The Dance of the Story

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It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you write creatively.

Sure, there is the normal stuff — like finding your passion, what drives you as a person, or even the various small pet peeves you have.  What I’m talking about though is the really interesting things that no one really talks about anymore.  Not the “why” of what you do, but rather the nuts and bolts, explaining exactly “how”.

For me, that’s where things get interesting.  As a writer, or an artist, how do you come up with your creations?  Are they inspired by a muse hidden somewhere in the clouds, playing a magical lute?  Or is your inspiration a little more grimy, a little closer to home — such as a resilient sewer rat that you saw race towards the next grate on the sidewalk?  And once you have your spark of inspiration, how do you go about actually creating the masterpiece?  Is it torn violently from your mind in a torrent of activity, or is it more of a slow, plodding process?

I have discovered that often my inspiration is the reality around me, and the creation process is not a quick one.  But there is also something that I recently discovered about my process — something that I think that some of my fellow writers and even publishers might be a little confused about. I dare say many would think I’m off my rocker, so to speak.

So here goes…

I don’t give a flying horse’s rear end about genre when I’m writing.

The Dance of the StoryDon’t get me wrong — a book’s or story’s genre is important– for marketing and classification purposes if nothing else.  But during the creative process, I find the idea of the story being put into a category is, well frankly counter-productive.  For me, it’s kind of like putting a straight-jacket on a person and ordering them to dance.  Sure, you can get some pretty nifty footwork, but without the torso and arms, the effect isn’t quite the same.

Why do I say this? Well there are a few reasons:

  • By deciding at the beginning what “type” or genre of story is going to be creative, you automatically limit the ways that your story can grow and change.  You essentially start to lose the organic nature of writing.  For most genres, there is an accepted word count range, a basic plot line structure, and for some genres, there is even an accepted — or dare I say mandatory– character archetype.  All that sounds pretty limiting, and frankly a little too nerve-wracking.
  • The genres are arbitrary, in a sense.  If you think about it, there isn’t a separation between romance, mystery, horror or science in real life.  There are elements of each in our everyday world.  So why should the fiction we read be divided up in such a way?  The story becomes much more relatable, more real in a sense when there is a subtle complexity that mirrors or slightly changes my perspective.
  • Writing for a specific genre can potentially limit your audience.  If a reader is a fan of a particular genre – let’s say paranormal romance, and that’s what you write in, chances are you’ll gain that reader, provided that the story is well written, and they can get their hands on it.  But what about those readers who loathe reading about strapping young werewolves in heat?  Unless they have a friend who highly recommends your book, or they’re a glutton for punishment, chances are they won’t give any of your books a first or second look.  For some writers, that’s an acceptable part of writing.  Is it for you?
  • It can get in the way of a good story.  We all know a good story when we hear it, or read it right?  So what makes it good?  Relatable characters?  A complex plot?  A theme that speaks to the reader’s heart?  Or perhaps a setting that comes alive on every page?  Chances are the answer is “yes” to any or all of these.  A well-written story has characters that breathe life into the page, a plot line that keeps the reader engaged, a setting that feels like it was pulled from reality, and often a theme that a reader thinking about it long after the book closes.  So how does choosing a genre at the beginning of the creative process limit the story?  Simple — when a writer chooses a genre from the get-go, they start to subconsciously limit and possibly eliminate details that might help the story become more vibrant.  For example, let’s say that I’m writing a horror story in which two main characters have to win Earth’s freedom from an alien overlord by routing the aliens in a five-day Scrabble tournament.  Now if I wrote this as straight up horror, with no other “genres” mixed in, I might not show the depth of the characters relationships, their hopes, fears, and humor in quite the same way.  The “color” of the story might be a bit washed out, so to speak.
  • Genres are becoming somewhat meaningless.  With the number of cross-genre stories and books available — mystery/romance, horror/science-fiction, etc, in the market today,  genres are quickly changing and re-creating themselves based on what the readers and public demand.  If they’re so mutable, do they really have that much meaning behind them?

These musings, of course, are only my opinion.  I could be wrong or your opinion may differ from mine. (Gods I hope so– life would be pretty boring if everyone agreed with me!)  But these observations and opinions do raise an interesting question:

How should a writer approach the idea of genres in writing?

Well, honestly there are three options.  First, write with a genre in mind, and be willing to accept the limitations that doing so entails.  The second is to completely ignore the idea of categories and simply let the story develop as it does.  The third option, of course, is a hybrid of the two.  Start by telling the best story you can, and then see where it fits when it is completed.

Which will you choose?  What type of dance will your story perform?


© 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.

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