I’m a fantasy writer, with a little science fiction thrown in, but all the story ideas that come to me have some kind of speculative element. As much as I love these kinds of tales (I wouldn’t write them if I didn’t), I also love contemporary novels set in the real world with real problems. Dark problems, really, tragic problems I hope no one I care about ever has to go through, but I love reading about them. I’ve tried to write contemporary stories like those, and they never work. I'm just not a "real world" kind of writer.
The adage is, “Write what you love,” but what do you do if "what you love" doesn’t love you back? Don't worry, there are ways to mix what you love to read with what you love to write.
Identify what you love about those stories
Odds are it's not a specific detail that grabs you about a different genre, it's something thematic. In my case, it's not the real world aspects that keep me up late reading about a dying boy, it’s how he deals with his inevitable death and what he does with the time he has left. I realized I love stories about people facing horrific problems and handling them as best they can. Now, when I plan a novel I think about the things I can do that tap into that idea.
In my fantasy novel, The Shifter, I used the idea of losing your family and being forced to do terrible things to save the only family member you had left. In the sequel, Blue Fire, it was having to work with the people who killed that family. Survival in the face of tragedy and rising above it. I may have done it differently than my favorite real world writers, but I tried to create that same feeling I get when I read those stories.
- What about other genres makes you want to write in them?
- Is there a recurring theme or element you're drawn to in these novels?
- How might you incorporate those themes into your own work? How might they apply?
Steal ideas. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?
Naturally you don’t steal real ideas (that would be plagiarism), but if you love a concept, think about ways to apply that concept to your genre. If you’re drawn to tales of forbidden love, but you write techno-thrillers, looks at ways "forbidden love" can affect the thriller plot you’re working on. Maybe it's a subplot between the hunky hero and the sexy scientist he goes to for help. Maybe the "love" is about humanity's obsession with altering DNA that leads to disaster. Make it thematic and let it influence the entire story in ways that capture the concept, but also fit your genre.
- How might your favorite concept from your favorite novel work with your story?
- What traditional elements can be reworked to fit your genre?
- Can you add a subplot of another genre? How might that work?
- Are there areas of your novel that you feel need a little "freshening up?" Is that a good spot to play with another genre's concept or trope?
Think outside the book
Every genre has its own tropes (common themes and ideas), but don’t be afraid to think outside of those. All fantasy must have magic, you say? What if yours didn’t? Maybe your fantasy captures the feel of the historical novels you love to read. They say westerns need to take place in the Old West? That didn’t stop Star Trek or Firefly. Both TV shows used the “trek into the wild frontier” idea and applied it to science fiction.
Just because a genre typically has certain elements doesn’t mean you have to use them. Maintain the essence of that genre (you can’t have a murder mystery with no murder, for example) and you can do pretty much anything you want. I did this with magic in my books. Instead of traditional fireballs and lightning spells, I made healing something dangerous, something that could kill.
- What tropes do you enjoy from other genres?
- How might those tropes work in your novel?
- Can you mix various tropes, or play off of conflicting tropes?
Be true to your story
No matter how much you love a concept or trope, if it doesn’t work with the idea you have brewing, don’t force it. But that doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely. If that forbidden romance will feel contrived, see if a forbidden friendship would work better. Or a working relationship that employers don't want to see happen. If there are no terminal illnesses in your sci fi world, then look at things that come to an inevitable end. The “death” doesn’t have to be literal to create the same depth of emotions in your characters. Concepts can be applied to anything, so draw from the novels that inspire you and see how they can enhance your story.
A little creative thinking can help you take the themes and ideas you love to read, and apply them to the stories you love to write.
Do you have books you love to read but can't seem to write? Are there tropes from another genre you'd love to try in your own work?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at GotYA.