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:

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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?

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what i’ve been working on

Hey!

So you’ve probably noticed that posts have become few and far between. Mostly, this is because I’ve spent the last year or two feeling as though I have everything to learn and nothing to teach.

In lieu of my once-common craft essays, I thought I’d post the first scene of my latest novella, Painted, which I hope to completely finish before November.

Chapter 1

Wyrren had wondered, from time to time, if things would have turned out differently if she’d been able to smile at Sebastian. But she couldn’t, and they hadn’t, and now Wyrren stood at her stepsister’s bedroom window to watch the man she loved offer another woman his arm.

The formal greetings took place on the front steps of Sebastian’s home, the Palacia del Torlo, on a cool, sunny spring afternoon. Trees laden with violet and pink buds swayed in the wind, casting lacy shadows on the drive. Lady Kartania Reise dressed in white and wore her dark hair loose. Her people, a host of women in armor stood to one side, his elite bodyguard the other. Carriages pulled away to unload the guest’s luggage. Sebastian leaned close to Kartania, a kiss or a quiet word, Wyrren couldn’t tell which.

They filtered into the palacia; two of Sebastian’s bodyguard, then Sebastian and Kartania, splendid and regal walking arm in arm. The rest followed after, finishing with a man in a long green coat. The tall palacia doors closed slowly, but with a sense of finality.

Wyrren stared at the empty front steps for several minutes more, leaned on the wall with her forehead against the window frame. She shut her eyes, listened to the sound of her breathing and the trees below shifting with the wind.

It didn’t matter anymore.

‘painted’ — draft two complete!

And my second draft of ‘Painted’ is finished!

‘Painted’ is the first of my new project, The Forever Series, a series of novellas about magic, monsters, near-infinite worlds, cursed immortals, and an epic love story. When it’s finished, it’ll be released as a free ebook online. (The sequels we’ll be selling for a dollar apiece.)

We’ve got work to do still, but in the meantime, here’s my work-in-progress painting for the cover.

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?

designing a writers’ site– what would you like to see?

So, as I progress through the coding of my web project, I’m left with the knowledge that I’m running out of my original design sketches and HTML. In fact, I’m coding pages’ content in PHP and having nowhere to put the data. Now I’m reduced to making horrible looking bullet lists.

I’ve weighed the ‘chicken or egg’ question of the web development world quite a bit lately, and it seems to me that design has to come before coding. I want to know how a user will need a site to work before I build the guts.

So. I need to figure out a design.

More importantly, what sort of look and feel would you guys picture on a writing site? I don’t want to go glossy-professional. I don’t want to commit to a big theme exactly, since we’re going to look for writers of all genres. There should be easy navigation and lots of space for reading and writing in. And since it’s a critique site, people will be looking at it for long periods of time.

So. How formal/informal? Any sort of style? Very graphical interfaces? Sparse?

Any input, thoughts, or ideas would be awesome!