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?

Advertisements

a little bit victorian

I received this morning a thoughtful critique on the prologue of ‘The Artificer’s Angels’, my steampunk novel. The gentleman in question had several good things to point out: a contradictory description, some wayward sentences breaking the flow, and imagery problems, all of which I was very grateful for.

But at the end he wrote this:

I also wonder if you are trying to emulate Victorian-style prose. If so, I think you might want to reconsider. The reason is that Victorian prose is really difficult for modern Americans to slog through, unless they are reading a book that was actually written in the Victorian era – then they recognize that they have no choice. The only other time I believe American readers would tolerate flowery prose and long, long sentences is if the writer were depicting the action from the first-person POV of a Victorian.

Now, I understand that this is an opinion, and should be weighed like all critiques. But it’s also a projectory opinion. “Other people won’t like it”, and that bothers me, especially since he said nothing at all whether he thought it distracting.

I’m not even a particularly flowery writer.

Ironically, a few minutes later I read a blog post by Mister Dave Kellet, writer and artist of the Sheldon webcomic. It included this:

One of my favorite things that Victorian writers figured out was how the inclusion of scraps of letters, telegraphs, and diary entries within their larger novels could help enhance a story and fill out a world.

Call me crazy, but I wonder if I would rather err on the side of more Victorian. Unrelated short steampunk stories between parts of the novel. Nano-fiction sprinkled here and there, to go with my pen-and-ink illustrations, my omniscient camera, and my insistence on spelling out titles like ‘Mister’. I’d not considered adding more material to flesh out the setting prior, but now I find the thought exciting.

Am I just being contrary? How does that sound, slogging modern American readers?

dancing in e-prime

I have a confession to make. E-prime fascinates me.

Some haven’t heard of the style before, so allow me to give a quick explanation. Those who write in e-prime eschew all forms of the verb ‘to be’, allowing the restrictiveness of the style to force them to find other, more interesting (and often more accurate) verbs. This list includes was, is, are, am, be, been. ‘The house was blue’ becomes ‘The blue house’ or ‘The house looked blue’, ‘I was angry’ transforms into ‘I felt angry’. While the style requires work, patience, and creativity, I find that it also challenges me to consider the language I use carefully. Often I remove entire passages, rewrite paragraphs to fit with the style, but the effort shows. Readers don’t typically notice the extra work, but sometimes they can see that something in the prose differs from what they have grown used to.

Try it. See if you can find independence from easy verbs.