Thursday, December 8, 2011

Branching Out With What You Write

So Scott said something interesting in the comments yesterday on his post. He said that if I hadn't written Monarch, he wouldn't have been brave enough to write a detective novel (which I've read, and it's aWesOme). Anyway, where I'm going with this is that if you haven't noticed before, I write in different genres. Thriller (Monarch), YA contemporary (The Breakaway), fantasy (Bonded), straight literary short stories and poetry (True Colors), my next planned novel is YA historical kind-of-paranormal (yes, you heard that right). You name it, I'll write it. My little saying has always been that "I write stories, not genres." I stick by that in defense of me branching out all over the place, and I'm really blessed to have a publisher who will publish different genres from me because, honestly, a writer can be seriously doomed in publishing for not sticking in one genre if they don't have a bit of luck finding publishers and agents willing to walk with them through all those genres.

As a writer constantly trying to push myself harder with my writing, I've always felt it's important to feel somewhat uncomfortable with what I'm working on. It means I'm growing and trying new and important things (I hope that's true!). In college, I gave myself permission to write crap, and I wrote a lot of it. I also wrote a lot of experimental pieces, which ended up working, and in turn helped open a door for me to see the wide spaces that lay beyond a room with walls. I hate feeling trapped, and I suppose that's one of the reasons I don't stay in one genre in my career so far.

So when Scott said that he was brave enough to write a detective novel because I wrote Monarch, a lot of emotions went through me. First, I thought that is way, way cool! And I'm flattered because his book is really good. Then I let my big head shrink down and I thought, well, I wasn't necessarily brave in writing Monarch. I didn't write it to branch out in my writing and try something new. I just wrote it because it was a story bottled up inside me and it happened to come out as a sort of quasi-drama-thriller thing. So I'm not sure bravery has anything to do with it, but it got me thinking about what other writers do, and it got me thinking about maybe how I should branch out more and write something really beyond what I've tried before. Not genre, really, since I already write in different genres, but something bigger in my storytelling.

So my question today is do you intentionally branch out in your writing? Or do you just write what stories come to you? Do you plan this stuff? Because I think Scott does, and a part of me is insanely jealous of him because he seems to reach different planes in his writing that I haven't reached yet.


  1. Great questions--and I'd be flattered too if someone decided to write in a new genre by reading my book.

    I do sometimes intentionally branch out into new genres. A lot of times I'll start with short stories in a new genre first and go from there. I do write or plan to stories I have in my head no matter what genre(s) they fall into. Personally, I'd rather not stick to just one genre. I have way too many stories to tell, and I'd rather not be limited.

  2. Cherie: See, that's how I started, too! By trying different stuff in short stories. They are really a great way to experiment without wasting too much time if it doesn't work out, hah. And I'm with you on the limited thing!

  3. I write the stories that come to me, the ones that burn in my heart and must be taken out of my head so I can rest. That's the only way I have ever been able to do it, and the way I hope to find my way back to after my recent health struggles.

    I think that the difference between being a true storyteller and just writing what they think is marketable (or are told is) is what makes a writer a great artist.

    You, Michelle, are an artist.

    So are Domey and Scott and that's what makes the Lab so special.


  4. I'm so with you on this. My first three books were paranormal YA, contemporary romance, and then erotic romantic suspense.

    The last one is the one that sold. I hadn't necessarily planned to write erotic romance, I just had an idea that could only be told that way. Now I'm contracted for a series, which I love writing, but I have those other outside-of-genre ideas nudging at me--a YA thriller and a romantic horror (of all things) are simmering. I figure I'll work on those in between my contracted stuff. I think pushing outside your genre boundaries keeps a writer's brain fresh. :)

  5. Bru: Thanks! I like to think of myself as creating some form of art, at least, and I do see myself as an artist in a lot of ways. It's definitely a great way to look at it when you're not quite sure why you aren't fitting in with the huge norm!

    Roni: Oh, gosh, yes! And can I just say how happy it makes me to hear you'll be doing stuff outside of what sold? It shows that you really care about your craft and you're not in it just because you found a niche which has brought you some publishing success. Now, if you really wanted to write only in that niche, it would be different, but you obviously do not because you have other stories brewing and you're going to chase after them. I think that's exciting. :)

  6. Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander (and subsequent books), in response to an interview question in Jan 2012's Writer's Digest (QUESTION: Do you think writers should label their work as a certain genre when they're trying to sell it?), says this:

    Now it's become a little less important than it used to be. It used to be you really had to have a genre even to start, but as it is, the lines have been blurred quite a lot of late, and people are now beginning to much more commonly use elements of different genres, of this, that, and the other....So you can get away with a little more, but at the same time it's difficult when you're pitching something because what an agent or editor is looking for is a very strong, compelling story, and if you start right out by saying, "Well, it's a paranormal suspense thriller with elements of this and that," it gives the impression that you may not be adequately focused. And if that's your case I would just not mention the genre thing at all. I would just start, "Well, it's a story about--" You know, tell me the character, tell me the conflict, tell me the resolution.

    (Apparently, she admits to grabbing her favorite pieces of different genres and throwing them together.)

    As it is, Michelle, I'm a genre combiner too, so the fact that you write anything and everything is not only awesome (in my mind) but shows how diverse you can be!

  7. Michelle, I was inspired by how you change direction with each project and you don't care what anyone thinks about that. You follow the stories that interest you, which is a Brave Writer thing to do. I still worry that Other People won't take me seriously as a Serious Writer, but I'm trying to get over that and just be a good writer.

    I never talked about what genre my books were when I worked with agents. I figured that was their problem, a problem of marketing, not a problem for the writer. Though now that I'm querying the detective novel, I'm calling it a mystery.

  8. Leah: Thank you for sharing that! For me, it's so important to concentrate on story more than genre. Period. When people ask me what MONARCH is, I tell them it's a story about a spy who's betrayed and then falls in love with a lady who runs an inn surrounded by butterflies. They can shove it into whatever genre they want, hah. Glad you are a combiner like me! I certainly don't have anything against authors writing only in one genre. Some of them are my favorite authors! I just don't want to feel like I have follow a certain model, I guess.

    Scott: Well in that light it looks brave! It doesn't feel brave, lol, but maybe that's because I've secured a publisher so the bravery gets shoved aside now. I have security. Before that...I think I was being a lot more brave! I didn't know any different, though. I just can't force myself to write anything other than what I write.

    I think it's good you don't really mention genre to agents. If you're querying them, you obviously know what genre they take, and so do they. Your detective novel is a mystery, yes, but the point is that you don't just write mysteries. All it takes is to sell one book, right?

  9. I think I intentionally branch out in a feeble attempt to figure out what type of writing would make the happiest. So, in a way, it's a search for comfort and not the result of a brave act. When I started writing, all of my stuff was magical realism. The more I write, the more I seem to want to return to that. Maybe that's the real me.

  10. I am reminded of a story I heard about John Philip Sousa (a.k.a. "The March King" ["The Washington Post," "Semper Fidelis," "The Stars and Stripes Forever," etc.]). He wrote music at a time when the waltz was king of popular music. He wanted to write successful waltzes, and he kept trying. His waltzes flopped, but to make ends meet, his wife would rearrange his waltzes into marches and they would make enough money to pay household expenses. No matter how hard he tried, everything Sousa wrote turned out to be a march.

    I fear that no matter what I write, everything I write will turn out to be science fiction/fantasy.

  11. I write drabbles (100 word stories) on my blog mostly every Tuesday and I use those to branch out with different tenses, POVs,'s a way for me to stretch myself and get out of always writing the same story every day with a novel. (terrible run-on sentence there)

  12. Yeah, I had to fix that last comment up a little:

    The stories just come, and won't leave until I put them on paper.

    I also don't plan the stories themselves, for the same reason. I tried a plan once, but the story and I disagreed vehemently when it came to important plot points. In the end, the story won out, and I've learnt to stop fighting it.

    I'm very envious of your ability to write several genres. Mine have, thus far, all been fantasy. It's not that I won't write other genres. I will write whatever story comes into my head. Fantasy seems to be the flavour of the moment, however.

  13. The more I write, the more I want to branch out and go bigger because so often just the story that comes really needs to be revised and beefed up. Do something crazy and write in a totally different voice than usual. I think it's a great exercise.

  14. Davin: That's not a "feeble attempt!" You're experimenting, which is what being a writer is all about. I hope you find your niche one day. I love your writing no matter what genre is attached to it :)

    Lester: Ah, Sousa! We played a lot of him in band. I played the clarinet. He is brilliant, I must say, or maybe his wife was even more brilliant, it sounds like, hehe. And you have an awesome point about how some writers just stick in one thing because that is where they are naturally the best and happiest. For me, I don't seem to have that, but maybe I do and I'm just not seeing it yet...

    Amie: Oh, what a fantastic thing to do to branch out! I've never tried drabbles, but they do sound like a lot of fun.

    S.M.: I wrote a post on my other blog awhile ago about how important it is not to fight your instincts, and I stand by that all the time. If what you write is always fantasy, you could try and break if you want to, but if it doesn't work out, I hope it doesn't disappoint you too much. I think there are some genres I could try that may not work at all, but who knows! The fun part about being a writer is that we get to try different things all the time. :)

    Laura: It is definitely a good exercise, yes!


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