Tag Archives: Stuck

Guest Post: You and Your Genre Shadow

As the Novice Wordsmith and I start gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo in November, I always start playing with genre ideas. And whenever someone asks what they should write about, I always answer with this:

“Well, what’s your genre?”

Without knowing the answer to that question, your novel is going to be an orphan plot idea and a character in search of a direction. You can have a great character concept, but without knowing what genre the story they star in falls into, you’re going to be going through the motions of living without much plot potential.

(Slice of Life is actually a genre type. It’s used for sitcoms most often.)

Some genres define the universe (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Steampunk for example), and some define the type of plot (Mystery, Drama, Crime, Romance), and others classify the expectations of how the novel is written (Journal, Young Adult, Advice). It’s a box that when someone opens the cover, they know what kind of things lie inside the pages.

It’s easy to pick your favorite genre and write in it exclusively. Your writing voice is all about comfort, because if you aren’t comfortable with what you’re writing, you won’t want to write it, usually. But as Wordsmith alluded to in a previous post, you can push the envelope of your comfort zone. Why write what you usually write, especially when you’re just getting started? The first novel or story you write is to prove that you can finish what you start. But that doesn’t have to be your genre.

Some folks like writing along similar lines. They have a favorite genre that they live in, because their writing flows naturally to that place. They fall in love with their personally crafted universe and stay there. They become a genre author without even realizing it, because they think, ‘Oh, why stop at one novel, why not a trilogy, or a series?’

The best and worst thing to be is known as a specific genre author, because you wind up writing more and more of that genre. You wind up with fans of your work and they judge your new book in the same genre (if not the same universe) by the previous ones. If you write something new in a different genre, it will be compared to your other genre and you will be measured. “Eh, so and so writes better SF books than fantasy.” This is nothing wrong, necessarily, because sometimes _readers_ prefer one genre over others, and when you, ‘their’ author, write out of their genre, they’re going to be a harder sell.

My advice to you is to push yourself. Deliberately write in different genres just to see if other ones work for you. Don’t just write in the same space of your favorite authors – go to the library or bookstore and go to a different section. Pick out a book by an author that has a lot of titles on the shelf, and flip through a few pages. See if the style and feel is alien to you, or makes sense.

Then write in that genre the next time you put pen (electronic or otherwise) to paper (ditto). See what happens.

If you want to get fancy and go for even more challenging? Do a mashup of genres. Don’t just say, ‘I’m writing a horror novel.’ Try ‘steampunk/mystery’ or ‘horror/journal’, or go out on a limb and try ‘science-fiction/advice/journal’ — that last one, by the way, is how I would classify the Zombie Survival Guide.’

The point of getting out of ‘your’ genre is not just to push you to do something different, by the way – it’s a growth experiment. If you want to be a paid author, but the market that your genre fits into is saturated, you should be able to shift gears and write in spaces where the market needs stories.

Not only that? It avoids getting into novels that are superficially similar to each other; some series authors fall into that sort of trap. Expanding your repertoire of writable genres means that you can get away from ‘home’ and find an adventure waiting to happen by the side of the proverbial author’s road, no matter how alien it may seem at first.

When I participate in the NaNoWriMo, I look at what I did last year — genre first, and say, “I am not doing that genre this year.” It’s another way of writing without looking back.

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Walking Around the Writer’s Block

The irony of this post for me right now is that I’ve spent so many hours trying to figure out how to write it, if I should, and if not, what should I write instead. For that reason, it’s a perfect candidate, and I’ll use it as an example.

There are plenty of reasons why one gets writer’s block in the first place. It’s a lack of motivation in what’s up next, it’s apprehension for tackling it initially, or it’s not knowing what to do or say, if the style you’re using is the right one, or if your word choice could use work. It’s worry, either too much or not enough, not being excited enough about what to do or not having enough of an idea of where to go.

For me, I have to have an outline of where I’m going, I have to have a clue. When I finally sit down, I want to know where the words are going to take me, to see the outline, to know how vague it is and what kind of limits I have or don’t have. Sometimes, giving me carte blanche  is overwhelming, and other times, it’s like giving me a playground and telling me that I don’t have a curfew and that it’ll be bug-free after the sun goes down.

I have the pleasure this month of writing a story with my best friend for the Camp Nanowrimo* event. The problem here is that we’re two totally different writers when we have a month of daily writing ahead of us. He’s what you’d call a “panster,” or someone who writes the story as it comes to him, and I have to have as much organization and outlining as I possibly can. What happened in the beginning of the month was that I stalled out, to a point, that when the clock started, where I usually start sprinting, I walked at a light pace, because I didn’t know what was ahead of me.

My comfort level is such that I find a block, a halting point, when I don’t know where I’m going. For others, especially my friend, it’s no problem. Though I’ll admit that as soon as I had a basic starting point, I went with it, and we have yet to fall into a huge plot hole (thankfully).

Other signs of writer’s block definitely include feeling like writing is a chore. When it gets to that point, look for other ideas of how to handle the situation that you’re dealing with. What is the character going through, is there a better way to do it? Is there a way that would be less detrimental, is the difficulty in the fact that you don’t like the idea, or because you’re not sure how to start it?

Getting overwhelmed is easy, too, if you have a huge project ahead of you. Such in the case of exam week, “I have so much to do, I think I’ll go take a nap.” Take the nap, though, relax, and try to break it into smaller segments, do what you can to make the big thing less scary, so you can give it a hug and keep moving through the story.

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was just starting to get more serious about writing was to “just write.” I was originally very worried that I wasn’t going to be able to put visualization to what I had in my head correctly, and I shied away from writing for a long while for that reason. The best thing to do is to get it out any way you can, even if it’s small, a short scene with a couple of lines of dialogue.

In example; I’d had a scene in my head from January that kept prodding me. The problem with getting it out was that there was nowhere to go with it. It was a simple scene of one character saying something to another in a desert, but what made it stand out was the intensity between them, and what brought them together.

What I graced over lightly earlier was that my issue with finally getting this post out was that I couldn’t figure out what to say. I didn’t know how to say it or what sort of tone was going to be appropriate. I tried to make a very flowery entrance work for a couple of hours, and then promptly gave up for something more casual. I’m mostly certain people would rather read something by someone who speaks in a way they can relate to than someone who goes on in the most poetic way possible. Which, by the way, is the furthest thing from natural for me on a regular basis.

Whatever your poison is, there’s an antidote for you, whether it’s finding other ways to go about your scene or scenes, taking a break, or pushing forward. All it takes is a little effort, and some desire to keep going.

– The Novice Wordsmith

* Camp Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is an event that takes place in two months out of the year, in spring/summer, dedicated to revisions and writing whatever your heart desires, you set the goal. http://campnanowrimo.org