Does multi-genre writing really work?
This is a subject I get asked about all the time, especially from new writers anxious to write as much as possible in as many genres as possible, yet while many writers can and do write in different genres, and it’s not impossible, to step with ease from one kind to another isn’t as easy as it seems.
It’s a well known fact that writers start out writing in the genre that they most enjoy reading, and certainly their earliest influences may drive this tendency. If you enjoy reading thrillers, it’s most likely you’ll write in that genre, because you enjoy it and understand it. If you enjoy reading romance fiction, then the likelihood is that you’ll feel comfortable writing romance.
Of course, there are other things that influence writers. Watching certain genre of movies or TV shows that they enjoy may also influence a writer.
A writer will always write in the genre they feel most affinity with, one that they feel comfortable working with; the one they enjoy. And because of this ease and affinity, an author’s voice and style will evolve accordingly.
Does it Work?
It can, but sometimes it doesn’t.
There are many cross genre writers out there, people who can easily dip in and out of different styles. For instance, horror writers might also be able to write romance. Thriller writers might also write sci-fi etc. But cross-genre writing works only if the writer feels comfortable with it, they enjoy the subject and can build closeness with it.
A writer who hates romance will not be able to write a convincing romance story. Likewise a romance writer might not be able to write a convincing and scary horror story. The result might be something contrived, stilted or forced.
But often many writers do this in the belief they can write in any genre, and the result is always the same. If something doesn’t feel right, then inevitably it isn’t. The readers will notice this and they won’t enjoy the story.
I write dark thriller or historical thriller stories, but I also write horror. I don’t write science fiction because although I like sci-fi movies, I don’t have enough affinity or attraction to the subject to write convincingly and authoritatively about the subject. Likewise, I don’t write romance stories because have no attraction to the subject, nor do I write political stories, because I have zero interest in politics.
Instead of focusing on writing in as many different genre styles as possible and trying to ‘fit’ into one of them, write in the genre you feel most comfortable, one that you enjoy reading, one that you feel closest to – this is your primary genre. This is what your specialist subject.
Once you recognise that you can build your writing around it and gain experience (and hopefully success) from writing it. You can then explore other genres that you feel attracted to, or comfortable with or like reading. These are secondary genres.
When we think of some of our favourite authors, we usually associate them with one specific genre, but there are many who have written novels in completely different genres, for instance:
Ian Fleming is known for his James Bond/spy novels, but he also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is a children’s novel. We think of Stephen King as master of horror, with stories like Carrie and The Shining, but he’s also written contemporary thrillers such as The Green Mile, and science fiction based stories like Under the Dome. Neil Gaiman is known for his fantasy, sci-fi and graphic novels, but he’s also written children’s stories, such as The Graveyard Book.
Notice that these writers have a primary genre, written works that they are most famous for, but they also have secondary genres.
But what if I can only write in one genre?
Most writers can probably write two or three genres quite comfortably and successfully. Others can only write one genre only and that doesn’t make them any less different.
There is nothing wrong with only being able to write in one specific genre. Plenty of writers do, simply because it’s what they are good at, it’s their forte and they have been just as successful as multi-genre writers.
The thing to remember is that if it is a subject you don’t particularly like or understand, or you don’t feel affinity towards then don’t write it because the result will be a terrible, forced and unconvincing story. And that’s because your heart won’t be in it.
Write what you love, what interests you, what moves you, what makes you passionate. Write what makes you happy. Whatever the genre.Next week: Recurring themes and how to use them.