a capital W). If that makes sense. Sometimes writers just write to pass the time. Kinda like an uninspired basketball player still shooting hoops long after their career is over. That’s what I did for a while.
Towards the back-end of college, I returned to Writing (with a capital W) by dabbling in playwriting. Most of my work reflected the plays I was reading. (I was a Drama major.) Some Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy, but mostly contemporary realistic dramas or political dramas. Secretly, I thought: bo-ring! But professors and mentors seemed to have me convinced me that realistic fiction plays were the way for me to go.
I loved having long monologues about what the character’s were thinking, and sometimes that just doesn’t work in a play. A play needs action, it needs conflict, and it usually needs all of that right away. A play is also very short. Which, in a way, worked for my college student short attention span (very much like my kid’s short attention span). With research papers that needed writing, books that needed reading, and final exams to study for, a play offered an easy breezy way to experiment with words and stories.
By the time I had rounded up my senior year of college, I had inhabited the “one-man show” form. Which is when you write one REALLY BIG monologue that also has to have the elements of a play: action and conflict. Without them, yeah, your one-person show will be pretty dull.
In the “one-man show” format there was no cohesive story that could really be followed or developed. It’s all: character speaks, next character speaks, then the next one… Or, if your writing for one character, it’s: this happened, then this happened, then… Basically it’s just no fun.
And I missed one of the things I love the most about reading when I was kid: magic. College professors seem to despise the word, unless it ends in “-al realism.” As in Magical Realism.
But what the heck does that mean? Just call it what it really is! Adult Fantasy. Maybe they don’t call it that because people will think its boring. (Or pornographic.) And it is boring.
Anyways… What I’m trying to say is that trial and error led me to a form that fit me:
Short story: Too short.
Plays: Too superficial.
Essay: Too straightforward. (Where are all the delicious metaphors?)
Performance Art/One-man Show: Too one-dimensional. (As in “one-person” dimensional.)
Poetry: Like it. Write it occasionally to help workout the creative muscles, but it’s not my form because I don’t like to be too cryptic. My joy comes more from telling a good story, not how fancy my language is, although it is a welcome bonus!
Novel: Love it. Just right!
Non-fiction: Love to read, but not to write. I’m power-hungry, I need to be able to unleash my wrath on a character when and where I want to.
Realistic Fiction: Isn’t this just non-fiction with fewer limitations? Key word: limitations. I don’t like them as a writer.
Fiction: Yes, I am all-powerful and omnipresent! I can make you fly at the wink of my eye! Now that’s fun!
Hence, I am writing a fiction novel. Whenever I write, it feels like I’m putting my feet into cosy slippers. That’s a good thing, because I’m gonna be with this book for a looong time.
Discovering The Form of Writing You Were Meant For
Are you a writer looking for her or his form? Here’s a hint that might help you find it:
What do you secretly love to read?
Chances are, that’s what you love to write.
You might be thinking: “That’s silly. I can’t possibly write that! People will judge me!” Would you rather be ”approved” of and feel lost and frustrated in a from that doesn’t fit you? Or, would you rather be “judged” while you write in the form you love?
It’s your choice. Follow what’s fun!