by Eldred Bird
I write a lot of different kinds of short stories and flash fiction, but when it comes to novels, I’ve pretty much kept my train on the adventure/mystery track. It’s my comfort zone and the place I run to for longer works.
But I’m stepping out of my comfort zone with my latest work in progress. I’m taking on the challenge of a new-to-me genre.
When I say new-to-me, I don’t mean as a reader, but as a writer. I’ve read plenty of fantasies over the years and am currently reading a wonderful series by Northern Ireland author Stephen Black. As I eagerly await his third book (in edits as we speak), I figured it might be a good time to try my hand at the genre as well.
It has been a tremendous learning experience already.
4 Key Pieces of Advice
- When switching genres, do your research. Find authors who share your target audience.
- Read, read, read…then read some more. Don’t just read the stories—read between the lines.
- Pay attention to things like description and pacing.
- Get a real feel for the genre and then get to work.
Let’s share the experience of genre switching together.
Further reading: James Preston’s recent post here at WITS (that helped inspire this one!) – Switching Gears in Your Writing.
Genres and Sub-genres
When I set off on this new writing journey, the seed of a story was already germinating in the fertile folds of my gray-matter. I knew it fell somewhere on the spectrum of fantasy, but the question was where?
Knowing the sub-genre helps define the target audience and what they expect from a story. Sure, I could just start writing and figure out where it fits later, but the more I write, the more I find having a target keeps me from wandering too far and losing both my own and the reader’s interest.
I was surprised to find out just how many sub-genres fall under the fantasy banner. Wikipedia had no less than 53 different fantasy categories listed, and I managed to turn up at least two dozen more through other sources.
Target acquired, now on to the next step.
My stories generally take place in the “real” world in contemporary times. Making the move to fantasy requires a shift in thinking about the story setting.
- Where will the story physically take place?
- What are the physical laws of the location?
- What are the inhabitants like?
- How do my characters get there?
- How do they get back?
And most importantly, how do I work in all these details without resorting to the dreaded data-dump?
My world doesn’t involve magic, so no need to develop that system, but the story does have its own quirks. Staying consistent required me to build a “Rules of the World” document, something I’ve never done before. I broke the sheet up into three main areas: physical location, inhabitants, and laws of physics.
As I create new details other categories will surely follow.
Further reading: Alex Bledsoe had some great tips about fantasy world building in this post: 5 Practical Tips for World Building.
Your Cast of Characters
I’ve been told creating characters is one of my strengths as a writer. By the time I have a rough idea for a main character, they’ve already begun to speak and tell me who they are. When fully developed, these characters take up residence in my head and help me write their story. Often, the secondary characters step out of the shadows and introduce themselves when needed. And the villains…well, the villains are a little different.
As I’ve said before, I usually write mysteries. In a mystery, it’s all about following the sleuth as they work to uncover the true villain. That villain may not be revealed until near the end of the story. When I write a mystery, I don’t usually know who the true culprit is until my main character does (I like to surprise myself).
Jumping into this new genre requires a different approach. I needed a different kind of villain. Plus I must reveal them much earlier.
Angela Ackerman’s post, Does Your Villain Have Well-Developed Motivations, helped with this one.
One of the big drivers for any villain is motivation. Why do they do the awful things they do? Some feel wronged and others abused. Some of the most memorable villains see themselves as the hero in their own story.
For my tale, I needed to develop a villain who saw himself as benevolent, but better than the common man. He also needed to be charismatic, inspiring followers to see him in the same light he sees himself.
This is always bug, but even more important when delving into a new genre. My best advice is do your research and read popular books in that genre.
Genre readers generally have specific expectations and if you’re not meeting them they will knock stars off your reviews in a heartbeat (if they bother to review at all). But don’t just read the bestsellers. Look for those hidden gems from new and independent authors who have collected a significant number of four-star and five-star reviews. Odds are they’ve done something to push the genre’s boundaries without going far enough over the line to lose the reader’s interest.
Voice and Point of View
Often different voice is needed for different genres. One way to accomplish this is through shifting point of view.
I normally write in third person-close POV, but I wanted something different this time—something that would stand out. I’ve seen a shifting POV used successfully and plan to give it a go. The shift will force me to adjust my voice to fit the different POVs.
I decided to use both close third POV and first person. When my MC is in the real world, I will use third person. The fantasy setting will be in first person.
This accomplishes a couple of things. First, the reader will always know which realm they are in simply by the POV, eliminating a possible point of confusion. Second, going into third person for the normal world will allow me to tell the aspects of the story the protagonist is not privy to. In the fantasy realm, I want the reader to share the experience with the main character.
Some Final Thoughts
This experience of stepping out of my comfort zone into unexplored territory is not only giving me a new perspective on writing, but a new energy as well. I look forward to the adventure that lies before me!
Do you write multiple genres? What advice would you give someone who is considering it? Please share it with us in the comments below.
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