Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On choosing a genre

This weeks question at the highway is about how we choose the genre of our novels. Or, as Michelle put it, how our genre chooses us. I like putting it like this. With genre, I've never really chosen. Also for me, the question of how a genre chooses me links really closely with the question of why it chooses me. So you're going to have to read about both at once, because I can't separate them out. Lucky you.

I have a lot of ideas for stories. To say a lot is quite a nice way of putting it. My head is like one of those explosive houses, you know, the ones with people who build up a hoard of everything in case of an apocalypse, those people who never throw anything away. I have a few strong ideas, which take up lots of space, and countless vague floating butterfly ideas, which take up less. But collectively, it's still masses. I can never seem to dump novel ideas, even when they go wrong. I just bury them until they come back strong and shiny and sure of themselves again.

But yeah. Out of all that, I have two novel ideas at the moment which are straight contemporary, and stubborn about it. They're flukes, both of them. Every other story idea in my head is fantasy or speculative, including my current WIP. I started writing stories as a kid, and they came out fantastical, with magic springing out all over the place in one way or another. And it hasn't really changed since then. I write what calls to me, what makes sense to me, what carries me through the endless but wonderful toil that is novel writing. If it didn't resonate, I'd never get to the end of it.

I love reading contemporary as much as I love reading fantasy, but the stuff that I love writing the most is the stuff where magic exists, where the world is mysterious and inexplicable and beautiful. That can be true in contemporary as well, and that's probably why I have my two ideas which go against the trend and refuse any supernatural elements I try to add. (Which shows all the more how I can never choose genre, even when I try.) But mostly I write magic best. I'd be lying if I said that's because magic is what I know. More because it's what I don't know, what I want to know, what I dream about. When I was about six years old, I wanted to be a professional witch when I grew up, and deal with magic all the time. Writing is the closest I can get to that.

My ideas often start as jumbled up things, conversations between people who turn out to be characters, images, and tangled stuff that I dream about first thing in the morning, the lucid dreams that you have when morning light wakes you up and then you drift back to sleep again. Sometimes it all comes together gradually, like a bunch of threads weaving themselves into fabric, appearing then dissolving into a whole. Other times stuff slams together in my head and leaves me stunned and buzzing, like I've somehow stumbled inside a power socket. (I don't really buy the whole muse idea, but if I had one, he/she would totally be into electrocution.)

And in all of that, genre is the last thing I think of, because usually it's obvious. In all the dizzy note taking and thinking of exciting events and seeing exactly where the key relationships are, something in my head goes, oh yeah. That's fantasy again. Surprise surprise. Or it goes, god. You've come up with an idea that doesn't have magic in it. Will it work?

Basically, for me, the best way to choose a genre is to let the story choose it. Stories know what they're made of, but I generally don't until they tell me. I'm just the person who sits around fussing with words and drinking too much coffee, and trying to work out what she forgot to put on the shopping list because her head was too full of make believe things.

9 comments:

Amanda Hannah said...

I like that. 'Let the story choose it.' I think that's the best way to be true to a story and let it flow naturally.

Kaitlin Ward said...

"Stories know what they're made of"
Absolutely true.

Anna said...

I totally agree. I don't think a writer can pin down to a science WHAT they are going to write and that only. Every idea is unique, needs different elements and to discount that solely because it doesn't fit into a specific genre is an idea lost.

Melissa said...

Your last paragraph summed everything up so perfectly that I feel wonderfully satisfied from reading your blog! Its very true.

Michelle Schusterman said...

Very very very well-said! And I just love that you wanted to be a professional witch. :)

Imogen said...

Wow, I leave reading your blog for a while, thinking you had forgetton it yourself, then I come back to find all these posts on writing. Just in time for Nanowrimo! HANDY!! xxx

Leila Austin said...

Thanks everyone!!! :-)

@Anna - I really like the way you put it. I guess it's about idea first, category second. I try to do what's best for each idea, rather than shoehorning it into being something it isn't. Even when it means I have to nervously try writing contemporary. ;-)

@Imogen - Go the NaNoing! Hope you're making good progress!

Anna said...

Phillies lost the Series, and the Yankees...

Ugg... Makes me want to drown my sorrows... Where's my teacup???

Leila Austin said...

That's lame!

The Yankees are starting to remind me of the Australian cricket team (ie annoying team who beat everyone and upset my loved ones).