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Chained To Fantasy
Charles Dove
Posted: Monday, May 23, 2011 11:16 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 11

Not sure if this is the appropriate topic for this post, but I was just hoping to get feedback on writers being stuck in a genre. What I mean is, once you've written a Fantasy story, is the expectation that every story you write will be Fantasy? Do most authors feel tied to a particular genre? Has this been the case for any of you here on Book Country?

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:50 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18

While SF and Fantasy are my first love as a reader and writer, I have written in other genres. I think many authors prefer one genre over another, the ole write what you know and love what you write thingy...

The thing is, a writers audience will sort of dictate what the writer does best and since publishing is a business, the writer more often than not stays where their work sells the best...
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:12 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

Everything I've read on industry blogs and related places indicates that authors tend to and are often encouraged to stick to a genre. They might create a couple of different worlds to bounce back and forth between but their audience is there. I see many authors debating the use of pen names on their blogs and such. The most common argument in favor of such (next to writing steamy romance that you don't want your friends and family to know about) is the whole writing in multiple genres thing.

Right now, being un-agented, I'm exploring. I tried my hand at steampunk and at romance. The romance drove me nuts in many ways because that was the only plot, getting those two people together. The steampunk fizzled for plot issues as well.

Fantasy is where my imagination can really let loose and have free reign. (Heck it seems that's the only thing people can latch on to when they read my contemporary fantasy, that they love my imagination but little else is said about the book's plot or characters.)

That's why I think I'll be sticking to fantasy for a good long while.
Alex Hollingshead
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 4:32 AM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 61

If you're published, then it can be hard to branch out. Particularly since there's no guarantee you can use your old agent, publisher, etc. You have a bit of leeway in fantasy to write, say, science fiction and horror, I think. Most people who read one also read the other two. And most publishers are SFF and not exclusively one or the other. But if you wanted to write a historical political drama, it might be harder. But you certainly could. Pick an agent who covers all the genres you're interested in, maybe come up with some unifying feature of all of your works, or - hell - just come up with a pen name.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:14 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I have a hard enough time staying chained to one genre within a single work. I don't think I could stay within a single genre for an entire career.
Rachel Russell
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:43 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 27

I've pretty much heard the same of what's already been said. Especially for why pen names are sometimes used. I can definitely see it being an issue if you're published, and have a planned serial. You're bound to get readers who have entitlement issues and get angry if they even suspect you aren't writing the sequel they want (http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html), and so using a pen name starts to look like a shiny idea to avoid any of that.
AJR Sottil
Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 12:28 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 9

I am with Mr. Roman.. I have written contemporary fiction and fantasy. I haven't published anything, obviously, but I am interested in many fields.

As to established authors, a lot use pen names. As an example, Darren Shan. He wrote fantasy/horror and also adult books.
I understand why this happens... if you see the name Tom Clancy, what comes to mind? Definetely not historical thriller. You buy one of his expecting a certain flavour and theme to it; I'd get dissapointed if it was something else entirely.
Jack Whitsel
Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2011 3:27 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 35

I'll admit it. I'm an indentured servant to FANTASY. Basically, I'm a slave to the genre until I've adequately sate my appetite. When will that be??? Probably never, but my writing hand has strayed momentarily on occasion. Of course...the walk isn't that far: High/epic fantasy to Urban fantasy. Not that great of a leap...but a jaunt nonetheless.
Posted: Saturday, June 4, 2011 4:20 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 46

There are a few different issues being raised in this thread.

One of the reasons I'm sticking to a few genres (related in how I perceive them) is that getting better at writing takes practice. Becoming a better novelist requires writing several, or many, or eleventy billion novels.

Fantasy requires additional skills, such as worldbuilding. Flitting between genres might make you a better writer in terms of creating deep characters or snappy dialogue. But I don't believe it will aid you in creating interesting, unique, tense and consistent systems of magic, for instance.

In terms of sticking to a genre or two as a writer, there are very practical reasons for that. Consider how long it takes you to write, edit and polish a book. If you're under contract for a series, you might be writing two a year. On deadline. While marketing yourself and attempting to build a following. Will you have enough time, energy and creativity to simultaneously write for and market yourself to separate audiences?
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 4:30 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I've had this issue come up in a creative writing class my last semester in college. One girl who always wrote urban fantasy wanted to know how I flip flopped between fantasy, SF, and contemporary fiction. My only answer what that I just do. I use my contemporary fiction to practice character development since I usually only write short fiction in that format. Its where I play with perspective and thought processes. Sometimes its point of view and format. Since there is no world building involved, there is a kind of purity I get to play with when it comes to character.

My fantasy and SF is where I get to add in all the other elements of world building. In essence, I get to be super creative. The problem I have with fantasy, and some SF, is that I'm drawn to character driven stories. This often reflects in my writing, and is often the one thing that people complain about. I'm influenced by modernism, which often doesn't have a definitive plot. I prefer to write fantasy, but I need to work on plot introduction. Currently I haven't written any contemporary fiction and hope to continue writing fantasy/SF.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:06 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@Leanna - you might try plotting out what's going on in the wider world beyond your characters. Essentially, make the plot something that pulls your characters into it, rather than something that they have to drive. When I'm writing, it's largely character driven, but when I'm planning, it's all plot. That does sometimes mean the characters (and by extension the readers) get blindsided, but that adds to the versimilitude.

I still say I have to write the story I have to tell. If I try to tell a story that's not there, it doesn't come out right.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 4:46 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@Robert - No, I have a plot. The entire thing is planned out. My problem is introducing it early enough, or enough to keep people interested without giving it away. I know exactly how its going to end and how I'm going to get there. I even have the wider world planned out and the politics, and blah, blah, blah. I thought I was doing fine, but most people complain that I don't introduce my plot early enough. Due to that complaint, I guess I need to fix that then, don't I?

Oh yes, I want to know why people always manage to spell my name wrong when its right in front of them. It is a thing that has baffled me my whole life.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:22 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

D'oh! Sorry LeeAnna. I'm going with my stock excuse and blaming it on Deanna. In this case, I can even come up with the plausible reason and say she's got a real similar name and my fingers took over after the 'L'.

You might try introducing some action earlier. It doesn't even need to be related to the plot, except in the most peripheral way. I did that in Crowbar Girl, by (in the original draft) trapping Lane under her truck, and with BlueBloods, by making Drew have a fight with her bathroom.

Unless it's intimately related to the story, you can't have the action be 'just a dream', but it keeps the reader interested until the plot is ready to start. Alternately, change the starting point of your novel. Seriously, sometimes you need to do that. I've *thought* about that with Crowbar Girl, but moving it closer to the end doesn't give time for the girls to start out innocent, and moving it further back in time is exactly the opposite of what I was looking for.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:34 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@Robert: Its okay. Even the government spells my name wrong. Go figure...

As for action, I have that early in the story. Its plot that everyone complains about. I never really had that complaint until recently. Although, no one really reads past the first 3 chapters due to "time." I've only had one person tell me they weren't really that interested.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 11:41 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

Hoo yeah. I've hit that. My most pleasant compliments received have been those where a reader contacted me brimming with vitriol over lost sleep. I mean, on the one hand they're mad, on the other hand they don't want the time back, they're just angry with me for keeping them awake and reading.

Sadly, one of those was for a book that, in the reader's estimateion was "only half done''. That's the sequel to XLI, which I'm sad to say is only about 30% done at 100KWords. And that's in reader opinions...

Wish I was better with shorts.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 1:32 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Hi gang!

Charles, sorry I didn't see this thread earlier. It's a great question.

Yes, agents will tell you to stick to a genre that they know they can sell...HOWEVER...there are plenty of tricks that those of us in the book biz have used to help authors get around that limitation.

For a debut author, it may indeed be smart to stick to one subgenre for a few books, enough so that you build up an audience. But once you've built a good sales track record - ie, your books are earning out regularly and you're earning royalty checks on a regular basis - you should feel more comfortable trying to sell work in other subgenres.

A lot of writers write successfully in two or more genres: urban fantasy and young adult; crime fiction and young adult; romance and erotica; young adult and erotica. You should consider writing under two names, particularly if the two genres you write in are very different (YA and erotica, for example). Another trick publishers employ is to slightly tweak the name of the author if the genres aren't very different (for example, bestselling Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Banks also writes general fiction under the name Iain Banks).

And every once in a while, you get a writer who is talented enough to write successfully in any genre, knowing his or her readers will follow. A good example of this is British writer China Mieville who has written a contemporary fantasy set in London, three linked fantasy novels set in the fictional world of Bas Lag, a collection of short stories, a middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, a comedic fantasy novel set in London, a crime novel set in a fictional Balkans city, and his most recent, Embassytown, which is a straight up science fiction first contact novel.

Don't let the industry dictate what you want to write. Don't write to a trend. As a good friend of mine, agent Jenn Laughran is wont to say, there is always a market for awesome. =)


LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 4:55 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@Robert: Never had anyone complain about loosing sleep. They usually just give up. I guess my stuff isn't that interesting. The one that said he wasn't interested told me that my work wasn't ready to be read. I thought one of the the points of this sight was to garner feedback so that works can be improved? I've also had people completely miss the plot, or a character development point, and accuse me of historical accuracy issues when there is an explanation for why it wasn't that way. (Yet, since it is a fantasy world, why does it have to be entirely accurate on the historical scale?) To be honest, there are moments where writing contemporary is easier than writing fantasy. (Although, I haven't had many people read my contemporary, so I wouldn't know what could be said about it.)

@Colleen: You have a point. I've seen the various names thing referred to often. Its a good idea if you want your various audiences to be able to distinguish between your works. Of course, you also have a point when you say that you shouldn't really do anything like that until you're established in a certain genre/sub-genre.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2011 5:11 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@Leanna - I've had folks stop reading as well. It really, really hurts when they do that, or if they 'can't find the time', especially if they go on forever about the other books they're reading.

I actually had one reader miss several plot and character development points because they were woven into another conversation, and the reader didn't like the general topic if that conversation (military hardware) so they *skipped the entire chapter*. I only found that out when they told me the plot points were missing, and I asked them 'what about the chapter where...'

Yeah, that can be tough. What's worse, I know I'm the World's Worst Beta Reader (TM). When I'm at a computer screen, I'm writing something. When I'm *not* at a computer screen, I can't read most beta stuff. I do *try* to do it though,and I get more done in the summer when I have time off.

There is one type of 'grain of salt' I keep in stock in truckloads. When someone tells me my fictional item isn't exactly like a real world item they're familiar with, it's grain of salt time. However, you need to be *very* careful with that. When my friend who is *very* into real world firearms gives me an explanation of the pros and cons of bullpup configuration and carbines, I *listen* to him. Even if the bullpup carbine my MC is using isn't a 'real world' gun, almost everything he said still applies.

With that in mind, while an alternate fantasy world doesn't have to be entirely accurate, it does have to have some thought given to where things are inaccurate. For instance, if there are no guns, there aren't likely to be effective citizen armies, unless there are equally simple-to-use weapons that with a small amount of training can make any adult deadly dangerous to an experienced professional soldier. Without that aspect of guns, democracy as we know it won't exist.

Now, if you're writing a short? MST3K that sucker. but if you're writing something longer, with series potential, you need to have your world properly built, or the foundation won't support the structure. Then Mike Holmes is going to come in and make fun of you in a terribly polite yet caustic Canadian fashion.

OK, it's 100 degrees in my classroom, and they're sending us home due to the heat. Talk with y'all later.
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 3:25 PM
Joined: 3/31/2011
Posts: 11

@Colleen Lindsay
"there is always a market for awesome. =)"

I'm so stealing that!

I write in a couple of subgenres and haven't really run into any problems with it. That said I'll be using a slightly different version of my name for my YA contemporary fantasy to differential from the others, especially the paranormal romance.

But the main thing I think is to tell the stories that speaks most clearly to you. That's most likely to be the strongest story. Worry about the genre, marketing and lables afterwards.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 4:52 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@Robert: Oh yes, I know that there has to be a certain level of believability. Gunpowder formed a lot of the world as we, here on boring Earth, know it. I have no citizen armies, and no colonies outside of the continent that the story is about. Yes, there is exploration due to the fact that the ships are more advanced, but even then they cannot effectively settle and protect themselves. I have to understand these things in order to play with the way that technology shapes a society. Its one of my themes. I used to sit with my brother and talk about guns for hours since he's a little bit of a gun freak. He's also going to school to be a mechanic, so I talk to him about how engines work as well. I take any information that I can get from people who know more about it that I do. I am currently consulting my husband on an SF I'm about to work on that involves the modern military, and he's military.

As for people scanning, I fear many do that. They often point out parts where they're confused about something, or that I'm missing something. It is painful when that happens. What hurts the most is when they get hung up on one inaccuracy or action and ignore the rest of what they read. Then they write a critique on that one thing while ignoring everything else. Oh, sigh. It is a sad day sometimes.

I would like to hear what you have to say about my writings.

Oh yes, I fear you spelling my name wrong has become a reflex.
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 5:06 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

What a stellar question.

I write about what I love to write about -- not necessarily what I *know* about (a flaw perhaps), but I don't constrain myself to one genre.

That said, I write better in certain genres, and there is a keen pleasure in writing something well. Because of that, I tend to gravitate towards that specific genre.

Writing in other genres is an -excellent- way to improve skills as a writer. It forced me to think outside of my little box. This results, for me, in characters with more depth and variety. I can turn the concepts and tricks of one genre into strengths of another.

That said, starting out, I will only work with one major genre. In my case, Fantasy. If I spread out professionally... we will see what happens then! For now, I want to succeed at all. To me, that means focus on one type until I get there, just as Colleen mentioned earlier.

Just my two cents
Charles Dove
Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 10:34 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 11

Wow! These are excellent responses! Thank you for giving me some real food for thought. I've been checking out some authors and ways they've either stayed true to a genre or found crossover success. I would imagine that there are occasions when a story is simply bubbling over in an author and they have to get it out in a genre-be-damned kind of way. And like Colleen said, there's always a market for awesome. Which I suppose is the real issue, regardless of what genre it happens to fall into.
Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2011 7:06 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


So, to add to this thread a little - is there any credence to changing genres because one is more marketable than another?

I'm not doing that "per say" but the first two manuscripts I've written (the second one being Perchance to Dream... the first one will never see the light of day) are hard to pin point into a genre.. I'd say contemporary romance... but I've always been a huge Fantasy fan. So now I'm trying my hand at Fantasy (Silver Darkness... planning on working on it for the 1week1novel challenge!) and a small part of me is thinking that it'll be more marketable than my previous manuscripts.

Does marketing your manuscript have any effect on the genre you choose?
Posted: Monday, June 20, 2011 11:45 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

You can drive yourself batty trying to figure out what's marketable and trending in this industry. By the time you finish that story you're not so enthusiastic about but wrote because it was "marketable" that genre may be on the way out of fashion, so to speak.

That said, if you've got a couple manuscripts that are query-ready and when it comes to actually querying, pick the one that is more likely to attract an agent, which means the more marketable project, because from there your agent can try to sell other projects when their genres/stories/tones become more hip.
Bill Gleason
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 10:27 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 18

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there's a difference between what you write and what you can sell. So to answer your specific question, no, as a writer you shouldn't feel "chained" to any genre. And if the time should come that your name becomes so associated with a particular genre that you feel confined, well, that's a good problem to have, I think.

If your goal is to sell your writing, my advice is to focus your efforts on a particular genre, and not necessarily the genre as you would like it to be, but rather as it is, as defined by what's selling. If you happen to get an itch to write in iambic pentameter every now and again, I certainly wouldn't stifle the urge, but neither would I expect it to sell (or fetch much if it did).
Kevin Rhames
Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2011 7:46 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 1

Writing is a form art and like all good art it flows from a passion. You don't choose who you love and you certainly can't choose what you write passionately about. Not to say you can't experiment with writing but if you go into with the industry mentality your marrying for money.
Don't worry about genres or whether your stuck on something. Write for yourself and people with see genuineness of your work.
Tim Johnson
Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011 6:48 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 15

Well, for my 2cents I know I have a lot of trouble thinking outside of my 'genre' so to speak. Once an idea hits me, I tend to naturally flow into the SF/F mindset. Occasionally I throw in some horror depending on the story, but it's just how my mind works!

I think any professional should be able to write almost any genre, but going 'with the flow' will show up in your writing (imo). Write what moves you, and you'll never go wrong.
Skytale Writer
Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 2:38 PM
Joined: 7/10/2011
Posts: 7

Chained to fantasy, no. I think of each link as a different genre, and if there's one I think I "can't" write in, I give it a try. HL
Ava DiGioia
Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 10:13 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 39

I think it's really personal preference. Some authors write in more than one genre but use different names for each genre.

Writing as our form of personal expression is an art, our masterpieces. But the desire to express ourselves in the forms we wish has to be balanced against how "marketable" the work is. Even though we don't like to face it, the goal of the publishing industry is to sell books.

If an author proves to be a money-maker in a particular genre, his/her publisher will want the person to continue to make money for them, i.e. continue to write the same sort of books.

I write all types of stories, but the setting I envision for it always has fantasy and/or sci-fi elements, so that is what chains me to those genres.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Saturday, July 16, 2011 6:43 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

@LeeAnna (See! See! I can get it right!)

Anyhow, I'll put you on The List, but remember the World's Worst Beta Reader caveat. The List is currently getting longer, and I won't have concentrated time to pare it down until August. Urgh.

@Lisa - what @Steph said is pretty solid. I'll add to it by saying that if you've got two ore more stories in your head, and one is in an area that's trending, write that sucker first. If you've got it, flaunt it, as it were. Otherwise? I don't know, maybe trends will make you successful, I'm not sure.

OK, according to a successful author friend of mine, trends have rocked her writing world. She has sold multiple subgenres, and *one* of them outsells the others by orders of magnitude, and has for years now. I'm presently working two *really* flaky takes on that same subgenre. We'll see if The Magic works. If so, I'll share gladly. But I'm not gonna give advice until I test it first.

Yeah, that's my story, and it's sticky
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, July 16, 2011 5:42 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@Robert: That's perfectly okay. I'm currently rewriting the first chapter, have rewritten the prologue, and am working on a couple of other projects. One a short story, the other more of a novella staring Adamar, again. So yeah, it is a bit busy for both of us right now. I might start reading some of your stuff. Crowbar Girl sounds like a lot of fun and it has my interest piqued. I have to admit that this anthology of dystopian stories published by Night Shade Books called Brave New Worlds has absorbed a ton of my time. I love anthologies because they show many different styles of writing. I read to study technique, so its been good for me. Its giving me my creative spark back. I can hardly think without coming up with an idea. I've got material for 4 stories and my novel. I'm so excited. The only thing is that 2 of them are fantasy, and the other 2 are science fiction. So yeah, I can't seem to stay chained to fantasy.

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