Writing Outside Your Genre

I’ve been enjoying Larry Wilmore’s new show, particularly his segment “Keep it 100” as in keep it 100% real. In the segment he asks a tough question and depending on your answer you either get a Keep it 100 sticker or some weak tea. So here’s my question to the writers out there:

“If you could become a successful writer but to do it you’d have to write books in a genre you don’t like. Say you like writing mysteries but hate romance novels. You can be a successful romance novelist, and people will even read any mysteries you write, but only because they like your romance novels. Would you do it?”

If I said “no” I’d be more deserving of the weak tea than the sticker.

The truth is, I’m always looking for new projects to try, even in subjects that are not my usual cup of tea. I pick out romance specifically because it has historically been one of the most successful genres in terms of sales, and is constantly in need of a new stream of talent. I think I could write a decent romance book if I wanted to, though to do it well I’d have to first really familiarize myself with the genre, learn the conventions and the ways people break them, and find out what people want. And that would involve reading a lot of books that frankly aren’t really my taste.

Then again, maybe I’m making an assumption.

I’ll tell you two others that are real turn offs to me: the “period drama” and the “coming of age story”. If I see these phrases in a book description I usually won’t even crack it open, and it’s definitely not the kind of stuff I want to write. It’s not that I don’t like stories about growing up. The particularly wacky and weird Moone Boy series on Hulu could maybe be classified as a coming of age story, but I find it hilarious. And it’s not like I hate every story set during the 40s or the 20s or even the 19th century, I just don’t particularly have a romantic notion about those times.

I don’t think you should write a genre you don’t like if you don’t want to, but I also have the suspicion that there are some things we write off which still have gems. Not every experiment has to be a book. You might try your hand at a romantic short story (maybe something over dinner). You could riff off a particular childhood memory and think about how it formed you into the person you are today. And you could pick a time period that appeals to you and just write a story about how people act in that time.

You look at a guy like Asimov. He never limited himself to a particular subject manner. True, he’s not the guy I’d want writing my romances, but there were a lot of books he wrote that most people wouldn’t have suspected him capable of.

So I might take the bargain some day of trying other genre’s that might get my foot in the door, where others haven’t been working. You just might not know it was me. In case it ever happens here are some pen names for my future days as a romance novelist and other genres:

Fantasy – B. R. R. Trube

Romance – Bennie Roberts

Science Fiction – Benjamin R. Trube

Non-Fiction – Ben Trube

Mystery – B. Robert Trube

Coming of Age – Bob Eburt

Genre Piece – Bennington Wilberforce Cuningham Smythe-Jones Trube

Literary Fiction – Benja Truby

Horror – B. R. Trube

What’s the genre you think you’ll never write? Got any story ideas in that genre?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Writing Outside Your Genre

  1. I’d be willing to try writing romance, sure. It could be a fun experiment. But having to write mainly romance to be a successful writer? Nah…I just can’t see myself enjoying it long-term (unless I were allowed to really push the genre boundaries) and I think my own lack of enthusiasm would show in the work.

    By the way, Dune and Star Wars are both coming-of-age stories. I think it’s just a particular *kind* of coming-of-age story (bildungsroman) that you don’t like.

    Also I’m calling you Bennington Wilberforce Cuningham Smythe-Jones Trube exclusively from now on.

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