A bit ago somebody, probably Mark Roberts, shared a paper ‘War of the Worlds’. This week I am using it with a class, but this time I am going to focus on genre, and, more importantly the effect of the genre. What are we meant to think when we read a science fiction story? What are we meant to feel when we read a science fiction story?You might think that that isn’t important, because they are focusing on the story, but I’d disagree.
Here’s the type of introduction the paper would have:
An unnamed narrator has witnessed a meteor land in a field near his home. He is one of the first people to discover the meteor.
When you read the extract, you’ll see that it is a piece of science fiction.Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth--above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes--were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.
But, I think students need some complex understanding of the emotional impact of the science fiction genre to fully comment on the effect of the piece.The genre of course is science fiction, but the subgenre is invasion. So, what is a reader meant to feel and think when they read a science fiction invasion story?
What are we supposed to feel?fear / dread / anxiety / nervousness / confusion / unsettle / a lack of safety / unpredictable / disgust / horror
What ideas are we supposed to think?The fear of outsiders – xenophobia
Question our safety and securityWhen a student understands the idea that invasion stories utilises a fear of outsiders, they understand then how the level of disgust is typical of a person in this situation. Then, students have an idea of the primary effect of the text. This then allows us to explore the secondary effects of the text.
The adjective ‘tumultuous ‘creates a sense of inferiority and abnormality of the creature in the way that this creature breathes differently to him, highlighting how unalike they are. This in turn makes the reader feel helpless as the narrator is inferior and possibly weaker than this creature.
Once a student understands the effect of a genre they can build an understanding of how the genre affects the writer’s choices and how that is complexly linked to effect.
What is the reader’s connection to the story?Helpless observer
Which one is more important to the genre - character or setting?Setting
What is the most important thing that the writer must describe?Alien aspect
What are the story rules for a science fiction story?· Must involve a discovery
· Should contain a clash between human and inhuman aspects
· Science should feature at some point
· Must be some sort of prophecy
A complex understanding of the genre is needed to fully understand the effect of any text. It is not enough for a student to spot a genre. No two texts and alike and so students cannot link every extract they read to a generic story telling structure of introduction, complication, crisis and resolution. After all, introduction, complication, crisis and resolution is so… emotionless. The introduction of thriller is different to a horror. The emotions are different too.Back to ‘War of the Worlds’. When we have a better understanding of the genre, we can then look at the structure of the extract. Oh, look at the next question: it is about the structure of a text. And with a science fiction invasion story, the emotional structure of the story usual goes fear, shock, disgust and happy – after the defeat of the said creature. Looking at the extract from ‘War of the World’ above, we can see that the extract covers the transformation from fear to shock. Students can then be asked about where this extract fits in the story and the rules of the story. What are the storytelling rules after this extract? What should the writer do?
Across the land, there are schools teaching a dystopian unit or a horror unit. They will probably talk about the stock features and elements of the genre, but will they talk about the emotional content of a genre? Will they talk about the emotional structure of a genre?I think with Paper 1 it is important to know the genre and its effect on the emotions of the reader. Students need to know the overall effect as well as the specific effect created by literary devices. That’s why with each paper I am doing with Paper 1 I am spending 10 minutes exploring the genre and thinking about its effect on the reader. They need to be better at spotting the different genres and subgenres and how those impact on the reader.
Thanks for reading,Xris
More links to writing about effect: