By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
I’m a fantasy writer, with a little science fiction thrown in. All the stories 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 stories set in the real world with real problems. Dark problems, really, tragic ones that I hope no one I care about ever has to go through, but I love reading about them. I’ve tried to write stories like those, and failed miserably.
We’ve all heard it. “Write what you love.” But what do you do when what you love doesn’t love you back?
Identify what you love about those stories
It isn’t 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 like stories about people facing horrific problems and handling them as best they could. So when I plan a story, 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.
Steal ideas. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?
Naturally you don’t steal real ideas (that would be wrong), 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 that forbidden love can affect the terrorist plot you’re working on. Make it more than just a subplot between the hunky hero and the sexy scientist he goes to for help. Make it thematic and let it influence the entire story.
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? What if it didn’t? What if your fantasy story captured the feel of a historical novel? 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 usually has certain elements doesn’t mean you have to use them all. 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.
Be true to your story
No matter how much you love one type of story, 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. 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. Concepts can be applied to anything, so find the concept that inspires you and see how that 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.
Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at GotYA.