Exploring Genre and Style
Many writers I meet, particularly new writers, seem to have pigeon-holed themselves into a niche; for example, only writing werewolf stories or being entirely focused on a Young Adult novel about growing up the 1950s. Whilst knowing what kind of story you want to tell and understanding your target market are both great advantages when writing, there is a danger of creating a bubble around your chosen genre. By only reading—and writing—within one specific niche you run the risk of adopting genre clichés and tropes, and could end up following the same story beats that all others do within that bubble, thereby making your great story just another run-of-the-mill tale that sinks into mediocrity because it doesn’t stand out.
This is a trap I almost fell into myself, as when I started I was very much focused on a particular style and theme for my first few stories. As beneficial as developing within that bubble was, in terms of learning the basics of storytelling and channelling creativity into something that outputs with structure and sense, I did not grow as a writer as much as I could have. Fortunately, or perhaps luckily, I stumbled across an idea fairly early on that helped me develop and find my voice as a writer.
Having finished a first draft of a novel and a couple of short stories, I became aware of some common themes within my writing. Very common, if truth be told. I did notice, however, that the two short stories could both fit into separate genres, should I wish to classify them. They didn’t follow the standard rules of those genres, nor did they have any of the traditional tropes or clichés one expects, but they could be defined—if they had to be—as part of those genres. I decided that to combat the common themes, and broaden my horizons somewhat, I would compile a list of genres that interested me, and then write a short story for each.
The initial list was very long and full of strange variations on different genres and styles. After some culling the list dropped down to twenty. That’s twenty different genres or styles that I wanted to cover. I already had two in place, as I had written short stories for them. The remaining eighteen I have been slowly working through over the past few years, and am about halfway at this point.
I have found that by writing in different styles, and playing with genres, I have developed a stronger voice as an author, and a greater grasp of my own ability to explore character and situation. In a sense, writing in multiple styles has allowed me to find my own, and as a result my writing has naturally settled into its own groove.
The trick to this system is to not follow the rules of the style you are writing in. For example, if I was writing a noir story then I wouldn’t have a hard-boiled detective who is hired to track down a missing girl by a rich-type, who then meets a seductive woman who he falls for and is then double-crossed by, and after some digging (and getting beaten up at least once) discovers a vast conspiracy perpetrated by the very man who hired him in the first place. That is, after all, exactly what the genre expects. Instead, you switch the roles and change the stereotypes, breaking each and every rule to build something different and new. Why does the detective have to be male? Why is he, or she, even a detective? Perhaps write about a driving instructor who suspects her neighbour is selling illegal cigarettes to the parents outside the school gates. There’s a noir story that immediately stands out amongst the others.
By exploring different genres and styles you can further develop your own skills as a writer, whilst also picking up tricks and ideas that you never thought of. If you are writing—or planning to write—a novel, why not dabble in a few short stories first? They are much faster to write, and therefore allow you to occupy many different worlds and characters in a short space of time. After all, every character you create stays with you, a part of you, and so you can take that back to your main project. Your werewolf story may just need a touch of noir, or your 1950s Young Adult tale might require a little post-apocalyptic influence. It doesn’t have to be spelled out on the page; it’ll be between the lines, in the space you gave yourself to grow.
Below is my genre list; the twenty styles I am working through whenever I write a short story. Generally the idea for the story comes first, then I decide what genre to play with, and then I write. Feel free to use this list, or come up with your own. It doesn’t have to be this long; the process really is about getting out of your comfort zone and writing something completely different to what you normally would.
My Genre List:
© 2016 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.