We write what we know, and we write what we love, but what if you love something you haven’t discovered yet? Writing outside your comfort genre may seem like an unpleasant high school English class assignment on the surface, but pushing past genre lines is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
As wonderful as genre can be, a lot of authors writing about similar themes in similar settings with similar characters can grow repetitive. While there is nothing wrong with whole-heartedly embracing your favorite genre’s core elements, your unique angle may come from elsewhere.
Actual history is a treasure trove of madness. It suits thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, and the steamiest of bodice-rippers. The non-fiction section is a gold mine, and pushing yourself to compose exciting non-fiction work simultaneously boosts your skill and gives you fodder for plot bunnies down the road.
Literary fiction often does the best job deep-diving into motivation and psyche. If you want a weird, new villain or a different kind of incentive driving your characters, this corner of the written world has lots to offer.
Just stepping away from the unicorns if you write fantasy (or the space ships if you write sci-fi) grants new ideas. Staying in one genre is like clustering around a table shared by people with most of the same interests, views, and experiences. While someone can always bring something new to the table, you’ll find a lot of different ideas if you exchange seats with someone at the bar.
Technique grows from reading and practice. Like ideas, genres often lean towards preferred styles. Thrillers typically follow a similar pace, and westerns lean towards introspective protagonists who think up walls of text while staring across the open range. These writers compose these works very, very well because they’re very, very practiced.
Exactly because different genres have different core elements, writers master different techniques to meet those demands. You won’t learn to write funny banter or heart-warming connections if you only read grim-dark. You won’t learn to write gut-wrenching losses and painful twists if you only read cozy mysteries.
Different worlds, people, and plots demand different words. You’ve probably read about “caverns hewn from the living stone” in many fantasy works. Someone who only reads modern billionaire romances probably has not. Every story needs words, and your ability to convey the story in your head depends on your vocabulary.
Write things way outside your comfort zone, and even if you don’t find new words, you’ll find new ways to use them.
Different genres excel in different ways. All genres present a different view of love, struggle, personhood, aging, and other universal themes. Readers cherish books that give them an escape, but they remember the stories that had something to say. Exploring beyond your favorite genre is education. Good stories shed new light on issues you thought you understood, push you to ask new questions, and encourage deeper thinking. All these serve writers well.
How far have you wandered outside your corner of the bookstore? Which is your favorite, and which gave you trouble? Share your thoughts and insights with other writers below!