Writing Outside of Your Box

I’ve often preached to any new writer who will listen about writing more than a first book. Oftentimes people will put so much into that first book that they don’t want to let it go… even if it might, in fact, suck. I heard someone compare books to pancakes once—that first one is a complete mess and usually goes in the trash, or, in the case of books, the trunk. (Mine sure did.)

More pancakes!

The topic of this post is sort of an extension of that one: try something new. Not only should you write more than one book if you’re feeling stuck; write outside of your usual genre too. I’ve done this three times, and all have been invaluable experiences.

1.) Writing outside of my usual fiction genre

The first time, I used the great excuse of NaNoWriMo to write something fun. The challenge I read about on a blog and decided to try was this: anyone who hadn’t written a romance novel should, well… write a romance novel. My first (trunked) book was an adult paranormal, but not romance. My second (also trunked) book was a YA urban fantasy. So, I had some free time, and I figured, why not?

Except I said yes. Hey, it’s not always a bad idea!

It was a blast, writing full-bore romance. And while no one will ever see this book, it taught me how to write way sexier romance scenes. While writing an entire book of them isn’t, I discovered, my cup of tea, it helped me be able to inject more romance and tension into those few scenes I do write to spice up my non-romance books.

2) Writing nonfiction

This was a big step for me, and less fun, but in a really challenging, enriching sort of way. I had an interesting experience in high school, and decided to write about that year of my life in the form of a YA memoir. The jury is still out on whether or not you’ll see this, but even if you don’t, the experience was still hugely valuable.

If you need a quick way to learn how to write dynamic characters, just try writing a real person as a character. You instantaneously have a three dimensional picture of this “character” in your mind since, you know… this person actually exists in three dimensions. Writing real people is excellent training for writing complex, interesting fictional characters since you can remember the steps you took to get that real person down on the page and apply it to your fiction later.

Also, writing nonfiction really made me think about story structure and appreciate the freedom I have when writing fiction. Trying to cram real events into a strong story ARC is soooo much harder than when you can make those events up. After writing the memoir, the story ARC for my next work of fiction and the events that comprised it came together with surprising ease.

3) Writing for a different age

I’d already written adult and YA fiction, so when I got the opportunity (more on this soon) to write for the middle grade age-range, I was excited—this was something new! I couldn’t rely on the relationship dynamics I was used to in order to craft my older characters, which involved more adult themes (even in YA) and oftentimes some type of sexual tension, however subtle. I had to tap into my inner 10-year-old, and write a story based on friendship and family.

How one DOESN’T want to write MG…

But whether or not you’re writing for a 10-year-old audience or 50-year-old, those types of relationships are crucial. To go back to the basics, and build something in a new way, was a wonderful exercise in writing relationships of all types.

Now, I bid you–go write something new and wild! Something you never would write, normally. You might be surprised by the benefits.

adriannestricklandAdriAnne shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.
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