writing outside the comfort zone

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how writers tend to pick something they’re good at, and write the same type of story over and over again, until their readers expect a lack of diversity. We tend to narrow our focus, get comfortable, and run with things that work.

I won’t (and can’t) say this is a bad thing– people picking up a Song of Ice and Fire book want grit, sex, politics, and violence. That’s the allure of the series, isn’t it? But at the same time, I’m wondering if writing the same types of stories over and over again good for us as writers? Does it challenge us? Does it make us grow?

Or, conversely, if we do break out of our usual shell (mine is fantasy with atypical settings, heavy on characters and intrigue and usually with a dash of nobility or royalty), is that a good thing for us business-wise? Should, or even can we expect readers to grow with us? Isn’t this why authors wanting to try a new genre invent new pen names for their alternate persona?

It’s hard to even find examples of authors doing this. Off the top of my head, I can only name this guy:

200px-Ngsmam

I could talk about my love for Neil Gaiman’s work all day long, but let’s look at his diversity portfolio for a second. Holy cow. A retold Beowolf with a werewolf on a futuristic Miami beach, complete with a sing-song chant? Twisted fairy tales. Aliens at parties. Vampire studies done in a literary style. Non-speculative literary. Poetry. New things. Sequels. Offshoots. Novel format, comic format, screenplays. And is there any correlation between his ability to write so many different types of stories and the rather popular opinion that he’s one of the best?

Do we even think about trying new plots as we work?

I don’t really have a point or any conclusions from this yet. My current work is intended to shift sub-genres often, and it’s a roller coaster of having to learn new techniques and storytelling methods, so it’s been on my mind lately.

Does anyone have experience or thoughts on deliberately branching out beyond your established comfort zones?

writing the beginning of a story (too fast?)

I’ve been working on a new series with a co-writer lately– a somewhat experimental venture at that: a series of novellas telling a too-long, epic, episodic tale of cursed immortals, other worlds, demons, high magic, technology, and everything from dinosaur-riding cowboys to cyborgs and big guns.

Since novellas aren’t really published traditionally, and because this is a project that builds on itself (like seasons of tv episodes instead of a movie), we’re going to put the first novella online for free, then sell each ‘episode’ for e-readers for a dollar each.

So my co-writer and I started the first book. Stopped. Talked about form, composition, motivation. Cleared the board. Started again. Stopped, rearranged everything. In doing this over and over (we’re halfway done with what I think will be the final first draft now), I’ve noticed something about the writing.

I have a lot of groundwork to cover. I only need a few of the characters for now, but I need to hint as to the presence of other important figures that will come in later in the series (we’ve already written about fourteen novels of raw material for this project). I need to hint about three countries’ cultures, introduce the main character, several forms of magic, the tone of an unrequited romance…

And I’ve just noticed that I have a tendency to try to jump into action and skip the foundations of the story I’m writing. I rush beginnings like I rush music, thinking that playing faster will impress more people.

Which leads me to a question: how much time do you get, to lead into the conflict? A paragraph? A page? A chapter? I’ve had ‘hook the reader’ chanted at me so many times that I wonder if I overdo it now. Have we as writers (and readers) really limited ourselves to material of instant, flashy gratification?

And has writing, in response, lost a quality of its traditional graceful entrance?

The author of the book ‘Hooked’, Les Edgerton, seems to think so, but then, Hooked leaves no room for such openings as ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.’ I wonder if Edgerton would have started Tolkien’s masterpiece with Bilbo and the dwarves about to become troll-food.

And if I need to set a character’s routine before I throw a wrench into everything, can I take my time enough to do it right?

nanowrimo novel 2011


In the Devil’s Shadow

Uriel Collins knows that he is a resurrected man. He knows that he was once a villain by the name of Isaac, though he does not remember anything prior to his violent death. He’s going to Mileston anyway, to seek out whatever remnants of the life he may have inherited from Isaac. It’s so hard, not having a past. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

There are some sins so black that even a monster couldn’t possibly ignore them. When Uriel decides to dig up the crimes of Isaac Collins, both the living and the murdered have plenty they want to say. Some speak in riddles. Some speak with guns.


If you’re doing NaNoWriMo 2011, you can find me here!

Happy writing!

row80 – april update

Daily writing output

Wordcount graph
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So, my writing really suffered when my computer died mid-month. Bad Eliza. No cookie. But as I’ve been writing one thousand words a day or so since Norwescon, maybe that can make up for it?

In other news, I’ve finally gotten back the reins on my plot, I’ve broken 100k words (which means it’s much too long, but we’ll cut that down later), and I can see my planned climax coming over my metaphorical hill.

Huzzah! Victory!

Anyone interested in beta-reading a rough-draft YA Steampunk Fantasy? The end is in sight.