Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pushing Your Genre Boundaries -- Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

This week, let's talk about jumping into a new genre from the one you're most comfortable with.

Think back to the first time you wrote in a genre other than you're favorite, did it rattle you at all? How did you prepare for the new experience?

Bobby Nash: I love the challenge of playing in a new genre or mixing genres in a way I haven't attempted before. Each story offers up a a challenge. When I wrote Lance Star: Sky Ranger for the first time, it was new for me writing this type of action/adventure story and my first time getting into the head of pilot characters. When I moved over to Domino Lady, even though it was still a pulp story, it was a different kind of character and story so those same kind of challenges were there. Then, one day, I got the chance to write a western. It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was also fun to scratch that particular creative itch. So, maybe a little rattled, but just a little. No real preparation other than researching where needed, but that happens no matter what genre I'm writing.

Lucy Blue: I've always written for myself in various genres, but the first time I consciously wrote for publication in a genre that wasn't romance was a noir story (or pulp story?), and I was a little self-conscious. I went back and read a couple of noir classics that I knew well and a couple of new things in the genre I'd never read before, just to get the taste of it in my mouth, if that makes any sense.

Lee Houston Jr.: No, because even when you're tackling what you might think is just 1 specific genre when creating a tale, you always bring elements from others (action, drama, etc) into your story whether you're consciously aware of doing so or not. 

L. Andrew Cooper: I’ve been writing in different genres since I was a kid, so I remember adventure (a choose-your-own-adventure with kidnapping and a plane wreck on a desert island! –second grade) and horror (ghost child kills parents –third grade) and sci-fi (genetically engineered antichrist –eighth grade)… and my first novel, at 18, was experimental literary (don’t even ask). If I can immerse myself and get a genre’s feeling, I’m ready for the experience. I don’t get the feeling of romantic comedy or—from the storytelling perspective—happy porn. I couldn’t write it. I tried porn. Embarrassing fail.

Bill Craig: It didn't because it was a genre that I loved to read. Preparation was getting the character just right.

Hilaire Barch: Yes! I am used to happy endings. Dark fantasy/horror were hard. I wrote in lieu of therapy.

Nancy Hansen: Rattle me? No, but I was a bit nervous about getting it right. First time was PI fiction, and Tommy Hancock tossed me an idea that I said no to, and then went ahead and did it —- my way. That idea transformed into The Keener Eye. Second time I got myself involved in writing a western, which is something I'd never tackled before. Because that was a 'write like the original author' scenario, I had to do my research. I had never even read a western. I think the story I did for Senorita Scorpion turned out pretty well, but I had doubts all along the way. Now I'm writing a pirate series...

Danielle Procter Piper: As a kid, I wrote mysteries (or tried to). As a teen, I broadened into sci-fi and fantasy. Basically, I followed the rule; write what you'd like to read. I love humorous horror, so that was not a stretch. I was encouraged to write erotica because it apparently sells well. I learned I'm no good at erotica because I tend to make everything I write funny or horrific. I can write some steamy sex scenes for my sci-fi, but a whole book surrounding sex... it just feels goofy to me. I guess because I've never felt sexy -- only goofy. It was recently suggested that I try my hand at writing a western. I do own a few western DVDs, but I've never read any, so without a sci-fi or fantasy twist, I doubt it will happen. Writing genres I'm naturally drawn to is a piece o'cake.

Robert Krog: My default setting for writing is Fantasy.   It’s not precisely my favorite to write, but most of my favorite books to read are Fantasy.  That being stated, I’ve rarely had trouble working in a new genre.  The first time I was required to write something not in a genre to which I had gravitated of my own interest was, I was asked to write a Steampunk story.  At that time, I had only heard of Steampunk and didn’t really know what it was.  I wasn’t rattled, but I was perplexed.  After doing some careful research, I discovered that Steampunk is mostly about setting and technology and is often a hybrid subgenre, from there it was easy.  I read a few well-known examples and a few obscure samples of the genre to get a feel for the setting and then went a told a story that met

I have had a more difficult experience in writing a piece of Historical Fiction.  I trained as an Egyptologist in graduate school and have always wanted but always been leery of writing a story set in Ancient Egypt.  I recently did so at last, and it was a difficult process due to my own concerns about getting the facts right and capturing the spirit of the times.  I’m still not sure I did the job properly, and I don’t think I’ll try it again any time soon unless I have a lot more time to brush up on the subject matter. 

Ellie Raine: I started on a detective story that was more or less intended to be a straight murder mystery… yeah, that didn’t go over so well with my fantasy-tuned attention span. I got so bored with the straight detective story (most likely because I’m just not that great at it) that I contacted my publisher and asked “Just HOW paranormal can I go with this?”. He said “go crazy”. So, I rewrote the story into a paranormal noir until I found it fun. And it was. I regret nothing… *maniacal laughter*

Retta Bodhaine: I've started out on missions to write either horror or mystery, but have yet to complete one. It's still something I'm working towards, but the main reason I want to accomplish this is to push my own boundaries. I think it will help me grow as a writer to wander outside of my comfort zones.

When branching out into a new genre, has the new one ever become your new favorite, even to the point of taking the place of your previous "go-to genre"?

 L. Andrew Cooper: Awhile ago I started playing with poetry and haven’t been able to stop—not a genre, exactly, but it’s a go-to form these days instead of prose. I’m still a horror guy, though, and novels are happening. I’ve got a sonnet cycle coming out that’s a superhero horror story, also kind of autobiographical. It’s weird. 

Lee Houston Jr.: No. While I do have my favorites (superheroes, sci-fi, mysteries, and fantasy) I like variety. The one genre I probably would never tackle is modern horror because by today's definition of it, horror is more blood, guts, and violence than suspense and dread from back in the days of Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Senior or Junior, Boris, Karloff, Vincent Price, etc.  

Danielle Procter Piper: When I published my first fantasy a few years ago, I found writing it rather freeing as I was not constrained by either science or history. The problem I had was keeping myself reigned in so I didn't add too many fantasy elements that I had no intention of explaining better or tying off neatly by the story's end. I also have to control myself when I write horror. I have really freaked a few people out by "going too far". I thought that was the point, but perhaps not if it disturbs readers so much they don't really want to read your stuff again.

Hilaire Barch:
So far, no. I think it's made me a better writer though.

Bill Craig:
Mystery writing became my new favorite genre to work in, because it let me take the plot pieces like they were a puzzle and build the story around them until I had a good solid book.

Robert Krog: I haven’t found a new favorite, much less a new default genre for my writing.  I’m most comfortable with Fantasy to this day, but I enjoy telling stories regardless, and I rarely think of what I write as genre anyway. Stories are about people, genre is mostly window dressing, so far as I can tell. 

Bobby Nash: Before writing my first pulp story, I had been writing mystery/thrillers and comic books. Once I worked on Lance Star: Sky Ranger and Domino Lady stories, I was hooked on writing pulpy adventures and I write pulpy stories more often than most types.

Lucy Blue: I adored the experience of writing outside romance and have been doing more and more of that, and I have written a couple of other noir things since that felt amazing. I haven't really picked a new favorite genre yet, but the experience of that initial branching out has been a huge deal in helping me rediscover who I want to be as a writer.

What advice would you offer for new writers looking to broaden their horizons into new genres?

Lucy Blue: Pick a new genre that you genuinely love as a reader, not just the hot new thing; read lots of it and learn the tone and language and commonplaces; then write YOUR story. Know the rules well enough to break them in a way that makes sense within the context of the genre. Don't try to bait and switch an editor, calling your book one genre that they've asked for when you know in your heart it's really more something else.

Retta Bodhaine: As a part of my quest I have taken to reading many instructional books and delving back into those genres for my pleasure reading too. I am currently reading How to Write Crime Fiction by Sarah Williams and re-familiarizing myself with some of my favorite Poe.

Bobby Nash: Do it. If you have an idea for a story or a passion to try a genre, do it. You might fail. You might succeed. You might discover that publishers have pigeon-holed you into one type of writer and will have to pitch it under a pen name. You can learn a lot about yourself as a writer by getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

Robert Krog: Despite what I stated about window dressing, stories set in other, real cultures, past or present, do need to be well-researched and do present intellectual challenges to the author if he wishes his stories to be accurate and well-received by those in the know about the setting.  Do your research, and even if you are making it all up, be sure to keep your story internally consistent.  If it doesn’t follow its own logic, you are cheating, and the reader will catch you.  If it is set in a real-world culture, you will turn off readers who know better than you do when you make a mistake by using customs or technologies not associated with the time and/or place.

Danielle Procter Piper: The advice I'll give new writers is to go ahead and have fun, be adventurous. You'll know while you're writing a story if it feels right or not. The best thing you can do is find total strangers to review your work. They won't lie to you. And never take their criticism personally. You'll never know where your weaknesses are until several strangers have picked out the same fault. Book stores want you to write within a genre just so they know where to shelve your work. Publishers want you to write within a specific genre so they know how to promote your work. You can try to please them, or you can choose to please yourself and write whatever you like. Little hint: If you're good enough, no one will care what you're trying to do with your writing, so write what makes you happy.

Bill Craig: Don't be afraid to write outside your comfort zone. You will be surprised at how it opens you up to new ideas.

Hilaire Barch: Don't discount any genre until you've given it a shot. All have different writing aspects that even if the piece never sees the light of day, can help you improve your craft.

L. Andrew Cooper: A genre is built primarily on readers’ expectations and secondarily on historical conventions. Know both—screw with both, sure, but know both, and then have fun. Genres are full of little seeds to plant in your own stories. Cultivate them however you like.

Lee Houston Jr.: READ MORE! Broaden your mind and increase your horizons at the same time. You might enjoy something new that you were unaware existed, and at least experiencing other genres will help you down the road when you least expect it.

Nancy Hansen: Sword & Sorcery\Epic\Heroic Fantasy will always be my favorite genre, but it's good to be able to write other stuff. It opens up new markets. I've even done some horror now. I'm a better writer all round for branching out. I also read more diverse genres than I used to. So I'd say do your homework, read within any genre you're interested, both well done work and sloppy stuff, old and new. Then get out of your comfort zone and start dipping your toes in a new area of fiction. It's good for you and will broaden your appeal as an author. Learning to write stuff like westerns and pirate tales is like learning a new language. You start out overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge you need, but over time it begins to make sense, and before you know it, you're explaining things to other people. Just stick with it and you'll eventually be fluent enough in the lingo to write it well.