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Monday, 21 June 2010

How to Switch Genres With (More) Ease

Not long ago I had to write some stories in the crime and erotica genres. Genres that I never tried to write before. Sure I'd read a lot of both but it's like constantly going into a swanky boutique, always browsing and yet never trying on the merchandise. Was I nervous? Did I quiver? After several pithy attempts all I wrote was an analogy for my difficulty:

It is like visiting a distant relative and having to find your way around the relative's home during a power cut. You scream and stub your toe on some table legs that you thought were not there, stumble on the way into the storeroom to find some candles and a torchlight, but only to discover that the batteries are the wrong size and the matches are wet. All you can do is wait in the dark or feel your way around strange surroundings.

Pain! The dark! Being lost in a strange place! After I identified these three dominant elements I had a revelation, and narrowed down the cause of my writing difficulties to four main fears. (Fill in the blanks with the genre of your choice):

Fear #1- Suckage
I can't write ______   because I'll suck at it.

Does the disparity between your current writing and ______ genre appear like a chasm that you cannot bridge? Consider that literary fiction star EM Forster wrote a superb short story called 'The Machine Stops ' as an anti-science fiction riposte to H.G Wells and adult thriller writers John Grisham and James Patterson are now writing YA fiction. Hard work and a little daring should carry you across to the other side of that chasm.

Fear #2 - Unfamiliarity
I can't write_____  because I do not know the genre conventions and expectations.

Feeling your way around strange surroundings maybe awkward but you'll be gifted with a different view. That is precisely why you should write because you are not weighed down by common expectations and cliches. What if you were not aware that zombies are slow-moving reanimated corpses and made them run faster than a normal human being? What if vampirism is curable by homeopathy? Read as much as you can before you begin writing; learn the map of the genre and then chart your own way through the territory.

Fear #3 - Intimidation
I am put off by _______  's (insert name of genre writer) achievements/sheer volume of output in this field.

Do not be daunted by bookshelves and Amazon wishlists dominated by a few names. They hit their rhythm and never let up but they've had their hard beginnings. Stephen King wrote 'Carrie' in a trailer laundry closet, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers and Agatha Christie went through 2 divorces and depression.

Fear #4 Restriction
I do not want to write genre fiction because its defined and confined by set tropes and boundaries.

Some writers like working within confines and coming up with variations on the tried and tested, whereas some would rather endure quadruple root-canal than to write according to a set of genre rules.  Perhaps this is more of a personal than a literary choice. Hence please determine whether making the genre switch is for you in the first place.

Never fear failure, but fear being not brave.
What are your ways to overcoming fear of change in your writing?


Kristin Laughtin said...

I think your analogy is very apt! Detailed as well. I like it.

Fears #1 and 2 get the best of all of us, I think, whether we're writing in our genre or trying out a new one. I know I've definitely had story ideas I've hesitated to use for fear I wouldn't do them justice. Sometimes I tried them anyway, and yeah, I sucked. But I learned from it and felt that my next attempts would not suck as much. Oddly enough, fear 3 kind of inspires me. I'm so intimidated by the beauty of Robert Charles Wilson's writing that I want to learn to write half as well as him. If I can do, I'll feel successful.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

I love it- "Never fear failure, but fear being not brave." I need that on a t-shirt. :)

The best time to dabble in a new genre is when you don't have to- when it's just for fun. That reminds me, I have a little half-written crime story hidden in the bowels of my computer. Maybe I should pull that out again.

Oh, and I have an award at my Fortnight of Mustard blog waiting for you! :)

Aubrie said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! At first I was hesitant to write in other genres, but when I finally did try it out, I loved it. Some of the genres I was bad at (horror) and some I was better than I thought I'd be (sci fi)

Erika Marks said...

It's funny...over the years, I tried out a lot of different genres--started with historical romances, then on to horror, then to sci-fi, then medical thrillers, and found none really clicked, not with agents and not with me. Even though I love to read these genres from time to time, I didn't feel my voice coming through in any of them. (I still have them all but am not brave enough to re-read most--talk about being fearful of something!)
Now, writing women's fiction, I feel I have found my writing happy place...but that said, I still want to work on my short story writing. I am so admiring of those who can write a compelling short story.
It always helps to break down what scares us in an given situation, especially writing, when there are SO many reasons to feel frustrated or discouraged, as you've pointed out. Yet here we all are, still at it, and most of the time, not wanting to be anywhere else!

Lydia Kang said...

I have to think about this one. I've written two novels within YA, but different genres. And it took a lot of work, making mistakes and feeling my way through the newer one. I'm going to write a third, again a different genre, but this time I've read more in this area and have a better feel for it.

Great topic!

Lisa K. said...

Although there are a few genres that I really don't touch, I love to move between genres. I like to challenge myself, and I find that often going outside of my comfort zone helps to keep my writing fresh.

There have been times, too, when I've been surprised at the success I've had with short stories written outside of my normal genres.

Anonymous said...

You bring up valid points. I've written in different genres, but I haven't tried all of them. I think all good stories share the same qualities of tension, conflict, characterization, and voice. With that, I'd like to explore different genres in the future.

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