I doubt any other article in the WAC Clearinghouse has tips on writing an effective ransom note. Kerry Dirk in “Navigating Genre” does and I was thinking about ransom notes as I read through his article. Granted, the ransom note is an example; no, this article gives a broad discussion on the genre. Sorry if you’re in a financial bind and need advice on writing a ransom note after kidnapping someone’s son.
Genre is an amazing concept–it gives the writer a basic structure to work with; it lets the writer focus and concentrate on what they want to say, and others have written in whatever genre the writer chooses, so they have examples to follow. That’s how a genre gets started–someone sets a precedent for everyone else . Why do our presidents give a State of the Union Address? George Washington created that genre.
And that’s one thing I take from this article: genre can be anything. Being a creative writer, I think of genre in fiction. I love fantasy and science fiction; I’ve recently started a book in the rock fiction genre (without having read any examples; I know that it involves music, and that’s all I need to know right now). Horror, romance, historical fiction, mystery–this is genre to me. When I think of nonfiction, I think of newspapers, memoirs, biographies, research essays. But then I remember the list of genres we put on the board on the first day of class and I realize everything write is a genre: Blogs? Genre. Memos? Genre. A love letter? Genre. A Facebook status update? Genre. How about text messages? Sure, we throw conventional English out the window when we text, but it is a genre.
If anything can be a genre, academia has no room for arrogance. I mean, English majors and professors can dismiss forms of writing as “non-literary”. But I say a text message can be literary. Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? That’s literary. And what is literary anyway. Who decides what is of literary merit and what is not? I’m an English educator and should know these answers, but I don’t, yet. I just hope my future students don’t ask me until I do find out.
The most hilarious part of this article is when Kerry suggests what it would be like if we switched genres: if a newscast is a rap song and a rap song is presented as a newscast. There’s a time and place for everything–every genre has a specific purpose and for some should not cross each other. But I’m all for genre-crossing. I think I might pay attention to the news if Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake (heck, even Justin Bieber) song news reports to me.
Maybe I’ll experiment with a genre I’ve written before. But not the ransom note. I haven’t kidnapped anyone yet.