Getting Out of Your Box

It started as an experiment about a year ago. I was tired of writing stories in my chosen genre—family sagas. I yearned to try something new. Out of that desire grew an unwieldy novella called, Life of the Party. I wrote 56,000 words and I hated it, but I really liked one of the characters. He was a fledgling rapper named Shabazz Horton—a Kanye West wannabe who was working as a club DJ to raise money for his recording ambitions. I went back to the drawing board and decided to construct a short story trilogy around him.

I began forming a new plot around Shabazz. He would be caught in the middle of a sticky situation in which his boss, the club owner, was a drug kingpin under investigation. A police detective would lean on Shabazz to cooperate with the law, but Shabazz would be loathe to turn against his boss.

It was a story with all kinds of possibilities, but I kept going down rabbit holes. I rewrote the beginning four times, the most recent about two weeks ago. Something wasn’t working. When I get stuck like this, the first question I ask is this, “What is the heart of the story?” This triggered several other questions. What is the main character’s journey? How will he be transformed? I knew the answers to these questions, but that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that I was veering off into a police procedural and that wasn’t the genre I intended. I also suffered from an utter lack of knowledge of the culture of the club DJ and rap music in general. I follow rap to some degree, but not enough to write with authority about it.

My solution to these problems presented itself when I was searching for a story idea for the 2013 National Novel Writing Month competition, which begins November 1. The pressure of a 30-day deadline will force me to just write and (I hope) after I havae a 50,000-word first draft, I will have figured out some things about this story.

Am I sorry I went off-course for a year and abandoned the genre which is my strength? Not at all. It’s healthy for writers to get out of their boxes and try something completely different. Even if the story never sees the light of day, it will challenge the writer and open new vistas. I will return with new energy and purpose to the comfort of family sagas when I finish this work-in-progress.

What about you? Have you ever attempted to write in a different genre? How did it work out?


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5 responses to “Getting Out of Your Box

  1. I did the same as you – wanted to try something different from family sagas (though Sweetie wasn’t a family saga, so there’s that) – and I wanted to try to write something more “commercial” than “literary” – what came out of that was the lightning charmer book – I tried to make it more a “genre” book but it still came out in the style and way that I write, just with maybe a more “genre’y slant” to it — it turned out cross-genre. I’m glad I did it, and want to do more like that – but I went in kicking and screaming and fighting it. lawd.

    • Kat,
      That is so interesting. I’ve been following your progress on the Lightning Charmer (love the cover, by the way) and I can’t wait to read it. It can be liberating to cross into a new genre, but this has been a somewhat frustrating experience for me. I decided to use it as my NaNo project and one way or another, I will know by December if it is going to work. Still, I am glad I did it. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I admire your tenacity with this attempt and that you have revised as the problems came up. Interesting that you are going to have another go, utilizing NaNo as another tool. I’ll look forward to the progress updates and good luck!

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