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A Writing Challenge for Genre—(April 2016)

April 8, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified April 8, 2016

A writing acquaintance recently mentioned that she was branching out, trying a new genre. I don’t think that she necessarily intends to permanently switch genres. I do think that she’s challenging herself, pushing herself into and through an experience unfamiliar to her.

I did the same thing a few (is it really eight?) years ago. I wanted to see what I could do with a genre I’d never tried before, so I wrote a romance. No, I didn’t do much with it (apart from entering it into a contest for the feedback). But I did finish the manuscript and I did tackle rewrites and edits with it.

Writing in an unfamiliar genre can bring a boost to your attitude and a bump to your skills. We can always learn from other genres, from other styles of writing.

If you’re in a writing rut that you want to climb out of, a new genre may be just the push that will get you up and out into fresh air. Of course, you may enjoy your rut and consider it not a rut but a comfortable spot that fits you perfectly. And that’s perfectly fine. If you’re productive and creative and have more than enough to do, you may not have the time to try a new genre. After all, writing in a new genre will require extra time plus extra research and study on top of what you typically undertake for a new project. But if you have the time and the desire, if you have the urge to tackle a new genre or a new form of writing, if it’s time to shake up your writing life, I challenge you to do it.


If you write sci-fi, try a contemporary mystery. If you write romance, try a coming of age story. If you write mystery, tackle historical fiction.

Explore the components of the genre you want to try. Read half a dozen popular books that exemplify the genre. Pull a couple of them apart to see what makes them suitable for the genre.

Visit websites devoted to the genre. Learn what makes this other genre different from the genre(s) you typically write in.

And then start planning your story.

You may want to create a detailed outline, at least one more detailed than usual if you’re typically a pantser. Give yourself a boost right from the start by figuring out your setup, at least some of it, ahead of time.

If you’re writing a murder mystery, gather a cast of characters and make certain that each could potentially be the murderer. Figure out how the murderer did it and how he got away. Determine how the sleuth, amateur or pro, figures out who did it. Have fun devising clues and red herrings.

If you’re going to take on a romance, figure out what the hero and heroine will love about the other, what each has that the lover is attracted to or needs. Come up with original sidekicks for each. Devise a problem that will force the couple apart and an even bigger issue/event that will draw them back together despite their differences. Imagine why the lovers are attracted to one another and not to others.

If you want to try a literary novel, come up with a character whose psyche is worth delving into, a character readers will follow into the depths. Develop a character who’s multifaceted, who can’t be fathomed in five minutes.

For any new genre, devise a fresh story world or look for ways to make a familiar world feel different, maybe alien.

See if there aren’t ways that you’ve never explored for making setting more vibrant or important. Take the time to explore setting in fiction, looking for setting elements (such as politics or global events or social issues) that you’ve never before used in a story.

Explore the particulars of dialogue for the new genre you’ve chosen: what makes dialogue in a mystery different from that in a romance, different from that in an urban fantasy? Search for ways to accentuate genre particulars through dialogue.

Practice writing scene snippets or full scenes with genre considerations in mind. Make yourself approach scenes and action differently, in ways that wouldn’t work in your typical genre but are necessary for the new genre.

Make yourself learn new sentence patterns and try out new word combinations.

Take yourself out of the familiar, put yourself into a situation alien to you—uncomfortable for you—and work your way through it.

Polish your known skills and lean on your natural gifts while at the same time searching yourself for abilities and affinities you didn’t know you possessed. Like one of your characters, push through the unfamiliar world, learning along the way. Recognize that a new experience requires not only new skills but a new outlook. Maybe a new understanding of the circumstances you’ve ventured into.

Your characters can do it, work their way through unfamiliar worlds, and so can you.

Push yourself. Discover those hidden talents and commit to developing the new skills you’ll need to be successful with a genre new to you. Explore—see what’s available to aid you. Discover which parts of this new world most appeal to you and which you may have no use for, at least not right away.

Stay with your challenge when it gets hard and then harder. You make your characters push through when everything and everyone is arrayed against them—do the same for yourself.

Treat an exploration of a different genre as an adventure, a thrilling period of time spent outside your familiar and comfortable world.

And once your adventure is finished, once you’ve explored and written a novel in that new genre, take what you’ve learned back home with you. Don’t forget what you discovered outside of your original world. Put those discoveries to work for you and the books you write in your usual genre.

Or if you decide you like the new world you’ve ventured into, explore it some more. Write another story or two or ten in this new genre. No one says that the hero has to go home at the end of every story, that he has to return to his former life. Sometimes he loves his new surroundings so much that he stays there, establishing a new home.

If you discover that you like the exploring and adventuring part, try out another genre. There are plenty worth exploring.

But what if a different genre holds no appeal? Well, how about a different form of writing? You don’t need to change genres to switch up your writing life—try writing a few short stories or novellas rather than novels. Or tackle essays. Or if you’re a short story writer, begin a novel.

Write poetry, nonfiction articles, persuasion pieces.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re working on, I challenge you to challenge yourself.

Take on a new genre, a new writing style, a new form. Try writing a different kind of protagonist, maybe someone whose beliefs are in opposition to your own. And work to make that character endearing.

Write a standout character, one who’s bold, courageous, and larger than life. Dare what you’ve never dared with your usual genre—writing a character who’s totally unique and unforgettable. You may discover that a new genre frees you to be daring, so daring that you create a character who says all those snarky quips that you wished you could say, who does all those wild deeds that you wish you could do.

Start fresh, casting off the restraints that have boxed you in with your usual genre. Be the bold writer you always imagined you’d be.

Shake up the status quo of your writing life. Climb out of the rut. Run toward the horizon and discover a new world.

Let your adventure lead to even more adventures for your characters and readers.


This one will take a while, so don’t expect to finish in a week. And if today isn’t a good day to begin, schedule your start date for a time in the future. And please don’t take this challenge as an imposition, a must-do task. It’s not my intention to burden you with one more responsibility but to free you with the possibility of an adventure that could change your life.

Why not give it a shot.

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Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Writing Challenge

2 Responses to “A Writing Challenge for Genre—(April 2016)”

  1. Good advice, Beth.
    I like to write a short piece now and then during a longer project. Gives my brain a break, gives me a lift to complete something, and hopefully racks up a few publication credits along the way.

    • The best of both worlds, Linda. That feeling of satisfaction when you complete a project is so necessary. I love that you purposely schedule shorter-term projects in the midst of long ones. Without that, you might go a long time without that feeling of satisfaction. Yes, we can get it from the completion of certain writing tasks or sections of text. But it’s not the same as the satisfaction we get from finishing a whole project. Great idea.

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