It takes a bit of courage to break out of your usual writing style. The familiar phrases, your favourite words – even the construction of the piece – may all be wrong if you dip into another genre. It’s difficult, but it’s also good for you as a writer. I often feel rather sorry for writers who are locked into a successful series of books where the pressure from readers, and perhaps a publisher, are for more, more, more of the same. I would hate to be stuck writing about the same characters for years on end.
So I think it’s good for your development as a writer to break out of your usual style now and then. There is so much to learn from writing outside your comfort zone. You have to consider the needs and preferences of a different tranche of readers, give a different heft to your plotline, take an alternative view of the kind of ending that might be expected.
I tried this a couple of years back. I set myself the challenge of writing a romantic novella. I’m not really a reader of romances, but for some years now I’ve been a volunteer reader for the Romantic Novelist’s Association. This means I read and assess three or four novels a year that have been nominated for RNA awards. If nothing else, this has given me a good idea of what the modern romantic novel looks like, so I felt reasonably prepared when I tackled one for myself – just to see if I could do it.
As you might expect, it wasn’t as easy as it looks. Romantic scenes make me distinctly uneasy, but my goodness I learned a lot about how to cope with them. It was, as they say, a baptism of fire. I thought carefully about the necessary ‘ingredients’ for a romantic story, from the names of the characters, to the like/dislike/like construction, to the proper sort of ending. For all that, I loved creating the characters, enjoyed describing their tangled emotions. I put them in a setting I know well – the Dorset coast – so it was easier to give the story an air of reality. It’s a short novella at just 20,000 words, but I romped through it in a matter of weeks, and I learned a lot about writing in the process.
The result was Summer at the Sea Poppy Café, and I published it under a pseudonym since it was so different from my other books. But I think it’s recognisably mine – a bit quirky. The worst anyone had to say about it was that it wasn’t long enough, and they wanted to know more about the characters. Well, I can live with that!
Will I write any more romances? Probably not. I have many other things I want to do, writing-wise, and I would hate to get locked into a series – but I won’t shy away from the romantic element in future stories. For now I’m busy writing a little murder mystery, something else I’ve never tried. It’s challenging, but fun. So my advice to writers is – work outside your comfort zone now and then. It’ll be a revelation, and it’ll make you a better writer.
If you’d like to see what I made of the challenge of writing a romantic novella, you can buy the e-book for just 99p here. I’d love to know what you think of it.