Friday, May 20, 2011

Discovering Our Genre & Voice

I adore reading fantasy and science fiction.  I want to soar over the skies of Pern on my own dragon; travel through time and space on the Dora with Lazarus Long, fight villains and blood-mages with the Heralds of Valdemar.

I just can't write these stories, myself.  (At least, not yet.)  I can come up with great characters, and have done small sketches here and there, warmly received by my writer friends, but have not been able to conceive of a proper Heroic Quest for them.  While great characters are the difference between fantasy that works, and fantasy that doesn't work, IMO - ya gotta have the Heroic Quest.

My first writing mentor would tell a great story about her attempts to write genre romance.  Lydia created a great heroine, a sexy hero... and at the end of chapter one, the hero pushed the heroine off a cliff.

from xchanttelx at Flickr
Lydia said hmm, that's not where I expected to go.  So she began writing another one.  And at the end of chapter one, the heroine grabbed a big knife and stabbed the hero to death.

Talking about killing the romance!  Lydia tried one more time, with similar results; although she loved to read romance, it became clear to her that what she was called to write was murder mysteries.

Up and coming author and blogger extraordinaire Roni Loren has spoken about starting out with a YA novel, or trying to, before realizing that her strength and where the muse spoke for her was erotic romance.

One of my first reading loves, like a lot of girls, was Nancy Drew.  First I wanted to be Nancy Drew; later I wanted to write Nancy Drew, as recently discussed in my Aspiring Author interview over on Liz Sogard's site.

Shortly after I joined a local writer's group, they had a short story contest where we had to pick pseudonyms, to assure our anonymity in the judging.  (I chose Nancy Drew, of course.)  The story was supposed to be a mystery; the prompt was "The room held only a candle..."  I think it was 1000 WOL (Words Or Less.)  I ended up writing an anti-romance, where the man is convinced his wife is cheating on him because of mysterious phone calls broken off when he enters the room, odd looks between his wife and best friend.  He's got a loaded gun in his pocket, ready to shoot them both, when he walks into a surprise birthday party.  (And in the last little snippet, we see the wife & b-f are having an affair, after all.)

The story won first prize ($25 which I have the cancelled check framed and hanging on my office wall, thank you very much!)  out of of all the stories by much more experienced writers.  This thrilled me to pieces, and helped me decide two things:  1) I must have at least some talent, after all, and 2) My strength/voice is writing about the relationships between people.

So for now, at least, I'm writing erotic fiction and erotica, though I also have plans to write nonfiction about certain types of mental illness in the not-too-distant future. 

Your muse may be leading you in a different direction altogether, and that's fine.  Despite what some snobs may voice, there is no "low-brow" genre of writing.  There is wonderful writing in every genre, from porn (which only the pig-ignorant confuse with erotica) to sci-fi to books for very young children.  Is there anyone who can seriously dispute what a brilliant book "Goodnight Moon" is, deceptively simple yet oh so memorable and beloved by every single generation of children since its publication?

There is really terrible writing in every genre, from thrillers to literary novels to biography.  (Even if some books with bad writing somehow become best-sellers.)  Personally, I would rather do a great job writing erotica, than a crappy job writing a literary novel or poetry.

We may need to dabble in many different genres for a while before finding the right fit.  We may think we're a writer of one kind of work, and do a decent job writing it, but find if we try something else, it's like a puzzle piece snapping into place, and suddenly the words just flow.

This is what the writer's journey is all about.  If you've found your voice and your genre, celebrate it, and don't let anyone make you feel ashamed because it's "only" YA, erotica, blogging, a school newsletter....  If you're still looking for that perfect fit, that's fine, too.  We've all been there.

Have you ever thought you were suited to one genre, and made a switch?
Are you still looking for the right fit?
Please share, in the comments, below.