Shawn Coyne, whose work I’ll be referencing quite a bit, emphasizes over and again the question that every author needs to hear, yet dreads: “So, really, what kind of story is this you’re telling? A crime story? A love story? A young-adult thriller?”
In other words, what’s its genre?
Before I even can get to that, though, I have to ask an even more basic, more dreadful question of myself: Is this fiction or nonfiction?
As of today, this is my take on Beam Me Home, Scotty!: it’s “fictional non-fiction,” or rather, non-fiction that claims up front that fiction is the best way to make sense of it.
I’m in trouble. I know.
Actually, what I’m most afraid to admit is that I’m sailing into the waters of Allegory. I’m about ready to sink and drown in the Pilgrim’s Progress’s Slough of Despond, in other words. Good Lord, I can’t believe I just wrote that, but there you have it.
Any of you who who survives this mess: tell my family that I loved them.
What I am now going to do is ignore that I have written yon, two previous paragraphs, although. of truth, they will endure there in cyberspace, for me to revisit one day as I look back with chagrin and e’en amusement at this venture. Instead, grant me, O fellow traveler, a few more posts of self-delusion, meager scraps of Hope that this endeavor—yea, verily—will actually work, as I continue forthwith to humiliate myself before thee.
Back to fiction vs. non-fiction.
I do believe that I have to err on the side of non-fiction because, yes, I do have a “point” to make: that through the use of a fictional device, we can better understand a non-fictional reality that otherwise seems too confusing to grasp.
That, in Shawn’s words, is my “Big Idea”: specifically, by envisioning a story told on the USS Enterprise, we can better understand how the brain reacts to—and, more importantly, moves on from—traumatic experiences.
That brings us back to genre.
On his website, Shawn extends his Story Grid conceptualization from fiction (the subject of his book) to non-fiction, and he claims that there are four main “genres” of non-fiction: academic, how-to, narrative nonfiction, and Big Idea. He claims (I think, rightly) that all four genres benefit from storytelling, but especially the latter two.
Beam Me Home, Scotty isn’t narrative nonfiction, à la Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit or Unbroken. There is not (so far) a literal USS Enterprise, the story of which I can literately extol. Instead, it’s a Big Idea book, a very-distant cousin of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.
Shawn analyzes The Tipping Point on his website, using his Story Grid method. He stressed that, as a “story,” Big Idea nonfiction should look at a truth and find something surprising in it, much as how Gladwell noticed Hush Puppies’ suddenly becoming big in Soho and eventually, as a result, came up with a provocative theory about, among other things, mass hysteria.
I’m going to try to do the same with my claim that the “fiction” of Star Trek can help us understand more clearly some important truths—physical, mental, and spiritual—about life after the witnessing of and, sometimes, the participation in the world’s violence. I hope to surprise, at least a little, as well. Here’s to hoping.
Next, on to “narrative device.”