Writing in Different Genres

Well, I have been promising this post for over a month, but the summer got away from me, as summers seem to do.  So, here I am finally fulfilling my promise.

Writing is not a simple action, nor is it the same for every author or for every genre.  Everyone’s process is different.  But to complicate matters even more, everyone’s process can be different as they engage in writing different genres.  I noticed this the most when I was looking over my notebooks for my current historical fiction project as compared to my dystopian novel.  The dystopian novel had two notebooks full of ideas.  But for my historical fiction project, I just began my fourth notebook, and I am sure it will be filled as well.

First, I will walk you through my writing process in general.  Then, I will go through the differences between writing a dystopian novel and writing a historical fiction novel.

General Writing Process

  • The original seed–The seed of an idea usually comes to me in the form of my main character and one scene.  From there, the plot building process begins.  Basically, just playing with ideas in my head and letting my imagination run free.  There is a lot of thinking time in this stage, jotting down ideas here and there.
  • Research–Next, I start researching, either about the time period or the world in which my story will take place.  I also begin putting together a playlist of songs that put me in the mood for the individual story so I can fully immerse myself. This phase can last through the duration of the project.  I never feel like I have enough information, but eventually we do have to start actually writing.
  • Simmering–This phase can co-exist with the research phase.  This is where the plot is starting to take shape, characters are making themselves known to me, and dialogue starts to flow.  During this time, I am writing daily notes of scenes, descriptions, dialogue, plots, etc. I always carry a notebook with me, and have a running note on my notebook app on my phone, so I never miss an idea when it comes.  These notes are a disorganized jumble of anything that pops into my head story related.
  • Organization–Next, I begin to type my random hand-written notes into a cohesive document in the general order that they will be used in the book.  I may create documents specifically for narration/descriptions and specifically for scenes. I will also create a document for each main character to flesh out characteristics, back story, etc.
  • Outlining–First, I start with a general outline with plot arc, etc.  Here I make decisions about timeline, whether or not the story will be told chronologically, point of view, and narrator.
  • Detailed Outlining–After the general outline, I begin putting together chapter outlines.  On these documents, I cut and paste scenes, dialogue, and descriptions from my notes documents.
  • Writing the chapters–When I write my chapters, I use my chapter outline as a jumping off place, and then I just let it flow.  I sometimes find in this phase that characters decide to insert themselves into scenes where I hadn’t originally planned them, but I let that happen organically.  I have found that it’s best not to make characters do what you want them to do. I think of it as them telling me their stories and I am just writing them down. At times when I have tried to force it, the writing came out stilted and stiff.

This is my writing process on the front end.  It is by no means complete, as a major part of the writing process is editing and rewriting.  But that is a blog post all itself.

Genre Differences

  • Research
    • When I was writing my dystopian novel, there was a lot of technical, scientific, and political research to help me begin to build the world in which my characters would live.  The research phase for that project was very short.
    • For my current historical fiction novel, I have found the research process to be extremely long and detailed, not just into the life of my main character, but into the numerous lives who surrounded hers.  It is important for me to know what things in their lives would influence their decisions and relationships, the driving forces and motivations in all of the main and secondary characters lives.  The more information I have, the better.
  • World-Building
    • In science fiction, it’s called world-building.  In other fiction, it’s simply referred to as setting.  World-building for a dystopian novel was at once freeing and daunting.  There was the freedom to make my world whatever I wanted it to be and whatever made sense for my characters.  But at the same time, it can feel like there is a tyranny in too many choices, making it difficult to leave the world-building stage and jump into writing the story.  Let me encourage you to be as basic as you can in the world-building at first.  Leave your characters free and organic enough that they can move around unencumbered.  Then you can fill in with more specifics about the world later.  In the beginning focus only on those things that will affect plot and character.
    • For historical fiction, setting is very much connected to your research and making sure you are accurate in your depiction of the time period.  This means not just in physical aspects, but also in non-tangible things such as ideas, mindset, language, etc.  You don’t want someone in the late 19th century, for example, to have a modern day mindset about or way of talking about ideas that would only be in modern day.  Research for setting the scene should include language, popular phrases, and idioms.
  • What drives the story?
    • In dystopian fiction (and several other sub-genres of fiction), you can basically let the story and characters drive themselves.  You are free to let your imagination run wild.  A new character not originally conceived can present himself midway through the writing of the novel.  There is a freedom there that is almost unparalleled.
    • In historical fiction, your story is driven by historical facts, dates, and places, with only some creative license allowed for changing what happened.  Depending on whether your main characters are real people or fictional characters, the reins may be tighter or looser here.  I wrote one story with fictional main characters placed in actual historical events.  This gave me a little more freedom to change their stories as the plot or characters dictated.  However, right now I am writing a story about a real person, in essence a non-fiction novel, and her story is interesting enough on its own that it doesn’t need much embellishment or creative license from me beyond the dramatization of actual events.  My job in this case is to fill in the gaps that history left.  But the story is very much driven by the actual events of her life.

These are just some of my thoughts on my experiences of writing in multiple genres.  There are things I love about both.  What are some of your experiences with different genres?

Don’t forget to pre-order the Kindle version of my debut novel A Light from the Ashes on Amazon, release date September 30!