So very often, we writers get a special idea in our head. “This time,” we think to ourselves, “I want to really wow my readers with a new type of story, something I’ve never written before.” Maybe we watched a particularly good mystery show (Murder She Wrote, anyone?), or we’re getting a horror itch. My own version of this is that I quite frequently get the urge to write a powerful Force Unleashed-style story, with telekinetic powers flying around like blaster bolts. We set out to tell a very specific type of story. We are full of enthusiasm and can’t wait to get the novel out to readers.
Other times, writers are angling to break in on a new genre market. People pick romance because of the potentially lucrative payout. Or they dive into military sci-fi thinking they can make a quick buck.
Authors have many reasons to want to stick close to a single genre. And setting out on this adventure brings a whole new level of excitement to the writing game.
A few chapters into the story, however, we start to waver. “I’ve been writing this horror story forever and I’m starting to run out of inspiration.” “I just feel like throwing together a hack-and-slash chapter, but that wouldn’t really fit my story idea.” Our glorious inspiration begins to fade. Usually, this spells the death of motivation.
Let’s take a look at some causes of this problem, and some fixes you can apply to improve your genre-specific storytelling.
The Wandering Eye.
Authors look at video games, novels, short stories, movies, television shows, and puppet theater productions and pull them apart, usually unconsciously, to see what pieces they like and might want to incorporate into their own storytelling. We get seduced by the stories we experience and want to tell our own version. The embers of inspiration are kindled into a roaring flame within us, and we can’t wait to get started on creating and writing a new story.
The best time for this to happen is between books. The worst time for this to happen is halfway through a book. How often is an author between stories? Sometimes there’s not even a week gap.
What can we do to help brace up our inspiration? What could we be doing better?
Ask yourself, “Will I be able to stand this genre over and over?”
Every author has their limits on how easily they settle into genres. Not all genres lend themselves to being written over and over. Suspense and mystery can be hard to sustain for longer books or lengthy series. Readers like answers, and authors like to provide them. An example of this is the X-Files. Wildly popular, and yet look how hard it became to continue a believable mystery without answers. There are some pretty accurate memes about the writers’ plot gymnastics to get Scully to avoid seeing anything concrete. At some point during the five-book murder mystery series where you’re trying to decide whether the killer was a supernatural monster or a human monster but haven’t given tangible answers in forever, your readers may just throw up their hands and say, “We give up.”
If you find you can’t stomach the idea of writing this genre every single week for the foreseeable future, that’s perfectly acceptable. Better to know that now. Write a few short chapters or short stories in a new genre to practice. Get a feel for it and how hard it is to plan and keep things exciting. Practice at the genre and get better so you have the capacity and stamina to run with it for a longer period of time.
Immerse yourself in the genre.
Inspiration comes from things in our environment. Before you start your story, locate plenty of resources that showcase the genre you’re wanting to write. Not just enough for a few days, but enough to last you several weeks. And keep looking for more. Really explore that genre in your recreational time. Go ahead, binge-watch all those seasons of Murder She Wrote while writing that mystery novel. If you’re writing a lighthearted adventure for a younger crowd, invest in some Studio Ghibli movies and watch them over and over while planning. A horror story is an excellent excuse to watch Riddick, and Aliens, and every werewolf and vampire movie you can think of (except for those movies. You know which I mean). Saturate yourself with the genre. Don’t burn out on it, but keep a steady supply around at all times.
And try to narrow your field a bit while you’re writing that genre. If you’re writing horror, don’t read novels about powerful heroes mowing down waves of enemies with ease, because you might be tempted to want to write those scenes. Stick to your genre while you’re writing the tricky genre.
Keep the story short. You can always write a sequel.
It’s easy to burn out on a specific genre. Most authors mix things up quite a bit. Sticking to one genre can be difficult and challenging. With every new book you need to come up not just with inspiration, but the right inspiration for this genre.
Try a few different lengths. Find a comfortable word count and stick close to it. Authors can easily bang out 200,000-word door-stoppers in their favorite genre, but 70,000 words is a good target for novels outside your comfort zone. As noted above, you can always tack on a second adventure if the first sells well. Better to write a shorter book and have it conclude and leave a good memory, than to have readers commit to a long novel and then watch you lose your motivation halfway through.
Get ready to second guess yourself. A lot.
Writing one entire story contained solely within a single genre is tough, not because people can’t do it, but because their habits are formed in opposition to their goal. We skip around to keep the story fresh. And skipping around is the opposite of what you want to do here.
Writing for one genre means re-reading your work with a more critical eye. Sometimes, it means tearing up your notes and starting again. Get ready to question yourself and your skills. Does this evoke enough mystery? Did I throw in enough clues? Did I give too many? Is this scene frightening enough? Did I give them back any power after I strip it away from them for almost the entire Act? Should I leave them powerless and afraid? Will that get old? How will my readers take that?
Writing for one genre is a lot of work, and the work load increases as time goes by because you are likely to use the most obvious and easy ideas first. The things most comfortable for you will be at the top of the pile. As an example, think of a murder mystery you would like to write. Now think of another, completely separate one. Now think of a third. Now think of a fourth. Now think of ten more. Make sure none of them are the same, because readers will latch onto similarities and perhaps draw wrong conclusions that could drag their expectations wildly off course. Didn’t mean to imply linked killings? Too late, because the readers noticed that this guy has a blue handkerchief, just like the killer three mysteries ago had. Clearly this is a blue-handkerchief-serial-killer-club series.
The solution to this is to give yourself some leeway. Don’t burn yourself or your readers out because you feel compelled to stick purely to your vision of the genre. Break it up with a little extra once in a while. A horror story can be refreshed if the characters find a vicious street gang to vent their frustrations on while still using the scene to gather clues.
Remember that you don’t need to fit into a stale version of your genre. Explore the range of what your genre offers and find news ways to approach it so readers are delighted at your new perspective.
Set some expectations.
If you want to challenge yourself with a new genre, do so. Understand the risks of diving into a genre just because it’s popular, and learn to manage your burnout.
None of this is intended to scare someone away from testing new genres. Just make sure your head is in the game, and you’ve set yourself up to succeed.
Leave me a comment below letting me know some things you’ve done to prepare or keep yourself focused on writing a specific genre.