May 17, 2013

Casual Friday: Comma, comma, comma, chameleon


Hey Misfiteers!

Fantasy Landscape
(c) Chiaralily, creative commons.
As I mentioned in our yearbook post, I’ve been hard at work pounding my latest manuscript into shape—a YA contemporary. My previous manuscript was YA fantasy. Before that, I had a magical realistic manuscript. I have a YA sci-fi and a literary MG manuscript lined up.

I’m a genre chameleon.

It’s one of the things I love about writing kidlit. As opposed to adult fiction, we write YA (or MG!) first, genre second. Which gives us more leeway to experiment, to try genres we never had thought about writing. And obviously I’m a big fan of this.

But.

I don’t think it’s as easy as it may seem. I’m convinced that to write in a specific genre, you have to know that genre inside out. You have to know what recent publications look like. You have to know who the big players and primary examples in the genre are and why. You have to respect the genre you're writing.

I wandered around in fantasy publishing for a long, long time and I can’t even count the number of times I had people tell me writing fantasy was so easy because there were no rules to follow. Or that they wanted to write fantasy someday, because they had such amazing ideas that would take the genre beyond what Tolkien did. And oh, they loved to read fantasy books, but they grew over that.

Um.

London Skyline
(c) JosephKes creative commons
Conversely, I’ve heard plenty of others say they wanted to write stories based in the real world, because at least they didn’t have to pay attention to worldbuilding. After all, how hard can it be to write about the real world? We live in it! And it seemed so much easier, because the stories weren’t as complex as speculative fiction.

Also, um.

Frankly, I always wanted to tell them to write and find out just how “easy” it is. And to be honest, I don’t think there’s a better way to get to know any genre than to write it. No matter how much you read, understanding the subtleties of a genre is a matter of testing it and trying it. So I don’t think you have to have read every single book, all award winners, or all the NYT bestsellers.

But you have to know the basics before you dive in. Because, those people? As a reader and a writer who loves all genres, I wanted to strangle them, too.

Every genre has its own conventions, its own hardships, and its own challenges. Its fun sides and its perks. Some of my favorite writers write across the genres. But when you start to write a story because it seems easier and you know better than the rest of the world what it's supposed to be... you're doing both the story and the reader a disservice.

Or maybe I just have a pathologic need to understand everything before I dive in. Both are probably true. ;)

Do you genre hop? Do you think it’s easy? Do you prefer investigating, or trial by experience?

6 comments:

Joshua David Bellin said...

I've written fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, literary fiction, realist fiction, and a bunch of other genres (some YA, some not), and it always amuses me when people say there's no world-building in the realist genres. There's ALWAYS world-building. Whether you're creating your own world or recreating the world that exists, you have to pay close attention to the rules of that world to make it believable--as well as the rules of the genre in which you're writing.

callmebecks said...

I genre-hop in a major way. From various subsets of fantasy to science fiction to (now) contemporary. And I jump from YA to NA to adult and hopefully MG someday.

Each genre has it's own challenges - one isn't easier than the other. The only thing they have in common is the importance of characters. Without strong people inhabiting the story field, it all falls apart.

Seabrooke / Saybe said...

All my stories have been spec fic, but different types and settings such that they can feel pretty different. Wordbuilding a fantasy is no easier than a hard sci-fi or a post-apoc future. I echo Callmebecks - the characters are the important detail. Genre is often a label of convenience anyway, since a lot of fiction can fall into more than one, or contains elements of secondary genres. Especially in YA.

Melanie Conklin said...

This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately. My first MS that really counted was MG contemporary. The next one is YA scifi. The one in progress is YA contemporary. While I want to start settling in a direction for my brand as an author, I also know that I need to give myself the time to explore these different constructs and discover which vein I will return to again and again. So I don't thin there's anything wrong with genre-hopping, but you must do all of your due diligence no matter the genre you write. Good writing comes from good reading.

Morgan York said...

I'm definitely a genre hopper! In fact, I went into learning about the literary industry with the opinion that the best books defy genre. I still hold this opinion, but I now have a better understanding about why genre labels exist in the first place. I of course think you should be able to categorize your novel for querying and marketing purposes (and, if you're lucky, for book-shelving purposes if your book hits stores!). But as a reader, I enjoy being able to pick up a book with multiple genre elements.

I've also discovered through this process that my favorite genres are fantasy and contemporary. Such opposite ends of the spectrum, but I love them for different reasons (and love blending them, too).

Sarah Hipple said...

I don't think genre hopping is easy so much as it's fun.

I've done: romance, YA paranormal, YA contemporary, MG fantasy, YA sci fi, and now YA fantasy. In that order. I definitely think you need to delve in to your genre be able to write well in that genre. But, for me, I'd say the genre hopping was more about exploring who I am as a writer and seeing what I like to write and what works for me.

(And, yes, I do read all these genres - although some more than others.)

Of course, I also feel that some basic things can help make all stories better, and those things stretch across genre (and I'm learning tons of stuff about them as well). Sometimes a good story is a good story, no matter what the genre. (That's the optimistic version of genre hopping). So I feel as though I've learned something about writing in general no matter what the genre was that I was writing at the time.

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