What's Your Story?

Where the magic (er, suffering) happens

As a fledgling writer, one of the things I continually wonder is in which genre I should be writing. I’m not sure how many other writers ask themselves this, but I’ve read in a number of places that its best to hone your craft to as close to perfection as you can in one genre first. Many new publishers and agents begin to think of you as “that” kind of writer, and if you throw something new at them early in your career their enthusiasm may wane or be non-existent, or they may simply not represent this new type of story and have no idea how to help you get it published or promoted. If you have a good relationship with your agent, and you’ve gone through the monumental effort of landing one that believes in you, it’s very daunting to have to think about starting that search again for someone new who will believe in this other type of work.

All that being said, I have a really hard time limiting myself. I enjoy coming up with people and situations that range from blood-and-guts military stories, to surrealist never-could-have-been mythologies, to gritty zombie and horror, to paranormal. I guess the one thing my stories all have in common is that they are only loosely based on plausible reality, which is just fine by me.

The benefit, I realize, is that I am a fledgling writer, and therefore free to write in anything and everything. I’m still so new at the craft that I have carte blanche to play fast and loose with all the genres I want. Goody for me.

One of the things I ponder when trying to decide on whether to solo genre or not to solo genre is what kind of stories do I most like to read? The theory being, if you love to read, you’ll love to write it, right? Problem is, my reading tastes are just as wide and varied, more so even, as my writing tastes. In the last year, I’ve probably read forty or fifty books (not nearly the number I wish I had, but there’s only so much time in a day), and when I think about the ones that have stuck with me the most, the really curious thing is that they are not necessarily the ones I enjoyed the most. Sometimes the story isn’t as compelling as the writing, or vice versa, and those separate, but necessarily integrated, elements stay with you long past the memory of what the story was about or who the characters were. The top five books I’ve read in the last year that still rattle around my head, regardless of how much I enjoyed the story, are: Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, Patrick Lee’s The Breach, and J.J. Connolly’s Layer Cake. What do all those books have in common? Uh, they’re all written in English? Otherwise, they’re as different as different can be. The point of this rambling paragraph is just to say, I think, that good writing will out no matter what the story is about, which maybe helps support the idea that sticking with one genre in both what you choose to read and what you choose to write is quite simply a bad, self-limiting, idea.

If the words and the story are there, use them, I say.

What do the rest of my writer buddies think?

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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2008-2013 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided proper attribution is given.

0 Replies to “What's Your Story?”

  1. So I wrote this book...

    Hey Susan, I completely agree with you. There are so many great stories out there, there's no reason to just write the ones that fit a mold you never built for yourself. Who knows, five or ten books from now, you may get a new bug and the historical fiction will step aside. How's the latest research endeavor going?

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  2. Susan S

    I completely agree that limiting yourself is a bad idea, especially before you're an "established name" in a genre – but even afterward. I once heard (and often quote) John Lescroart say "you have to write the book(s) that pick you" – and frankly, I'm not sure the books (and associated protagonists) get the memo that says you can only write one genre. I know some authors (including James Rollins, who is one of my all-time favorites) use pen names for their "off-genre" works once they get a branded name, and others (I'm thinking Grisham and "Skipping Christmas" – which I adored and the movie did NOT do it justice) just publish away and genre-be-hanged.I think if a book picks you, you write it, period. Don't sweat the small stuff – like genre. A good book is a good book, and you should put it down. After all, who knows which one will be "the" one, and I know I'd hate to waste the experience and improvement in skill that comes from any project, regardless of genre.(Incidentally – I have three fantasy and/or sci-fi manuscripts under my belt that will NEVER see the light of day, but I learned a ton from writing them before I moved on to historical fiction, which will probably be my "stopping point" because it didn't just pick me, it grabbed and held on. Write what you want to write. I guarantee it will be worth the time.)

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