From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Monday, September 8, 2014

How To Write In A New Genre (And 4 Reasons You Should)

One of my favorite things to do is venue research--finding places where I might place some words. In fact I have to be careful that browsing magazine listings doesn't take time away from actual writing. But I love to browse the calls for submission at NewPages or look at the awesome list of consumer magazines at Funds For Writers. Often writers will have a page on their website or blog that lists their publication credits, sometimes years and years back, and you can see all the magazines they've contributed to. Another great list of potential places to submit. One of my favorites, particularly for speculative fiction writers, is the website of Mary Robinette Kowal.

One thing this habit has done, besides necessitate more conscious and increased focus on my main projects, is encourage me to expand my literary horizons.

I've always been more of a contemporary writer. The short story I wrote in my eighth grade creative writing class was about a single mom seeing her son in her dead husbands cigarette scented leather jacket. (Not presumptuous at all, right?). I adored Chronicles of Narnia and Chronicles of Prydain, but most of my childhood reading was stuff like Walk Two Moons and The Great Brain and Cricket in Times Square.

My point is this: though my reading habits have grown and shifted, and though almost all my recent work is sort of a blend of contemporary and fantasy, I've never really written a hard sci-fi or high fantasy piece.

Some of the best opportunities and venues I've come across in my research are for hard sci-fi and high fantasy.

Which means I'm needing to stretch myself, if I want to participate in these opportunities. In fact, I'm working on a piece now that I hope to submit for consideration in a sci-fi anthology. It is definitely a challenge, but I feel like I am learning a lot, and seeing some great potential benefits.

So if you want to write in a genre you've never tried before, how do you do it? And why should you even try?

One of the most important tools for writing in a new genre is reading in that new genre. That is the best way to get the flavor and tone of the tradition you are joining. There are a lot of things about writing that one learns best through a sort of osmosis, and reading in a new genre can help you avoid cliches and pitfalls that might be specific to the genre you're trying out.

Try reading blogs from authors in the new genre. This, along with the reading, can be a sort of genre crash course. Author bloggers often talk about the ins and outs of their genre, and reading these posts can help you get some of the "insider" scoop. For example, if you want to try romance, reading the blogs of some established romance writers might help you figure out genre pillars romance readers expect, as well as cliches to avoid to help you stand out in a positive way.

Most of all, be you and have fun. In some ways, I feel like these strict genre delineations are a bit silly and can be the opposite of useful. I think what many of us write already has a little bit of this and a little bit of that. (This is why when query time comes around, it can be tempting to make the "It's a rom-com meets horror but also with cowboys and a dash of the paranormal" mistake.) The point is, we are all extremely unique, and its important to bring to the table what only you can bring to the table. Learn the genre, know the genre, then do it how only you do. Just go for it.


Okay though. This does kind of seem like a lot of work, right? And maybe a little intimidating. Definitely has been that way in my experience. So why do it? Why not just stick with our comfort zone?

1. Your overall writing will improve, including in your normal genre. Imagine someone at the gym who is really working on building those biceps. They work those biceps hard, and know all the best methods and tricks. The thing is, if they do nothing but work the biceps, they run the risk of stagnation. To help them progress, they should remember that it's all connected, and that their quest for perfect biceps can in fact be assisted by working other muscles like the triceps and deltoids.

Such is the case with genre, in my opinion. I have learned things in experimenting in new genres that I can most definitely take back and incorporate into the stuff I typically write. Here's a graphic that shows what I mean, and I think is a great place to start.

2. You will make new industry connections. Plain and simple. By, for example, submitting to genre magazines you wouldn't otherwise have submitted to, you will make those connections you might have missed out on. And those connections can lead to additional great opportunities, both in and outside of your regular genre.

3. You will broaden your writing resume. Writing in a multitude of genres gives us versatility and flexibility. We grow our street cred. Then when more opportunities come up that we want to pursue, we have the experience and even some word count to back it up. I may be in the beginnings of my hard SF journey now, but next time I see a great opportunity in that genre, I'll have that much more experience in my tool belt. I think most of us rather enjoy working in lots of genres, like we enjoy reading in lots of genres, so starting now and building up that broad resume can really get us off to a good start.

4. You will find new readers. Again, I think most of us typically read in a lot of genres. I mean, we may have a genre we gravitate to more often than others, but I think most of us mix it up every once in a while. And so do our readers. A reader who typically reads hard SF might very well also enjoy contemporary YA. In other words, even if a prospective reader discovers me through a science fiction magazine, that may help me grow my readership in the other genres. Same with anyone. If you typically write historical novels but then decide to submit a short story to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the overlap could very well help you find more readers for your historical novels.

Do you think its worth it to try writing in a new genre? What is your typical genre, and what others might you want to try?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITIES: 

  • Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Short Fiction ContestSubmit a short story, up to 7000 words. Grand Prize: $1,500, plus airfare for the next Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), plus publication in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine. $25 entrance fee. Due Nov. 16.
  • Beecher's Magazine: Beecher’s Magazine, an annual print journal produced by graduate students at the University of Kansas, seeks inimitable poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art for its fifth anniversary issue. Due Feb. 14.
  • Pentimento: Pentimento, a literary magazine for the disability community, is accepting submissions for our Winter 2014/2015 issue. We publish disability-related essays, poetry, and fiction and artwork and photography by individuals with a disability. The writing topic for the Winter issue is “Romance,” and we’re seeking true stories regarding romance and disability. Due Sep. 30
  • The Last LineFrom the fine folks who bring you The First Line: We're going to try a little experiment. We've got a last line for you, and we want you to give us the story that ends there. We'll follow the same guidelines as The First Line (300-5,000 words), with the twist that all of your stories must end with the last line provided. Due Oct. 1
  • Building Red AnthologyWalrus Publishing, an independent press from St. Louis, Missouri, is now accepting submissions for our sci/fi anthology, Building Red-The Colonization of Mars. Due Nov. 1.

SPOTLIGHTS:

20 comments:

  1. Fantasy is another genre I enjoy, but not sure I'm ready to take the plunge yet. So much world building, even beyond that of science fiction. And that's an area I'm still working on.

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    1. Ah yes. It can definitely be a steep learning curve. This is why short stories or even flash fiction can be a great place to start, or even get your feet wet. A little less intimidating.

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  2. What a lovely and informative post! You are so right about each writer being unique and the problems each one of us faces, when we flirt with different genres within the same story. And how do you pitch them to agents and publishers? But times are changing. Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire, wrote in his bestseller, Writing 21st Century Fiction, about the death of genre. He has a section called Genre-bending vs. Genre-transcending.

    I appreciate some of the writing resources you mentioned here. And thanks for visiting my blog. Nice to meet you and find yours.

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    1. Great comments Diana! And yes, we do have to be careful as we construct our pitches. I think trying out new genres can help us grow and improve across the board. Lovely to meet you as well, hope to see you around lots!

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  3. This is good professional advice. I tend to have eclectic tastes so I don't mind genre jumping.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Thank you, Arlee! Great compliment, coming from you. And yes, I think in general people don't read only one genre, so trying multiple things can really be a benefit.

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  4. Sarah, this is a very insightful and useful post. I think you can get in a rut in your own genre. Mine is murder mystery, but I am serious contemplating a historical fiction book, which will make me do a whole lotta research (the best part of it for me!) in my hometown. You've made me think about trying a sci-fi or fantasy short story, in my copious free time!

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    1. Thank you so, so much! I definitely agree, getting in a rut is a definitely possibility and worry. New genres can kind of pull us out of that. And I say go for it! Both the historical book and the speculative short stories. Lots of fun!

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  5. Writing in different genres is a great way to stretch as a writer. (You can also use a rack, but that's more painful.) I read all over the map, and my writing mixes a fair share of genres together, but so far I've only tackled serious (i.e. non-humorous) writing in a couple short stories, and have yet to write a mystery. I'd like to do more of both. (I'd also like my humor to be less pun-centric, but I should probably take things one step at a time.)

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    1. Yeah, the rack only really works when you're trying to stretch OTHER writers. And yeah, I think most people read at least some variety of genres, so mixing it up a little is a good way to grow. As far as humor, I'm in the same boat. I've been reading some Dave Barry lately to try and learn from the masters :)

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  6. An excellent post. This can be especially helpful for someone who writes speculative fiction, since that can cover a wide variety of genres. Writing a romantic sci fi? Better write romance first. Wanna do a fantasy thriller? Better work on those thriller skills. Anything you can learn in one genre can most certainly be applied to another. After all, if you strip away the genre conventions, what do you get? Stories about characters. That's the bottom line.

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    1. Exactly!! That's exactly the point, stories about characters. That's what I'm sort of relying on as I work on this new hard sci-fi story--that I get the genre conventions correct enough that mistakes don't distract from the core character story.

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  7. I write paranormal/erotic fantasy, but I would really like to take a crack at writing something G-PG rated again. No YA or MG, but something that all ages can appreciate. The 1st story I had published was completely G rated and it was a major challenge for me to write.

    Father Nature's Corner

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    1. Nice! That could be a great challenge for you, and I can see how writing something lighter might add some humor and character depth when you go back to the more hard core stuff.

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  8. I am so happy you visited me! I'm like Lee in that my writing style is eclectic. Love writing lots of things. I'm probably best at writing creepy but love other things too. Wait! I'm not good at writing romance. I hear that's where all the money is. Darn.

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    1. Thanks to YOU for visiting! And it sounds like we're in similar boats. I like writing a mix of things, often with a nice creep factor, but I sometimes struggle with the romance, especially if its teenagers. For some reason writing romance stories for 40-50 year olds is a lot easier for me...

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  9. I so agree with you. I don't like being pigeonholed, but that's not the reason I've avoided picking one genre and sticking to it. I write when the mood strikes, or like you, when I read a call for submission. If I stuck to one genre I'd spend all my time looking for places to submit and not writing. And that would suck.

    Great post :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. Oh definitely! I hadn't thought of that--being stuck looking for opportunities in one genre. You're exactly right, taking advantage of the wide variety of opportunities available can keep things flowing. Thanks so much for your comments, thanks for stopping by!

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  10. Wow! That's a lot of great information; I love that you boiled it down to simple facts! I have a hard time writing fiction so maybe I should read a lot of blogs in that genre to get a feel of the writing styles!

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    1. Thanks for coming by! And thanks for the kind words :) I definitely think reading some of the amazing blogs out there can help in any genre, but this can also apply to non-fiction. For example if you write mostly tech articles it might be a fun experiment to branch out into humor or personal essay. Whatever catches ones attention :)

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I absolutely love hearing from you! Thank you so, so much for your thoughts and comments, they really do make my day. Consider yourself awesome. Also, I do my best to respond to every comment within 24 hours, so I invite you to come back and continue the conversation :)

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