Thursday, 14 August 2014

Jumping Genres

Well, okay. Yes. Switching genres would be a more accurate title for this post, but you know me – can’t pass up an alliteration, even if it does imply tales of  skipping ropes and trampolines. But jumping, in the literary sense, is pretty much what I’ve done, without the safety of a cord and yelling ‘bungee’ like a mad thing.

Having finally finished writing the non-fiction book, in little over four months, you’d imagine that I would’ve been over-the-moon with happiness and a sense of achievement. Nope. I felt about as exuberant as a lead-lined pancake. Those seventeen weeks of intense, focused writing pretty much hijacked my mind. I know we had Christmas because there were a lot of brightly wrapped gifts under a cheerfully decorated tree and everyone was happy and hugging each other.

And I know that I cooked dinner sometimes, though how I didn’t chop up my fingers along with the carrots and potatoes is still something of a mystery. I know that I did put a plateful of chicken bones in the fridge and toss a perfectly good fruit salad into the garbage but only because my immensely patient hubby presented me with said chicken bones and asked if they should be served with ice-cream or custard. (Silly question. Both, of course.)

Once I’d hit the ‘send’ button and the manuscript, for better or worse, was in the hands of the publisher, I was left with…nothing. A great big gaping void. There was suddenly all this free time and didn’t have a clue what to do with it.

Oh, I did all the usual stuff, like clean up my badly neglected home and study, file away the gazillion or so books, papers and post-it notes and remove the fascinating etymological specimens that were flourishing amongst the piles of accumulated dust. But housework, as you know, is like stringing beads with no knot on the end. You can only do it for just so long before your brain putrefies into a mess of green jelly. I needed to get back to fiction writing, so I took to spending hours every day on AbsoluteWrite, hoping for some inspiration.

I must pause here, for a moment, to give accolades to all the writer-folk on that website. Not once, during my ‘end-of-book-blues’ did any one of them comment adversely on my numerous nonsensical, and sometimes downright vacuous, posts. It’s a testimony to the generosity of spirit in those forums. (Of course, they could all have had me on ‘ignore’ but let’s not spoil a good tribute with probabilities.) In fact, it was while reading an article via a link from an AW’er, that… drum roll please… a plot bunny miraculously appeared on my horizon.

A plot bunny, for my non-writer friends, is a story idea that simply refuses to go away until it is written. I haven’t had a good plot bunny in years – non-fiction doesn’t count and neither do those romance shorts I wrote for thingamajig magazine because I’ll never admit to them. (Well, not in public anyway.) So when this plot bunny arrived it was like opening the door to find Simon Baker standing there with rose between his teeth. Oh, yesssss. Get thee in here and proliferate.   

The story required that I do quite a bit of research, which was great (I love researching) but it soon became evident that things were heading in a rather dark and disturbing direction. Now, you know me, I’m into mysteries. I read them, I write them, I immerse myself in them and I totally love them. But this was rapidly turning out to be… Horror. Ack!. Vampires, zombies and all creepy things that go thump in the night just don’t excite me. But here I was, writing one - until a writer friend kindly pointed out that my story did not fit the horror genre. Indeed, he said, it was quite obviously science fiction. I was stunned.

When I think of science fiction, I tend of think of mother ships, lizard-skinned creatures, great big metal things stomping all over the place sucking up hapless humans or slimy, slithery organisms bursting out of someone’s gut. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sigourney Weaver but you’ll need a couple of very strong cranes and a plethora of sky-hooks to suspend my disbelief long enough to keep me awake through most of her Sci-fi movies. But science fiction, of course, is a vast genre with so many facets that are neither gory nor fantastical and my writer friend was right, (can an undead Chihuahua ever be wrong?) my story sure fit. So I let the plot bunny just do its thing and take me where it wanted me to go. And what a journey it’s been!

Writing has always been enjoyable for me, but never have I had as much pure, unadulterated fun as I’ve had with this story. No surprise it turned into a novelette. Where all the words and characters came from, I have no idea. I was a spectator watching the drama unfold, laughing at the main character’s odd mannerisms, appalled at the hideous potential of the dark side of science and wondering how on earth it was all going to end. What a blast!

This switching genres seems to have propelled my writing into a whole new dimension and opened up a universe of possibilities. My imagination is running wild. Regardless of whether or not this story ever sees the light of day in a publication, every moment spent writing it has been an education in not limiting my thinking, not sticking to the redundant advice of ‘write what you know about’ and most of all, not being afraid to simply take the plunge into something…uh, dare I say it…alien to me.

So, if you’re feeling stuck or a little bored with your writing, consider taking that literary leap and just letting your imagination go free-range. Simply close your eyes, hold your nose and jump… into a new genre. You may end up thrilled with what you discover.

And may the plot bunnies bounce along with you. 
photo credit: <a href="">Dean McCoy Photography</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


  1. I'm fairly certain that the Undead Chihuahua was wrong in--as I recall--1971. Possibly once or twice since then as well. But I think he was right about this one. It's clearly speculative fiction, and clearly dark, but dark does not always a horror story make. You could make it cross the line if you wanted to. The question is whether or not that would make it a better story. I'm not sure. Clearly that would depend on where you took it. I do so love it as it stands right now.

    Jumping into a new pool is always a bit scary, but I've found it's a great cure for writers' block. And because it forces you to think in new ways it improves your writing in your normal genre too.

    1. You're right! Still!
      And thank you for the kind words about that story. I'm now starting another one. :)