Once upon a time there were three writers and they all thought differently. The first writer said, "Let me tell you about those two people over there sitting on that bench. He was wondering where she had bought her coat." The second writer said, "They were drawn together like curtains in the night. Loose, unfolding." And the third writer said, "I keep hearing them talking in my head. Her: 'What are you staring at?' Him: 'I think, maybe…' Her: 'You are looking at me as if I have food on my face' (she licks her upper lip). Him: 'You got it.'" It appears they were a fiction writer, a poet, and a playwright, all writers, each with a special approach.
In the creative writing program at San Francisco State University that (ifallgoeswellknockonformica) I am set to graduate from in the spring we have three genres (applying? pick one): fiction, poetry, or playwriting. When I was first applying I was trying to decide between fiction and poetry. I had mostly been writing poetry, thinking in metaphors, rhythms, images, and moments, but I had also re-entered the narrative world by writing down the story in every day. My friend and mentor asked,"What do you like to read?" That settled it. I wanted to read stories. The metaphors, rhythms, images, and moments could be incorporated into the stories.
As an MFA student at SFSU I found that I also needed what they call a "correlative," an area of study outside my major (fiction). It could be English, drama, history—really anything at all. I knew people doing urban planning, poetry, and environmental studies. I needed four classes in it, whatever it was. Since I was in school to write and learn, I chose playwriting. I hadn't written a play since fifth grade but could it be so different from what I was already doing? If so, how?
Well, I found out how.
Each genre takes a different approach. Very strange. You can watch a scene unfold in your head for all three, but how you deal with that scene is what is characteristic to that genre. If you describe the action, include the dialogue, add in the characters' thoughts, you've got the beginning of a story. If you take what you see and connect it to something else, use metaphors and similes, look for the bigger picture, philosophise, perhaps, or choose words that sound right, feel right, and give a mood or capture one moment, you're likely starting a poem. If you watch the scene and you hear the dialogue and let the characters show each other and you what they want through their conversation in a dramatic, heightened way, well, that means a scene is coming. (These are quick and simplified visions of what fiction, poetry, and playwriting are, but I think they capture the essences.) If you are having trouble writing, it is possible that you need to approach the material differently.
An exploration—whether you are a seasoned or beginning writer—is to try choosing a scenario, or find your story of the day, and write it from each of these angles: a narrative story, a poem, a play scene. You may find that the material works better in one form over another. I recently had an idea that seemed dramatic enough to be a scene, but as I began listening to the characters I found them boring. I switched to fiction mode and the scene turned into a one-page story; I was much happier with it. I had found the right medium.