Friday, March 18, 2011

Inside or Outside the Lines?

Genre writing tends to have a "sameness" to it, a familiarity that after a while breeds contempt in some readers. And yes, I'm one of those readers. I spent years reading mostly romance novels until one day I said, "God, can't they write something different?"

Each genre has a pattern the writer must follow, but within that pattern some writers have their own patterns. I noticed it first with the romance novels by Paula Fairman whose heroine always had three lovers. The first one rapes her, but by the end of the rape she's a willing participant, the second was usually a rich man, and the third was a bastard. In the end, she always wound up with the first man because a woman always falls for the man who takes her virginity by rape. (and yes, that was a sarcastic comment.) After the second or third book there's no point reading books by this author because you know how it's going to end. There's no surprise or excitement that engages the reader's imagination. And yes, I know, many readers like this familiarity and that's why the market publishes the same old, same old.

The same thing can happen with short stories. A writer can find a formula that works for them and that's all they write. That successful formula, in a way, becomes a crutch. I don't blame writers for using the crutch because that's what the market is looking for and they have to make a living.

That pattern of sameness thrives in the marketplace. Pick up a copy of EQ or AHMM and you can almost always tell how every story is going to end. It's like reading an episode of "Murder She Wrote". I think that's one reason I enjoy anthologies. Yes, there is that genre sameness, but a good editor will find stories that step beyond that sameness into new territory.

I adore writers who can surprise me with each new story. Stephen King collections are a good example. His stories, while wrapped in the cloak of horror, step into the crime and sci-fi genres. His endings vary from the twist, to the gotcha, to the yeah, it needed to end that way. You never know how one of his shorts is going to end so you're never bored.

By now you're probably wondering what brought this on. It was an essay by Guy Hasson called "How to be Truly Original". He makes some great points and tosses out some good ideas on how to make your story different from the guy writing next to you.

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