Many of us, myself included, struggle to break away from the types of stories we gravitate toward. We assume that we need more training before we can tackle a different genre or point of view. But expanding is one of our responsibilities as writers, and it’s a precursor to growth!
Growing means honing the talents we already have and becoming stronger writers overall. Expanding simply involves venturing outside our comfort zones. It stretches us and introduces us to techniques we wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
No writer can claim to be bad at expanding, except if they don’t try. Maybe you’ve never thought of this as a valuable habit to form. It’s not difficult or painful, and it can even be fun. By sharing my own experiences, I hope to show you how.
1. Explore Multiple Genres
I’m a fantasy writer by trade, and a fantasy reader by preference. I’ve stuck to this genre since I started writing at age eleven. But after several years without branching off, my stories all sounded similar. So I began reading more contemporary, dystopian, and historical fiction. I even wrote a few stories in those genres. Though I still focused on fantasy, my writing noticeably improved.
By reading and writing a variety of genres (even ones I usually don’t enjoy, like historical fiction), I deepened my understanding of story craft. Contemporary, which tends to rely on dialogue, taught me how to develop authentic character voices. Dystopian revolves around a complex setting, which helped me enrich my own worldbuilding. And historical fiction requires precision with dates and details, which reminded me about the importance of accuracy.
If you write contemporary, switch to fantasy to add another layer to your prose. If you write fantasy, read historical fiction to learn how to create realistic cultures. Or, if you only read novels, tinker with short stories or flash fiction to practice cutting fluff out of your work. Gradually your writing style will broaden, and the new insights you glean from each genre will boost your confidence.
2. Look for Opportunities to Deviate from the Norm
We all have favorite genres, character archetypes, and themes that confine our imaginations to a box. But no matter how large that box is, it’s still smaller than the world of possibilities outside of it! To inspire fresh ideas, play around with the following:
- Insert elements from other genres into your story, such as a hobo in a space opera or a comedian in a supernatural thriller.
- Write a short piece featuring a character with a personality you’ve never portrayed before.
- Cross two different genres. Maybe throw the high school setting of a contemporary novel into a fantasy universe to see what happens.
- Research mythological creatures from different cultures and give them roles in your fantasy story instead of the clichéd werewolves/dragons/dwarves.
Many successful authors today incorporate unexpected aspects into their novels, and readers love their creativity. Expanding as a writer isn’t always as concrete as picking up new techniques—it’s as abstract as cultivating a mindset that leads you to be innovative.
3. Experiment with a New Format
Stories can be told in a plethora of ways—from poetry to film to novels—and writers who cling to the format they’re accustomed to miss the chance to round out their skills.
I used to only write novels (huge word counts or bust), but when I attempted flash fiction, I was forced to weigh every word I included in the story. Now my novels are much tighter. I wrote short stories too, which enabled me to shape character arcs on a smaller scale than a novel. I also coauthored a few stories, and exposure to another person’s perspective helped me diversify my own.
Short stories, flash fiction, screenwriting, blackout poetry, and co-writing will all influence how you think about writing and open your mind to unique turns you could take with your latest project. The brainstorms you have afterward might surprise you.
As writers, we love to challenge our characters and push them toward new horizons. So why not go on an adventure that tests your abilities as a storyteller? Invite another writer to join you and swap observations with as you wander into unfamiliar territory. Even if you decide not to return to the genre or point of view you visit, you’ll leave with new discoveries you can carry home.
Savannah Grace is a Nebraska-born-and-raised author who loves writing—and reading—a good speculative story, because there’s no better place to escape than a book. When she’s not lost in (or creating!) other worlds, she can be found making a mess with watercolors, laughing way too loudly, or eating as much Korean food as she can get her hands on. She’s the submissions manager for Illuminate YA and an associate editor for Havok Publishing.
Savannah has had multiple short fiction pieces published in various places and loves helping writers hone their craft. You can find her blogging at savannahgracewrites.blogspot.com, posting sporadically on her YouTube channel (Savannah Grace), or finally finding a use for all her book pictures over on Instagram (@savannahgraceauthor). She’d love to chat with you!