craft-talk

Cinematic Absurdism: My Preferred Literary Genre

As you know – and even if you don’t – movies have had a heavy influence on my writing career thus far. One genre that I have picked liberally from is film noir, mostly Sunset Boulevard which heavily influences one of the stories in my short fiction thesis. I called it When You Were Young. I would love to get it published someday so that I could eventually share it with you.

But seeing The Maltese Falcon – the apex of the genre, so much so that no one has dared remake it since – was like being born again. I’d love to delve deeper into adding its spirit to my work. If that sounds weird, I don’t even care. There are some movies that simply touch you so deeply as a creative person and a human being, it’s like, “why did I wait so long to consume you?”

One genre that I’d love to steal from (because that’s all art is, stealing from everyone before you) is German Expressionism. Metropolis is arguably the first science fiction picture ever made. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is another brilliant film from that genre. Ideas, ideas.

I’m not afraid to say that movies have had a bigger impact on me than books. Books absolutely opened the door and reassured me that I can tell a great story. Movies encouraged me to tell a great story in a small amount of space which is how I approach short fiction. There’s something magical about shaping a story to be as cinematic as possible.

To me, these formats are all telling stories. And I’m in the business of telling damn good stories.

Creating a story is much easier than trying to get a film made. You can write it, revise it, and throw it out into the world without involving this, that and the other person. Maybe you’re submitting to a contest, maybe you’re posting it on your blog.

But when you’re trying to get a film off the ground, you can’t seem to get your schedules on track and now you’re three months behind in pre-production. What an emotional wasteland it is, trying to make a movie.

Not so with writing. You are in complete control of the story without having people be dependent on you – or you on them – to get your story into someone’s eyeballs. If it does well or if it fails, it’s all on you as the author. Say you take three months to even get words on the page. There is someone at fault, and you can’t blame an outside voice. It’s you. It’s a very independent way of looking at the creative process overall.

Well, that’s the sidewalk theory behind the genre I represent if people ask me what my genre is: cinematic absurdism. I coined the term to explain the stuff that I write because no one has ever named it before.

The grandfather of cinematic absurdism is Ray Bradbury. There was a quote of his that I didn’t save but it was something along the lines of “you could film my stories right off the page. Every line break was a camera movement.” I’ll update this post once I find the quote. Feel free to comment on this post it if you find it yourself!

Back in my graduate writing program, I didn’t realize it but I leaned heavily on dialogue to creatively move my stories forward. My characters didn’t tell you in their head that they were doing something; they actually said it out loud. No narrator told you they were doing this or that action. You followed along through the words they spoke. The conversations that they had, the clues that the story was going a certain way was told all through dialogue.

Truthfully, when I first started in my program, I was unrefined in terms of my craft. I knew I wanted to write; I knew that I could. But I didn’t have a voice, a way to tell my stories in my own way. I was intimidated by most of my fellow students because I could tell right away that they already found their voice. They didn’t spend their first semester floundering, trying to wade through the water.

But the night that I was told in a workshop that my work depended on dialogue, something in me blossomed. And it was the seedlings for cinematic absurdism.

Like Bradbury, I’m a firm believer that you could take any of the work I’ve produced thus far, storyboard it tonight, and film it tomorrow. My dream is to get my stories published and the film rights sold so that I can see them on TV or in a theater or streaming on Netflix someday. Someday!

The overall nature of the stories is that they could only take place onscreen, yet they exist for you at this moment to consume them through a piece of fiction. More feedback that I’ve gotten is that they feel real but there’s something unnerving about them that forces you to question yourself at the end by saying, that’s so absurd, that would never happen in real life.

That’s the beauty of cinematic absurdism.

It doesn’t follow the strict definitions of either of its host words. It’s not inherently cinematic because it exists on the page. Cinema implies that you’re supposed to be watching it on a screen, not reading it.

Wikipedia says that absurdist fiction:

focuses on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value.

Absurdist fiction

In general, I would say that none of my work hews strictly to that. There is an exploration of the human condition through unreal situations, but there is always a purpose for these events that we find our characters in. We dip into their lives at a certain point and we hit the ground running straight into the wall at one hundred miles per hour.

There is always an ending. Maybe not happy, maybe not rock solid. But there’s an ending.

Someday, I hope to be known as the Mother of Cinematic Absurdism. So, today, I claim that title as my own.

Someday, I hope to share this style with other authors who may feel their work would fall under the auspices of this genre, to give them a home for their own creativity.

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