Note: Amanda Headlee is on deadline for submission. She’ll return soon.
One reason I love my writers group is that we challenge each other. Not long ago, Amanda Headlee challenged several of us to embrace her genre of literary horror. Now, Amanda isn’t a King or Koontz kind of horror writer. Think Poe or Lovecraft…suggestive, hinting, and all the more frightening because it plays to the reader’s imagination. Wanting more advice, I went to Michelle and asked her how she creates a complicated not-necessarily-good character. Her response was simple: “If the character wants to commit murder, you let them.”
So we set the timer and I typed for 33 minutes. Not my genre, not my kind of scene, not anything I would set out to write. It is a complete short story of 1150 words. When I was done and read over it, I was surprised at some of the images my hands added without my conscious input.
It was a good lesson. The piece is decent, I realized it didn’t bother me at all to write from a serial killer’s perspective as I expected it might, and I learned a bit about layering information so the reader comes to knowledge at the right time in the story. Something else I re-learned is that the suggestion of a gruesome act can get more response than a detailed description.
And it got me thinking. I haven’t written romance in at least a decade, though I know an element of romance is good for any story. I plan to try my hand at it very soon – not for publication, but to learn which elements make for strong romance, intimacy, and sensual tension. Those are skills I can use in my own stories, alongside the elements that make for good suspense and horror. Mystery, humor, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, these things I know, but writing a short story strictly in one genre will certainly hone and reinforce the skills I have gained. I’m interested in trying steampunk because I like the challenge of making mechanical elements part of a character or a character in themselves. It sounds fun.
So here’s my challenge to you: Write for at least thirty minutes in a genre you’ve never tried. Don’t judge yourself, but work at getting it right the best you can. Analyze the elements of that genre and revise your piece.
What do you think? How did you do? What did you learn? Is it something you’ll try again in the future or are you already doing this?