Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 24, 2014

Are You Too Glued To Your Writing Genre?

by Cate Russell-Cole

GenresAs writers, we are creatures of habit. We have our favorite words, preferred plot structure, must-refer-back-to writing books and generally, we have “our genre!”

I love to see writers wearing their genre with pride and not writing in line with the latest fad, but I have this itch to challenge them to try something new. I want to ask, why does that area mean so much to you? Look at what you can gain by trying something completely different. You just don’t know what unexpected treasures you may discover!”

There are all kinds of benefits to writing in more than one genre. For a start, you don’t pigeonhole yourself, become stale or get as bored. The other great gain, is you do learn that you can achieve more than you thought.

I came across an infographic on Pinterest which is an excellent illustration of what additional writing skills you can acquire by breaking out of your box.

Paraphrased and shortened it read like this:

  • The historical genre teaches you about atmosphere, weaving in details and avoiding anachronisms.
  • Science fiction gives you a hand getting to grips with back story, particularly in regards to pacing how you present it.
  • If your protagonists are lacking in color, read or write horror to gain an insight into evil, motivation and work on the suspension of disbelief.
  • Thrillers are another outstanding example of learning pacing! When it comes to plot formation in regards to escalation, tension and cliffhangers, it is a great place to start exploring.
  • To understand character emotion, go for romance.

I would add, if you want to understand characterization, plot and behavior traits in-depth, look at the real-world examples around you via memoir / life story writing.

It takes a surge of courage and commitment to step outside your comfort zone and get your boots muddy on new soil, but as I said above, the rewards are there. You may discover an approach that makes you feel more confident as a writer, sells better or is more satisfying for you to craft.

In experimenting with another story form, you can set yourself free of the confines you may have imposed around yourself for security. Are you trying to be like your favorite authors, rather than being yourself? Experiment and see.

If you find taking on say, science fiction or horror when you are a romance writer way too much, start with memoir first. You can’t go wrong. You are the expert on you. Use your life and the people you have interacted with to craft a new form of story and inspire you when you’re blocked.

Although each genre below is different, the goal is most often the same: Evoke a strong emotion in your reader.

For an example, here are the opening lines of several stories:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
~ Literary: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

"I was standing at the entrance to the London Inn, looking towards the inner harbor. It was growing dark, a warm velvety darkness tumbling from a cloudless sky..."
~ Thriller: Lallaloosa, Rags Daniels

"1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.”
~ Romance: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

"At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin."
~ Womens Fiction: The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

"Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead."
~ Y/A Horror: A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

Below are the first lines of some popular memoirs:

"As a boy, I never knew where my mother was from–where she was born, who her parents were."
~ The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride

"We went there for everything we needed. [We went there when thirsty, of course, and when hungry, and when dead tired.  We went there when happy, to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk.]"
~ The Tender Bar, J. R. Moehringer

“The year I turned forty-three was the year I realized I should have never taken my Mennonite genes for granted.”
~ Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen

From these examples, you can see there are very few differences between the manner in which the genres are written. The asset you gain by writing in more than one genre is the extra strength you can bring into your favoured story form.

Last of all, if you need a helping hand to get started with memoir, the CommuniCATE Resources for Writers blog posts every week on life story writing, to help you write about what you know.

Please visit: https://cateartios.wordpress.com
Or click here http://cateartios.wordpress.com/category/the-memoir-project/
to access to archive of memoir posts.

Are you attached to your genre, or do you experiment among many? What other skills do you want to gain that you think you'd learn from another genre? Do you have a favorite first line example you'd like to share?

About Cate:

Coffee Cup on Pile of FilesCate Russell-Cole, is an experienced creativity teacher and author. She has been published in many local and Internet e-zines, magazines and newspapers; and has researched, written and taught her own courses since 1990. Her most successful course to date is “Write Your Life Story.” She is also Founder of the “Write Your Life Story Memoir Project” online.

You can find out about Cate's books and other activities on her web site at  http://www.virtual-desk.com.au/artios.html

“Write Your Life Story” Memoir Project Links:

Blog: https://cateartios.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Write-Your-Life-Story/173393852705651
Google Plus: http://plus.google.com/communities/112990534902148227158
Twitter: http://twitter.com/cateartios

63 comments on “Are You Too Glued To Your Writing Genre?”

  1. Cate, I do write outside the lines, in that I write WF and romance, but that's not too big a stretch. If you want to talk about something crazy, like historical, or *gasp* Sci-Fi, I'm putting my fingers in my ears and humming, 'Nah,nah,nah,nah....*

    1. LOL You will never find me writing horror or crime Laura. I'd be too busy hiding under the bed... Whatever floats your boat, just keep an open mind. One day you may come across that perfect sci-fi plot you cannot resist. You never know.

      P.S. I get paid to play Devil's advocate. 😉

  2. I like everything you're saying Cate, and i have several different ideas that fall into different genres. The only problem I have is this: I've always heard that if you jump genres with the same author's name, your fans can get pretty upset. Is that still true, or do you recommend changing name when changing genre? But then, don't publishers not recognize you?

    1. Hi Lara, my first reaction to that is "that's the fan's problem if they are so small minded." Do they own your creativity, or do you? As long as what you are doing is done well, they may follow you.

      Technically, that is an interesting point which I should research. The answers may come in as 50-50 for and against.

      Thank you!

      1. I stumbled upon this blog looking to read more on exactly this subject. I self-published my first book about two years ago in the sci-fi/crime sort of realm. Very gritty in tone and language and lots of sci-fi concepts. It netted fans with very enthusiastic reactions to it. For my second book, though, I did a completely different kind of story, a throwback pulp western/hardboiled hybrid mystery set during Prohibition, thinking that I already had a built-in audience based on the first book's popularity. Sales, however, have not borne that out. I've had more Kindle refunds on this second book in two months than the first one ever garnered, and there's been virtually zero reaction from fans who are still asking about a sequel to the first book. I will say that I absolutely believe the experience of stepping out into something different greatly improved my writing, but I won't be counting on fans to follow me the next time I do 🙂

        1. Ouch! That is disappointing, but take heart. We all have books that do better than others... one or two of mine are dead in the water! That Kindle returns thing is often a dirty scheme where people are getting free books/ Once a book is returned, they don't stop digital access to the copy. Maybe that is a compliment in some way?

          Hang in there!

  3. Although I can't see stepping outside my genre to write an entire book, I can see where taking my characters from their current genre and placing them into another as a writing exercise could be useful in breaking outside any writing rut I might be in. I'm going to try it next time I want any drama or suspense ignited into my historical romances.

    1. That sounds like a great adventure to me! Why didn't I think of that?

      Please let me know how you find it. (I'm on Twitter as @cateartios) I am interested in how it works out.

  4. Oh, I am very happy to write in only one genre. The problem is that it's a genre that I've invented and it doesn't have a name, which makes it tough to market it.

    1. When I had an Indie Author Promotion month on my blog last year, I ran into the same problem. There were authors who just didn't fit any of the categories. Perhaps what you are actually doing is in some way, multi-genre already. More power to you! I love discovering people who fit way outside the box!

  5. When I am finally finished with my memoir, I am going to release all the fiction stories that are in my head and see what I can do with them. Hope I'm not disappointed.

    1. Go for it Marianna! I have done all the memoir and non-fiction writing I want to do. I am slowly working on a fantasy series at the moment and it has a freeing effect. You will enjoy the breath of fresh air. Good luck!

  6. Cate, I already write consistently in in two major genres: mystery and romance; and break it down to romantic women's fiction, mystery, suspense and romantic suspense ... I also have a literary novella I hope to submit again in another couple of months. I love, love, love reading everything and want to write in them. To make me real happy, I stretched my muscles to a time travel, paranormal fantasy story about a young girl and an angel, a Broadway ghost and a cast of characters direct from the Manhattan stage.

    And while I agree with everything in this post, I also would note that it's been better for me to concentrate on one or two books of the same genre at a time and while I'm doing that I often read in that same genre for inspiration. Then I switch off. Thanks for all those great opening lines 🙂

    1. There is a bit of wisdom that says, to keep your creativity thriving, have more than one project on the go at once. That way you can switch between them when you hit the wall or need a break. I can understand needing to think along the lines of one genre at a time. I would not be able to write, say romance and crime at once. However, if you try memoir, it may not be such a harsh contrast and you will still gain the benefits.

  7. Not getting stale is the important reason to not just write in one genre. As long as a writer keeps to a theme (I'll give you an example) like "triumph of the human spirit" it doesn't matter what genre you apply this to.

  8. I used to read much more widely than I do now. I've never read horror because it gives me nightmares, but I read all the spy books, Griffin, Clancy, Ludlum was a favorite. Then I read historicals. The only sifi writer I like is Maria Snyder. As to writing in one genre. I just started, so we'll see.

    1. I think tastes in genres change in periods too. I have been through a mystery period and a historical period... and the inevitable romance period. I outgrew them all except fantasy and memoir. Those two go hand in hand for me, quite well and give enough of a break to be refreshing.

      Good luck with your writing. Let me know how you go. I am always on Twitter.

  9. My daughter asks me why I don't write a mystery or some other type of book. I always say, "No, I write women's fiction". After reading your post I'm thinking it's not necessary for me to pigeon-hole myself. I can change it up, perhaps by writing a combo of women's fiction with a bit of mystery or whatever. I can write whatever I want to write. I may just try to shake it up a bit with my next book.
    Thank you for the nudge.

    1. Billy, try starting with memoir and letting those stories inspire you into a direction. It's a solid place to begin and it is rewarding.

      Good luck and enjoy yourself. The writing life can be tough, but it is given me many, many more great days than bad days.

  10. I've heard just the opposite with regard to sales though. You need to stay in one genre long enough to develop loyal fans. If you jump around - not everybody wants to read the other genre. does anybody have stats on that?

    1. It may depend on how big you are Eva. Rowland has just achieved it, so why not? Never let anyone dictate to you your creative journey. It belongs to you and you are the one who has to be satisfied first.

  11. I think a great way to challenge yourself as a writer is to participate in a contest that assigns you a certain genre. I did this for the first time last fall and I ended up getting assigned romantic-comedy (so not my thing, haha). However, I learned so much and my writing has improved drastically since then.

  12. Jen, where do you find such magical challenges? That is a great idea. I could do with it myself.

    May I challenge you to try a little life story writing? See where the muse takes you and if you like it.

    Best wishes.

  13. Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
    I am involved in a lively conversation about genre over on Writers in the Storm. If you are feeling a little too comfortable in your genre, or want to know the benefits of branching into a new area (they are surprising and useful), come over and leave your opinion. A special thank you to Jenny Hansen for having me on the WITS blog. We have had a great time this week working on this post together.

  14. As a writer and part time editor of several genres, I like reading about how other writers handle different genres. I had not thought of writing or reading other genres as a teaching aid. i fear some inexperienced writers may flirt too close with the plagiarism sin when reading for learning. I have wrote sci fi, fantasy, and horror so far. I have edited mostly military fiction, men's adventure, sci fi, and fantasy so far.

    My guild, the Northwest Independent Editors, does a good job of finding an editor for a particular manuscript. When I receive a manuscript that I either have not the time or the inclination to edit, I always pass it on to another guild editor.

  15. I think it's possible to extend your arguments to the wider field. Writing is a much larger field than simply the various fiction genres that most beginning writers first take up as their own. It is a profession; a skill that has to be learned - it is never possible to simply sit down and write, despite the popular notion that this is so. I think writers should not merely explore different "genres" to their own, they should explore different fields. I draw no distinction between fiction or non-fiction - each has its own specific demands, but these can be mastered. And should be, because the skills inter-relate. There are also such subsets as feature writing, essay writing, and so forth - all with their own demands, but all building on the base skill of "being a writer" - all demanding mastery, first and foremost, of "writing" as a skill of its own.

    A writer who has mastery of these different fields gains a deeper experience which feeds, positively, back into whatever they write.

    My own training in writing was specifically in fiction techniques; but the majority of what I've written and had professionally published over the past thirty-odd years has been non-fiction. I've found the cross-pollenation of technique and skill to be extremely valuable.

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for your comment. I agree with your cross pollination view. I could have taken this post further, alas word count... One of the points I would like to add is that staying inside novel writing, magazine article, newspaper journalism, screen writing etc. is also a limiting move. I know novelists who are happier as screen writers, for example. We box ourselves in for security. There is much more to be gained and no reason why we can't explore.


  16. Dear Cate,

    Well written and explained. However, I might only get that to the extent of reading other genres with a learning perspective. Writing other genres is either beyond me or perhaps I am stubborn; both of which suit me as I can stick to who I am and what I can 🙂 But yes, reading different genres teach you different things, point well taken.


  17. I write multi-genre and all I hear is how hard it is to launch a writing career unless you stick to one. I'll take my chances, I think, or maybe only publish one genre to start, but I'll keep writing what comes and not care about labels. 🙂 My first to be published is ya/literary/women's fiction/historical/a bit supernatural. It doesn't really fit anywhere, but that's okay.

    1. Not fitting into one genre seems to be more common these days Robyn. Just don't let the have-to's hold you back. As long as you're doing what you love, that is the main thing.

      I write memoir, non-fiction and science-fiction/fantasy. I want to branch into Steampunk. The only thing I publish is my non-fiction work. The rest is for ME and there's nothing wrong with that. Oh yes, and I write the most appalling poetry. 🙂

      Cheers and good luck.

  18. I recently wrote a blog pointing out simularities between historical & futuristic novels. I love this blog for showing writers how we can expand & challenge our writing abilities by not committing ourselves to only one type of writing.

    1. Thanks Sharla. Genre is the hot topic around here lately! I hope you got a great response to your post. I think I saw a post along those lines on Twitter recently, it may have been yours.

      Best of luck!

  19. Hi Kate; Your post comes at a perfect time. I recently read Blake Snyder's "Saving The Cat" and he identifies ten genres, although he has slightly different labels than you do. I am very interested in finding a genre that works for me. As background, I recently wrote a complete story before I knew about genres - and the story is fatal in so many ways. But, I am using the basic idea of the story, and fitting it to each of the genres, to see what happens. I hope to find my home, and hope it will be romance (Snyder calls it Buddy Stories). Thank you for your thoughts, Silent

    1. Hi there, I am glad you're not silent! 🙂 Many first drafts, including those written by best-selling authors, are problematic. It is a process of growing, maturing and sorting out ideas, so don't worry. You're normal! I think there is a risk in getting stuck in genre. (Ok, well obviously from my post.) Just follow your heart. It will all come to you in good time.

      Good luck.

  20. Thanks for the blog Cate. I was a very inspiring read.
    I usually write young adult fantasy, but last years, during a writing course, I tried writing a crime story and really enjoyed it. It had been on my mind for a while but I was lacking the courage. As you said, it can be hard to leave 'your' genre and try something new. But it's certainly worth the effort!

    1. Good on you Nele! I think finding courage is the biggest hurdle writers face. I spend more time talking to people about the flagging self-esteem than any technical point. You CAN do it. Have a ball!

  21. Yes I am wedded to my genre, and no I don't intend to change. I write epic fantasy, which from an early age I've considered has always blended romance, action, adventure, mystery, thrillers, horror and more. I have read outside my genre, and everytime I come back to epic fantasy I have a feeling of coming home and I reminded why I love the genre so much. I prefer writers who stick within the genre, as it frustrates me when they write something else and I'm not interested - and sometimes I forget about them and never come back to see if they ever returned to fantasy. I'm currently grumpy because my favourite music artist, Keith Urban, describes his latest album as 'genre-bending' and I dislike most of it - something that has never happened before. You don't have to write widely as badly as perhaps you should READ widely, which I have done to some extent.

    1. Ciara, if you don't allow people to find their own wings, then they can burn out, dry out and what you do love will disappear completely. When people feel caged, they will cut off their arm to find freedom. Live and let live. Good luck with your writing.

  22. […] For those who write genre, Karen Woodward relates how to write killer crime stories, and Chuck Sambuchino provides 6 tips for young adult horror writers. For fantasy writers, Joseph Malik presents the why of weapons: the great sword of war. Abigail Carter offers some lessons on memoir writing that she picked up at a writing workshop. On the other hand, Cate Russell-Cole asks if you are too attached to your genre. […]

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