Diversifying your genre

All of us humans have something in common. We have our own likes and dislikes when it comes to food, drinks, entertainment and even physical activities. And it’s no surprising that we only go for what we like and avoid what we dislike at all cost. After all, who wants to feel uncomfortable?

But as the saying goes, being uncomfortable is what allow us to grow and to be better. When it comes to writing, that means diversifying.

In order to write, it’s necessary for writers to read a lot. That’s how they can learn and grow to become better at their craft. So if a writer prefers only science fiction, like in my case, then he or she would read up anything set in that genre to get inspiration, improve on their character development, world building, etc. Maybe occasionally, he or she would read books or novels in another genre because it managed to catch their attention.

However, this approach may not be as effective as you think to help you grow as a writer. There are only so many variations you can do a particular genre that you will find yourself doing the same thing as those authors when you are finally done with a story.

Let’s take science fiction as an example. There are two main type of science fiction: hard and soft (not a very precise term). Hard science fiction doesn’t play fast and loose with the laws of physics. Every piece of technology or ideas featured must have basis in real life. On the other hand, soft science fiction allows for faster-than-light travel, fantasy elements like super human powers, etc. And under each category, you can have space opera-type, utopia-type science fiction and dystopia-type science fiction. As for enemies, maybe you have either aliens, rogue machines, or maybe another species of humans.

Just imagine what would happen if you stick to reading and writing only science fiction forever…

I have always been writing and reading science fiction throughout my late teens and adulthood. My ideas are really only drawn from science fiction books, video games or shows that I’ve seen. After a while, I realised I’m doing the same shit as the rest are doing. I’m not growing any more. It’s boring as hell.

That’s why I decided to go into horror. There is this goal of mine. To be able to merge science fiction, horror and thriller together to create a compelling story. As some people said, the best ideas are those that intersects multiple themes.

And to be able to do that, in my view, it means that you have reached the height of your writing ability. I also know it will take a lot of hard work.

For a start, you have to consume the right kind of horror. You have to understand what it meant to create horror. There are so many horror movies out there. Video games too. And you can always read Stephen King’s books like The Shining and IT. For me, I love horror because of the way they make me feel. They make me worry for the characters, worry about what’s going to come out and scare me out of my seat, etc.

But when it comes to creating it, it is difficult. I mentioned it once in a previous post. And I remembered what my school English teachers once said, “Horror is very difficult to write. Please don’t do it for your English composition, especially during examination if you want to pass.”

They are right. You see, I’ve been stuck for weeks now when it comes to writing Part 3 of Murderous House as I wasn’t sure how to bring out the suspense and make my readers fear for the characters anymore.

Yet it doesn’t mean that you give up. I’m not giving up just yet as I still try to put in words and form the story paragraph by paragraph. It’s important that we use this kind of situation to learn and grow further. Now, since I don’t know how to bring out the suspense or horror anymore, then I have to go find inspirations and also dig deep into my memories of how horror make me feel and then realise something suitable for the story. I’ve got to read more horror. And I’ve got the game Resident Evil 2 (2019) keeping me at the edge of my seat. I can draw on those feelings I get to write.

When I do get out of this debacle, it would meant that I have learnt something new and could apply it to my next piece of writing. As the skills get developed further, it would allow me as a writer to experiment comfortably and to tell a better story. That means I would be one step closer to my goal of telling a story that merges science fiction, horror and thriller genres.

So if you enjoy writing a story of a specific genre, maybe it’s time you stop for a while and change. Let’s say you enjoy reading and writing romance novels. Maybe it’s time you switch to action stories. Or maybe thriller. Who knows. Maybe you can create an even more compelling romance story based on your diversification.

Useful tool for planning as a pantser

There are two kinds of writers. One is a planner, also known as a plotter, while the other is a pantser.

For the uninitiated, planners or plotters, as the term suggested, don’t start writing until they got all the details about the story they want to tell down in a massive mind map or something. It’s just what they do. Pantser on the other hand doesn’t really plan and simply just write, allowing the story to take them anywhere. They are literally flying by the seat of their pants. Planning for pantsers is just not something they do.

For me, I’m a pantser and really hate planning. The very act feels very unnatural and boring.

But today, I was introduced to something that I thought could be useful as a tool to help pantser. It’s known as a Fishbone diagram or officially known as Ishikawa diagram. From the outset, it look like a really simple tool that doesn’t seem to boring when used.

Now, I know it’s really a tool for product design or quality defect detection. It is also used in certain kind of investigative purpose like incident investigation and resolution. So you may wonder how it can be applied to planning out a piece of writing.

Here’s how I thought it could be used.

Let’s say you are gonna write a piece of fiction that has some kind of conflict or problem to resolve. You can put that conflict or problem at the fish head. Then draw the ribs out from the spine. The purpose of so call bones of the fish is to allow you to identify the causes that ultimately lead to that conflict. You can treat each rib as a category. And some example of the categories can be Characters and Incidents. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it really. The purpose of those ribs is to help you identify the main theme that lead to the conflict or problem. From there, draw horizontal lines out from ribs where you use them to create just enough detail for you to write your story.

And that’s all.

After that, you can refer to the diagram if you do happen to encounter some kind of writer’s block while writing. And since it isn’t so detailed, you get to have the freedom to change your story on the fly while it also ensure you stay somewhat grounded and have some kind of reference material. Lastly, because it’s such a simple diagram, it doesn’t really bore you to death as a pantser.

I also didn’t forget about you planners. You guys can also use this as a complementary tool to whatever they are using now to write.

With that, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Writing about the things you love

As writers, especially if you write non-fiction, it can be difficult to think of a topic to write about.

Let’s take Minimalism as an example.

It’s something that I came across last year as part of my self re-discovery process. It was something that resonate with me, especially the part on paring down your things, bringing into focus the intentionality behind everything you do and making sure they align with what you want out of life. It contributed in bringing me out of depression, made my life more simple and bring the things that I enjoy back into the picture.

And yet, I found it a struggle to write more about it because it’s not something that I’m truly passionate about. The other truth is, I’m better skilled now at keeping in focus what brings me joy. So the process of minimising has become so automatic that I don’t think of it as a struggle. I just couldn’t think of a noteworthy story to share and hopefully help someone else.

But you don’t see me stop there. I still write. What I have learnt is there is always something lurking around in your mind. It can be a simple observation, a sudden realisation, or something you heard. That’s how I manage to squeeze out this article late at night.

And what if you ask, “Bran, there’s really nothing?”

Well, then my response would be, write about something that you love.

And what could that thing be?

In my case, I love Apple and their products (but not a fanatic). I love to play video games (not a fanatic either). I also love technology despite my current misgivings about the software development industry. I care about the environment. Then there’s science, medicine, engineering, human psychology, design, etc. that I like too.

That means I could draw on those topics to write something. And the ideas can come at very weird times. For example, an idea came just when I woke up from a nap. It wasn’t well-formed but the title came up. This was how I got down to write this article titled “The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

And was it a good piece? I think so, at least based on the metrics I’ve got. And I kind of stop caring that much about how good it is when it goes up.

So you have to find the thing you love and give your opinion about it. And don’t care about how well it does. The reason why I read stuff from a particular writer is not because I enjoy everything he or she writes about but rather because I like the writer’s voice. Could be honest, could be humorous or generally very nice/sweet/gentle. Or maybe I just love the writing style.

Moreover, your writing has to be truthful and doesn’t lead someone astray. Do the necessary research before writing.

Lastly, don’t fret so much about what to write. Relax, have a cup of tea, coffee or your favourite beverage, and do something else.

The platform doesn’t matter until it does…

Writers these days are spoiled.

They are spoiled because recent development in technology has given rise to online platforms that allow writers to put their work out for the world to see. From Blogger to WordPress to the more recent Medium, writers are mostly free from having to deal with middleman that served as gatekeepers to the big publication houses.

But those platforms actually don’t matter.

They are just tools, just like the pens and papers, nails and hammers, etc. The platforms don’t dictate your writing. Only you do. As a writer, your main job is to write. To put the ideas that are swimming in your head out into words for others to see. If you aren’t doing that, then no platforms is going to help. Just like the pens and papers that are going to sit in some dark corners if your hands don’t reach for them and use those tools.

And after you are done writing, only then the platforms matter. You have to use them to publish your work out for the world to see.

If you don’t understand the rules of the platform, you writings aren’t going to see the light of the day even if you hit that publish button. The platform’s flawed algorithms are going to decide that your writings aren’t worth anyone’s time and don’t bring them out for the world to see. And algorithms can change depending on the platform owner.

And now, the time you’ve spent on writing that great piece of article, essay or poem is wasted because no one is reading it.

So your role as a writer now has more responsibilities.

You have to go out there and reach out to other writers on the platforms. To comment on their writings, to like their writings, or just to say hi. Only then, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs that hopefully grab someone’s attention and bring them to your creations.

And being on just one platform isn’t enough. Neither is being on many platforms. You have to be on the right kind of platform that has the right kind of writers and readers that will contribute to your growth as a writer.

Now you see, the platform doesn’t matter until it does…

Writing horror is true horror until…

I enjoy science-fiction, especially those space opera types. And I also enjoy science fiction stories that comes with a touch of fantasy. Like zombies in a spaceship invading another world or humans with super-human powers typically found in comic books who are part of a space-faring civilisation. There are just so many variations that I can’t list them all. So, I could only hope you get what I’m trying to say.

Now, because I love science fiction so much, I also enjoy writing such stories. Since I read so much science fiction, it’s almost second nature to me when it comes to writing them.

Then I decided to write Murderous House, a LGBT-themed horror/suspense short story.

All I had was this idea in my mind about two boys in a house and it had to be a scary story.

Then I got down writing.

When the first few words came out, I was horrified. I realised I didn’t know how to write a good horror story. During my school days, my teachers were always saying don’t write horror stories for our English Composition because it’s one of the hardest thing to write. You have to consider your pacing, the fictional world, the characters, word choices, etc. So I avoided that genre for a long time.

My thought was, if you don’t get nightmares from the process of writing a horror story, then you don’t know horror.

Then the words keep coming. Keep coming. Like blood flowing from an open wound that refuse to stop. Good thing was, it didn’t drown me. And I’m glad with how it turn out even after very little editing.

And after part 1 of Murderous House went up, another friend of mine, told me it was super refreshing to see me write that. And that it showed my versatility as a writer.

That really make me day.

So now it’s less horrifying for me to write part 2 because I’m more confident.