Write what you know. I don’t disagree with that. What write you love. I don’t disagree with that, either. Like any profession, you have to take advantage of your strengths. And sure, there will be weaknesses, and part of being successful is learning how to manage those weaknesses, deal with them, and know yourself well enough to navigate any task or problem.
Writing is no different. If you excel at blood and gore but are illiterate in the language of love, then maybe trying to recreate Twilight isn’t for you (someone, please give me a better monster love series to reference…I’m not too versed in the subject, unfortunately). At the same time, having some love elements can spice up your stories and soften up your readers with a break from all the blood, so when you slaughter your next character they will be that much more frightened.
See where I’m going here? At some point, you’re going to have to face those subjects at which you just plain suck. It’s called stepping out of your comfort zone. You’re familiar with the phrase, I’m sure. Whether you’re willing to act on it, however, is a different story. You might have heard the ‘write what you know’ mantra and ran with it a long time ago and never looked back. Let’s modify the advice: write what you know, explore what you don’t.
I am a horror writer. At least, that’s what I think I am, but like a pre-medical student entering his or her first year of college, I can’t really be sure of what I am until I’ve experienced being different things, no? I learned that exact lesson as an undergraduate in my professional interests and am trying to recreate that very lecture for my writing today. In plain English: In addition to polishing my weaknesses, I have been dabbling in different genres to see if there is anything I like better or am more talented in. Fun, huh? As a matter of fact, it is.
Lately, I’ve written love stories, dramas, comedies, stories from animal perspectives, and science fiction. I’ve even tried my hand at poetry, though I don’t think I will do much with that besides incorporate it into a future story and give the credit to one of my characters. Varying my writing has shown me that I’ve been relying too heavily on descriptions and ‘shock-factor’ in my horror. By removing the ability to write for pages and pages about the most gruesome scenario I can think of, I looked to my characters to make the stories engaging. When I wrote the one story fully from the perspective of animals, I had to rely exclusively on setting, body language, and actions to convey emotions, motivations, and character development. Sure, I usually use these elements for these purposes, but relying them makes me even more attentive to their nuances and ultimate power. Science fiction allowed me to practice incorporating facts and research into my story without turning it into a snorefest.
Through all of these exercises, the core skills still applied to crafting a good story: character, plot, setting, grammar, theme, imagery, etc, etc. But creating a scary horror is completely different than making a compelling drama. In reality, a novel may have a specific genre, but if it’s a good one it will incorporate elements from others. You want to give your reader a variety of experiences, even if those variances are minute.
To make it clear, I am not suggesting that you start writing seriously in genres and subject matters that you have no experience in. If you’re a stockbroker, this post isn’t urging you to go out and write an epic about a firefighter. When starting out, you will get the best results from your writing by sticking to subjects you are confident about. However, stories are so varied and versatile that it would be a shame for you to limit yourself without even knowing what else you might have a taste for, and there are too many variables of the human condition to stay within the strict confines of a certain genre.
For the record, I am still a horror writer at the core, but I have discovered how much I enjoy certain elements of science fiction, particularly the research, knowledge use, and intellectual conversations I can have with myself through my characters. Now, let’s just see how I can use it to scare the socks off my readers. 😀