I've just published my latest novel. I'm excited by the achievement, who wouldn't be? But this time it's special. You see, my latest novel is a massive departure from the fantasy stories I usually write.
'WRITE OFF' is a story in the contemporary fiction genre.
It's genesis is important, bear with me. My wife doesn't like fantasy fiction, can't stand it in fact. She's always been supportive but hasn't read any of my stories. "I just wouldn't understand them," she says. Fair enough. During lockdown I bought her a Kindle and she consumes dozens of books via Kindle Unlimited. At one point last year she put her Kindle down with a heavy sigh and said she was tired of reading badly written stories. "Why don't you write a story that I'd enjoy? It would be so much better than most of the rubbish I've read lately!"
I accepted the challenge. This post outlines how I went about achieving that challenge.
It led to several discussions on the differences between the two genres. Plus, the expectations of its readers. They are very different people as you might imagine. Therefore, as a writer, it posed an interesting exercise in rethinking how to write a story for a very different audience. Once I'd completed my research on the contemporary fiction genre, I began to realise how different it was.
The process began with my first chapter. I'm a pantser, I can't write to a detailed plan, I have to put words on the page and see what happens. By the end of the chapter, my protagonist was firmly established in my mind. That usually doesn't happen, the character tends to evolve in the first draft. But Alec Wainwright was there, in my head, smirking at me. I knew what he was like, he wasn't very nice either, not someone with whom the audience would sympathise. I re-read the chapter, really excited by how it worked and realising that the story had to explore why he was like that. Something needed to happen at the end to redeem this man and that was what the story would be about. I started the second chapter by going back to his childhood where the damage began.
One of the biggest differences I found in changing genres was the difference in structure. Fantasy stories need a huge climax, the ultimate battle between good and evil.
I knew that couldn't happen in this story but there had to be a climax of some kind. I built up to it, as you do, pleased with how I'd created a moment of high drama. Then I gave the first draft to my wife to read.
She loved the story. Until the end. "Contemporary fiction doesn't need that kind of drama. It's quieter, cerebral, emotional, entirely dependent on character." I read a few stories and found endings to be about disclosures of secrets, resolution of disputes, redemption of wrong deeds. So I reworked the structure, played down the climax so it was an event but prompted further consequences for my protagonist. I also realised that I needed an explanation for his behaviour and found an answer by researching mental illness. That information helped me rework the whole story, it permeated his conduct and his thought processes. It provided a wonderful plot twist too.
My wife's role in the development of the book has to be proclaimed here. She agreed to be my editor. She has an editor's eye, it's an instinctive thing. After completing the final draft we worked on the book together and tweaked and refined it until we were both happy with the result. That's been one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. She chose the cover design too.
Write Off has been a joy to write. Every other book I've written has taken an age, continental drift is speedier. Yet this one was completed in under eight months and I enjoyed every moment. I'm in the process of preparing my next fantasy novel for my editor (not my wife this time!). I'm aiming to publish it by the end of the summer. It has had a painful birth! I've worked on them both simultaneously, which is what I imagine schizophrenia must be like. That said, it's been refreshing and I recommend the process. When I got stuck with one story I shifted across to the other. If you read up on ways to improve your creativity, this is one successful answer.
My conclusion is this: swapping genres can be a wonderful writing exercise which revitalises the creative process. It forces you to rethink how you write, which in turn gets you out of those ruts you didn't know you were in. I shall definitely write another story in the contemporary fiction genre, it's keeping me fresh and mentally more open-minded. Go on! Try it! I dare you!
Write Off is available from Amazon here.