Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Attack of the Genre Fiction...

So I'm taking a creative writing class this semester at college. I've always wanted to take one and it fulfills one of my needed credits, so I'm happy as a clam right now.

My first class was the typical "run-down of the syllabus/icebreaker session" that all first classes are, and my professor said that we wouldn't be getting to genre fiction until the end and until then we would be focused just on the craft of writing. This got me thinking about genre fiction in general.

I would say that I have typically written within in a particular genre. I tend to put my writing under the labels of "fantasy" or "sci-fi", with some "action/adventure" perhaps thrown in. However, I wouldn't necessarily say that I am a "genre writer".

I like genres. They give me an idea of what I am in for in a novel/story. It's the reason "general/other" fiction daunts me so much, because there is so much that could encompass. I've done some forays into that idea of "general" fiction, but I'll admit to clinging a bit to the comfort of genres.

However, when I write, I tend to use the genre more as a framing device than as a definition of my story. It's part of the reason my NaNo novel of '08 is tentatively classified as "fantasy", with more emphasis on "action/adventure" or something. I mean, it has no fantastical elements beyond being set in a world entirely of my own creation. I wouldn't say it follows a typical "fantasy" storyline at all, being more about the trials and tribulations of two characters in a rather fantastical setting.

There are probably certainly exceptions to everything I am saying, but it seems like many genres tend to follow a particular formula. If you read any "how-to" book on a particular genre, there will be certain things that they tell you to do that "define" the genre. They work a certain way. Sure, you can play with them a bit, but ultimately, they don't get stretched all that far. It's why something that really shakes things up is so recognized and hailed as revolutionary. Thing is, that becomes the norm and then we are back to a status quo within genres.

I have trouble with genres in my own writing for this reason. I mean, sure, I once wrote a "typical" fantasy story when I was younger (complete with "girl going to magic world", "mysterious swordsman" and "artifact of doom"), but nowadays, I (hopefully) deal more with characters than plots. I wanna write stories that might fall within a particular genre, but sort of blur lines with "real life" stories in how I handle my characters. I want them to have to deal with the little things too, as much as they have to deal with saving the world/stopping the big bad/finding true love. I want genuine character interaction beyond "I am your father/I'm in love with you/You betrayed me". I like using a genre as just sort of a playground, to put a reader on familiar ground, then to get into more meaningful interaction that just escapism.

Now, I'm definitely not original in this idea and I've read some great fiction that reads like this (trying to remember the title, but the one that immediately jumps to mind was a mystery novel that was more of a story about a character with brain cancer and how his life was affected... the mystery just happened to happen in the middle of it).

I'm probably being super-general and unfair to a lot of fabulous novels. I do actually enjoy the conventions of genre writing sometimes. I'm just trying to figure out my own style and how I can try to break conventions a bit.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A problem...

I think I found one of the reasons I'm having such trouble with my current project.

I've lost focus of a central conflict.

The story was originally a deconstruction of the idea of the supernatural boyfriend and how that sort of situation could very easily go wrong. It was all about a girl and dealing with an abusive relationship that is still abusive for all of its "speshulness". It was about overcoming fear and distrust and learning to move on with your life.

Problem was, I realized just how stupid my main character was and I tried to rectify that by adding another character to the mix rather than just accept that a particular relationship was the thing going wrong and maybe that I didn't need that relationship.

The thing with my story now is that I don't have a central conflict. With Laura as the main character, sure that one relationship with Clark didn't work out, but at least I had a conflict. I just needed to think of another way to resolve it. With Melody, Laura is still a player with her relationship with Gabriel and that conflict is there, but it becomes secondary. And so I've lost a central theme, because Melody has no conflict. She's there to help Laura solve her problem and to be there for Clark. Suddenly, the story has no point of interest and that's why I'm having trouble with it. There's no conflict. I lost it somewhere along the line.

So I have a few options:

a) Go back to my original idea, cut what wasn't working and expand what was. Originally, this thing was supposed to be a short story and I think it might just have to turn back into one or perhaps some sort of novella. I don't really see it in its original form as a novel.

b) Figure out some sort of conflict that would make Melody's story fit into Laura's somehow. The problem with this is that I'm losing Laura's story, which was the original story I wanted to tell.

All in all, I think this is something I'm going to shelve for a little while so I can ponder it and not feel freaked out that I'm not working on it. I might figure something out, I might not. I'm just going to let it sit for right now. I like the characters and I want to do something with them, so if they end up repurposed somewhere else, so be it.

I'm not going to let it get to me anymore.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Deadlines vs Outlines...

I realized something about myself today: I don't work on a schedule, I work to a deadline.

It explains so much about myself. It explains why I can blow away NaNo with a half-decent novel draft, but can take weeks and weeks on a simple short story. I don't typically give myself deadlines when I'm writing and that's part of the reason they can take so long to get done. Other things interfere and they take higher priority and so I don't write. During NaNo, NaNo is my highest priority and so it gets done.

Even in my day-to-day life, I work for deadlines rather than schedules. I don't think "Okay, today I get up at eight, eat breakfast, do this for an hour, blah blah blah" etc. I think "Okay, I have this many hours left in the day to do this amount of things. Go." I end up prioritizing and thus get my work done that way. I can't do the "do this thing first for this amount of time" because I never actually hit that goal.

It's kind of like my writing and how I don't outline. If I outline, I drive myself crazy because the finished product is nothing like the outline. Not ever, because if I manage to stick to the outline, the product feels blah because I shoehorned it in and thus it loses its vitality. Whereas if I give myself a vague direction ("These are some things I want to happen and maybe have it end this way") I am free to do whatever and I end up with a better product. It may take editing to make it the best it can be, but at least it still feels alive.

This is a big deal for me. It helps explain so, so much in my life.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


I go through phases in writing. Sometimes I prefer to type, punching out stories rapid-fire in a series of taps. Other times, I like the feeling of a pen in my hand, the way the paper indents a little as the words go down. Sometimes the pen is best, ink soaking into the fibers and showing up stark black against the white of the paper. Other times it's blue ink, or soft-leaded pencil on yellow legal tablets, or marker on unlined sheets, or any combination of the above. I'll stick with this method for a while, it being the only way I feel productive.

Right now, I'm in a handwriting mood. No particular preference of instrument, but the idea of typing hasn't been too appealing lately. It just feels cold and detached. Other times, handwriting just won't be fast enough and typing is the only way to keep up with myself. For right now, I'm enjoying the ruffling of blank paper, the little scratching of a pen or pencil and the way I can run a finger over my finished work immediately.