March 19th, 2021

Some Guideposts for Switching Genres

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

  1. When switching genres, do your research. Find authors who share your target audience.
  2. Read, read, read…then read some more. Don’t just read the stories—read between the lines.
  3. Pay attention to things like description and pacing.
  4. 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.

After rooting through the pile, I determined the details of my story best fell into the realms of Crossworlds Fantasy and Low Fantasy, with a taste of Thriller as well.

Target acquired, now on to the next step.

World Building

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.

Plot

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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About Eldred

12 responses to “Some Guideposts for Switching Genres”

  1. profparks says:

    Is this like a literary sex change?

  2. amreade says:

    I love your POV ideas for the new genre. It should make for some fascinating reading.

    One thing that I was wondering as I read this, and it's purely administrative, is whether you'll use a pen name for the new series.

    Good luck! It sounds great.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      We'll have to see about the pen name thing. It's a bit of a double edged sword. Writing a new genre under a different name does separate it from my usual genre, but on the other hand it also means having to build recognition for the new name. Seeing as how this book is aimed at a different target audience, I'm not sure how my current readers will feel about it.

      I'll have to give this some serious thought. Thanks!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I really love Kristen Lamb's advice that the author is the brand. If the readers like your writing and your voice, they will follow you most of the time. That being said, I think the two genres that require a complete delineation - pen name, platform, branding - are authors who write both inspiration and erotica. Or school teachers who write erotic novels. It is just two difficult to try to mix any of those, but everything else is fair game. 🙂

  3. JL Nich Author SFF says:

    I write both romance and science fiction fantasy. i have 2 pen names and two twitter and two FB, etc etc additionally I have to websites but they are pretty static. I blog on one but its only 2 blogs a month. This does create more work, but there are ways to minimize the Social Media aspect and maximize the publishing portion. I say this with a grain of salt because I'm in query now not published yet. However, my focus is to be a novelist, not a writer mogul. I merely enjoy my romantic LGBT stories and want to share them. But I'm a hardcore SFF writer with publishing goals to attain.

    JL Nicky, Romance Author
    JL Nich, SFF Author

    • Eldred Bird says:

      I have a lot of respect for any writer who can jump between genres. I hope I'm able to develop the skill. My goal is similar to yours--I just want to write, not get famous. If I sell a few books along the way, so much the better, but my goal is just to keep writing and keep learning.

  4. dholcomb1 says:

    I mostly write in one genre, romance, but I have written in women's fiction.

    denise

  5. Barb DeLong says:

    I started out writing contemporary romance but always had a love for the magical. The story I just finished is my second attempt at a full-length paranormal romance, so the romance part is familiar writing for me. Read, read, read in the genre is the key. And wow! All those subgenres of fantasy. I'm checking that out to drill down and see what the heck I just wrote.

  6. raynayday says:

    For many years I was known as a romance writer, contemporary romance mostly, I still am to a certain extent. Slowly that became high fantasy with a romantic base, then historical romance (always loved history) then Historical fiction. A few other things and now I am best known as a "Horror" writer. Who knew?
    Transitions for a writer are good for the soul in my opinion. You go with it Eldred. The very best of luck to you.

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