Now Leaving: Your Comfort Zone

If you’ve looked at the body of my writing work, I think it
would be hard to pigeonhole me into any particular genre of fiction. I’ve
written comic books, Young Adult novels, Business Melodrama, Science Fiction
and Survival Horror. I just published a literary love story, and I wrote a
crime novel that will never see print. And right now I’m seeking an agent for
both a high fantasy epic and a thriller with some elements of high fantasy. I
never gave much thought into what motivates me to switch genres and styles of
storytelling. I could say I just go where the story takes me, but that would be
too simple.

Truth be told, every story I’ve written has been a challenge
to myself in some way, shape or form. I get inspired by books I read, TV shows
I watch and movies and video games I enjoy. And these stories inspire me to
tell my own. I often ask myself “wouldn’t it be cool if I could write XXX kind
of story?” and being the impulsive guy I am, it doesn’t take me long to hash
out some ideas for that genre and style.

For the Thriller I just wrote, it started off as a prequel to an epic urban high fantasy series I’m planning. But as I was writing it, I didn’t really know how the story was going to get from its beginning to the point where my saga started. I’m usually a big “plot” guy, and I’ll spend a lot of time outlining the plot points and twists, creating a roadmap for where I want the story to go. But this time, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time pre-planning my story, and I really just wanted to start writing. So that’s exactly what I did. I only had a handful of vague plot points in mind when I started writing this story. I had two or three events I wanted to build up to, and I had a general idea of how I wanted it to end, but I left myself completely open with this story. I just created some characters, created a world for those characters to inhabit, and put the central character in a dire predicament. I then just followed that character around in this setting, observing his actions, getting inside his head to find out what he’s thinking and feeling as he does what he does, and writing everything down. This style of storytelling is counter-intuitive to every other book I’ve written, and it was uncharted territory for me. It was kind of scary. But it was also thrilling to be “winging it” and basically making the story up as I go along. And I turned out great; “Needle of the Southside” may be my strongest story yet, and I already have a ton of material in motion to take a similar journey in its follow-up book.

I believe the only way to truly improve as a storyteller it to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone. Even successful writers (actually, ESPECIALLY successful writers) can get complacent and fall into a rut, telling the same types of stories in the same style over and over again. This is why Steven King will take a break from writing horror to write stories like The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, Dark Tower and The Stand. It gives one a chance to freshen up, and learn new things about ones self as a writer and storyteller.

So my challenge to you is simple. Try something different.
If you’re used to writing modern fantasy (especially if your Vampires glitter
and your Werewolves are emo), take a stab at writing a crime story. If rustic
heartland romances are your thing, take a shot at writing a political thriller.
If you write historical fiction, then maybe you can shift from the past to the
future and write some hard Science Fiction. And you can even stretch your
muscles stylistically, like switching from the female protagonists you always
write to a male one, or switching from Third person to First person (or the
even bigger challenge of Second person), or switching from writing in past
tense to present tense. In doing so you might broaden your horizons and
discover some new things about your voice that you never knew you had before.

You don’t even have to commit to a whole book of it if you don’t want to. Maybe just a short story, or a simple scene just to see what it would feel like and read like in your new style or genre. And whatever you don’t finish you could just put in your writer’s vault for future idea mining. This would be a great way to improve your storytelling acumen.

Judy Blume is one of my favorite children’s authors. The Fudge series of books is legendary. But did you know she writes books for adults, too? Give this one a try.

Storyteller and published author of 4 novels.