Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Staying True to your Voice – Writing in Multiple Genres

Guest Blogger: K.B. Wagers (our own wandereringray!)

My bookshelves look like a library threw up on them. You can find anything from a history of Rome, to Shakespeare's plays, Russian literature (sometimes in the original Russian), erotica, urban fantasy, science fiction ... you get the idea.

My insanely varied tastes have had a major impact on my writing style. To date I have finished three science fictions novels, a dark erotica novel, one fantasy, and one urban-fantasy. Waiting in the wings of my brain are a young adult novel and several other crazy ideas.

What I do isn't very common (and we'll have to wait to see if it works *grins*). A lot of people will tell you to find a genre you're good at and stick with it. I don't disagree with this advice and part of the reason is a lot of new writers are still feeling their way around the mechanics of writing. You're trying out different voices, etc. to see what works for you. This is a good thing and you shouldn't ever be afraid to try a new genre, or a new anything for that matter.

Unless you can find really strong voices though, I suggest sticking with what works. Switching genres can be difficult if you don't have unique enough voices to shine through.

There are a number of pitfalls/clichés to avoid as well as ways to come up with some truly unique ideas in different genres.

Fantasy Clichés
· strapping young hero
· quest for magical object
· band of friends, each with one specific talent

It's important to note here that sometimes these things do work, it's just that they've been done – over and over - and that makes it harder to come up with a fresh perspective on things. If you don't have a strong voice, you're not going to catch anyone's attention.

Find characters with depth and switch things up a little. Pair that strapping young hero with an earnest but bumbling princess, or swap it out entirely and make the princess the one who has to deal with an enthusiastic but hopeless older brother. Have the group find the magical object only to discover it's not so magical after all. It's the little things that can make your voice shine through even the most overdone of clichés.

Science Fiction Clichés
· rebel fighters vs. power in universe
· zany crew of misfits jetting around galaxy
· alien invasion

As an amusing note I've written all three of these things at one time or another. The alien invasion was the first book I ever wrote and it will never see the light of day. *grins* My erotic novel is about a rebel leader who's fighting to restore her country to its former glory. And my current WIP has a zany crew of misfits.

How is that helpful at all then? *laughs* I know, I'm crazy that way sometimes. Here's the deal – the first book is crap because it's tired, formulaic and has very little going for it. There's a possible kernel of an idea buried in the muck, but it's going to be a long time before I have the energy to go dig it out.

The other two? Well, obviously this is my opinion, but I think they have enough of a character component to override the initial "obvious cliché" reaction of the base story. In fact, the voices are what carry the stories away from the potential flop.

Writing in multiple genres is tricky. I handle it by trying not to work in them at the exact same time – at the moment I have the luxury to do that. I'll complete a book, give myself a few days to de-stress and then a few more to get into the mind-set for the other genre.

Another trick to pulling this off is to make sure your main characters are nothing like each other. Sometimes we have habits as authors to throw bits of ourselves in there or things we'd really like to see in ourselves. The hazard is you can end up with five different female leads from separate series and yet they are all martial arts masters.

Your readers will notice, so make an effort to give your characters life. I have three main female leads at the moment, and only one knows a martial art. The other two are fighters also, but more brawlers than anything. And of those two, one is inclined to rush head-long into situations without thinking of the consequences, while the other will sit back and plot out all the angles before she moves.

They are all separate entities though, with unique personalities and distinct behaviors. You wouldn’t read one book after the other and think "oh that's just like X but in space" and toss the book aside.

So pay attention to this! *grins* We harp on voice a lot, and I know it gets tedious at times, but it really is your single biggest ally. You can write a book that's completely out of the "hot zone" of publishing at the moment, but if your voice rocks? You'll get snapped up in a heartbeat.

K.B. Wagers hears voices in her head. Thankfully not the kind that tell her to do horrible things, unless it involves getting up at 2am to scribble down a very important scene that can't wait until sunrise. The good news is the voices are responsible for five completed novels - three of which are out on submission. When she's not writing she's getting into fights or jumping off buildings. Come read more about her insane life and the stories that follow at


  1. Wow, K.B., how do you keep it all straight?

    I like the idea of playing around with genre, though. Might be interesting to take my ms. and see what would happen if I flipped genres with it.

  2. Nice post, Katy. And I have to say that you do a good job of making your characters across the genres sound unique!

    As a writer who switched genres to find where my Voice fits best, I highly recommend playing with the genres, Mayberry, and seeing where it takes you. =)

  3. Mayberry -

    Heh. It's a challenge sometimes. 1) I have an obsessive need to keep journals for my books (so I've got important information easily available to me) and 2) I have good CPs who would smack me if I started letting any one universe "bleed-through" into the other.

    I say go for it. You never know what's going to happen until you try.

    CJ - Thanks!

  4. How do you know when you should try a new genre or where a character would fit best?

  5. Casey -

    I think people should experiment until they find one that works for them. Usually the best way to tell if it's working is find a good CP (or group) who's going to be honest with you about how your writing reads.

    For me personally I just try to listen to the characters. They'll usually tell me if I'm pushing someone the wrong way.

    I'm a huge fan of knowing as much as possible about my characters before I even start a novel. By the time I get to writing I've usually got full backgrounds done on the major folks and partials on secondary characters.


  6. Great post, Katy!

    I'm a cross-genre writer, too. I've published two adult fantasies, adapted one for film, written 2 horror screenplays, an indy-style drama script and a YA urban fantasy.

    I don't usually pick the genre. My characters do. They are rather bossy as a rule. ;-)

    I will admit that only 1 of my projects - the indy piece - doesn't involve magic in some form or another. That's where I sneak myself in, I suppose.

    I agree that voice is the key. If you let your characters speak for themselves, the rest will follow. And hopefully, no one will call the dudes with the little white jackets and the padded hotel rooms on you.


  7. I am always amazed by your brilliant mind.

  8. Lisa - I don't think I've ever asked you if the transition from novel writing to screenplays was difficult?

    ND - *laughs* That's an awful nice way of saying you're fascinated by my insanity huh?


  9. How do you make sure your characters sound different from each other? Or right for the genre? Is there a "right" character for each genre?

  10. Anon-

    I usually try to make sure that each character (especially main characters) have different likes, different mannerisms, habits, etc. It's also vitally important to have them all speak differently. If you have a hero who's snarky and quick witted, the next book you write you should make an effort to have a hero who maybe speaks very properly or uses more subtle humor.

    It's the little things that count. :) And CPs can be a big help in this regard. Sometimes it takes an outside eye to point out to you that all your characters are starting to look, sound, act the same.

    I don't know if I'd say there's a specific character for each genre, because you can find fun, snarky heroines in all manner of books not just in say urban fantasy.

  11. Katy -

    Writing novels vs. screenplays is like doing kung fu vs. parkour. You use many of the same muscles, but the technique is different and there are particular muscles that you only use for one or the other. Does that make sense??

    I've also described it as the difference between a hot, heavy quicky and a long night of making love, with the screenplay being the quicky. Scripts are only 100-120 pages long, with a lot of blank spaces. That doesn't mean they are easier to write, btw. ;-)

    Most challenging writing job ever? Adapting your own novel for the screen. Not for the weak of heart and having done it, I can't recommend it for anyone without serious masochistic tendencies.



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