July 11th, 2011, 10:26 am

5 Tips for Writng Outside of Your Genre

As writers, we're obsessively aware of any new idea that crosses our mind. Unfortunately, these ideas we have don't always fit into place with our beloved genres. So what happens if an espionage story occurs to a slice-of-life writer? Or a tragedy pops up in the mind of a children's book author? Or a romantic comedy hits a political intrigue writer head-on? Here are some tips to make tackling a new genre less painful and less daunting.

5. Find a Fan. You should know any genre you are actively writing for inside and out. If you don't know a genre inside out, your first step is to find someone who does.

Whether your fan is a family member, a friend or an acquaintance, you should treat your fan as you would any source for a story - with esteemed importance, so don't step on their toes. Your fan doesn't need to be an expert though: they just need to give you a rough idea where to start.

For finding information on a genre, fans are more passionate source than say Wikipedia or IMDB. Plus, you can ask a fan questions face-to-face, and while you can ask questions on the Internet, you'd best beware of trolls. That's why finding a fan is a much better proposition.

4. Read, Read, READ. Once your resident expert points you in a direction, take it and start reading. Maybe your fantasy fan pointed you to Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Jordan", or maybe your horror fan recommended Stephen King's "It". You don't need to like everything you read as much as your genre fan; you just need to be aware of it.

Notice that I didn't start out with Watch, Watch, WATCH. As you might have guessed, TV and movie's don't always hold up to their bookish counterparts (but definitely queue them up on Netflix if your expert recommends them). More to the point, beware you don't fall for pop culture's definition of any given genre. This is one of the quickest missteps new genre writers can make - and one of the most surefire ways to alienate an audience.

This past weekend, I heard a historical fiction writer whom I greatly respect pitch a science fiction story pitch "unlike any other" because there were no laser guns or sword-fights. I've heard a film student pitch a story which "took superheroes seriously for the first time." I've even watched as someone wrote an entire zombie series with absolutely new clue who George A. Romero is.

All of the writers mentioned above are talented and capable - they simply fell into pop culture genre trap. Just as Snooki isn't the best representation of New Jersey, what you see of any genre on the boob tube isn't the same as what's waiting on the book shelf or Netflix queue.

3. Beware of Simultaneous Creations. This leads write into the third tip - acknowledge similar works.

Originality isn't always understood in our culture. We like to think of something original as having never, ever been done before, but if you look at any great invention, you'll find plenty of predecessors who approached the same idea in different ways. Thus, the idea of simultaneous creation - of two similar ideas created by two different people with completely different stimuli - is totally possible.

I don't know of any one surefire way to tell if an idea has been done before. You can try reading an overview of your genre on Wikipedia. You can ask your fan. You can try somewhere like TV Tropes. You can even try punching in bits and pieces of your plot into Google.

But perhaps the only thing you really can do is accept that - however original your idea may sound - chances are its been done somehow, somewhere. How do you about doing accepting this? Don't worry, that's Tip #2.

2. Read or Don't Read Similar Works. So you've just discovered your idea of two star-crossed lovers on a sinking historic ocean-liner isn't as original as you thought. What do you do next? Simple: either read the similar work or don't read the similar work.

If you're really worried about being original, don't read the similar work. Be aware of it - but don't read it until you're finished writing your own work. This way you don't have to worry about being subconsciously influenced by an external work.

If you're not all that worried about originality, just go ahead and read the similar work. This way you'll know exactly what the similarities are going in. You'll also be knowledgeable of your genre as a whole for reading it.

While this decision may sound trite, either way has its disadvantages. By reading a similar work, you might find yourself editing your own work before you've even finished it, in order to self-consciously avoid similarities. And by not reading a similar work, you're basically writing blind, with no idea how much or how little in common your work has in common with others.

Personally, I take option A - don't read it until you're done. But if you have to know what's out there, take option B. Whatever you do, don't try to do both. Don't read spoilers or cliff-notes. If you're going to read a similar work, read it all the way through to appreciate it for what it is - or isn't.

1. Be Yourself.
Okay, so for as convoluted as the last tip was, this one is pretty simple: Be Yourself.

Make no mistake: the best thing you can offer a new genre is your own unique voice. I've been constantly blown away by new writers who brought honesty and boldness to a genre, even with no prior experience.

Does this mean you should still research the genre before you write it in? Certainly - but only so you don't make an ass of yourself. But originality doesn't just come from plots and ideas - it comes from characters, dialogue and very vitality new writers bring to a genre.

In short, writing for a new genre can always be intimidating - but any genre needs new voices to stay fresh and relevant. So with these tips in mind, get out of the shallow end (especially of pop culture) and jump right in!

(That's it for this rant - check out Blue Yonder on Wednesday)

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