What Comfort Zone? by Emily Witt

If you’d have told me at the end of last year that on January 1 2013 I would begin writing a romance highly influenced by my job at a war memorial and containing only the faintest traces of very low fantasy elements, and that by halfway through the year I’d be on the second draft of it and more invested in my two main characters than is probably healthy, I most likely would have laughed at you.

“Don’t be silly!” I would have said. “I write fantasy! Fantasy is my genre!”

At which point you could have cocked your eyebrow at me and said, “Oh really? And how’s the writing of that epic fantasy saga going?” and I would have refused to answer you because not being able to get that story out of my head and onto paper was a sore point for me for most of last year. It still is, a bit, but at least I’ve found something else to write in the meantime now.

The thing is, I’ve always been a sci-fi/fantasy nerd and everything I’d written up until the start of this year had fitted into one or other of those genres in some way or another. Even the crime novel I’d been planning at university ended up having time travel in it. So when I read or heard things like “don’t try to write outside your genre”, which sounded like pretty sound advice, I assumed fantasy was it and that if I wasn’t able to write it, there was something wrong.

So perhaps it was divine intervention when the very basic plot elements of my current WIP, A More Complicated Fairytale, to me in a dream on New Year’s Eve. The content of the dream bears little resemblance to how the story looks now, but it was the initial inspiration.

Over the next few months, when people asked me what kind of story I was writing, my knee-jerk response was still to say fantasy. After all, it’s set in a fictional kingdom which is at war with another fictional kingdom, and one of the main characters is a prince! That makes it fantasy, right? Well, maybe, but the focus of the story is on none of that, and far more on the developing relationship between the two main characters. The broader setting is about where the fantasy elements end. This story is definitely a romance first and foremost.

So why am I telling you all of this? To remind you that no piece of advice you hear in the writing industry is a hard and fast rule. Never be afraid to experiment, to push boundaries, or step outside your comfort zone. Especially if your comfort zone isn’t working for you right now. Add a dash of paranormal to that romance you’re writing or a hint of crime drama to your horror story. You might end up in a place you never expected to be, and it might end up being the best choice you’ve ever made with your writing.

You never know, you might surprise yourself.

~*~

Emily Witt

7 comments

  1. You can still be writing a fantasy romace, even if the romance bit comes first. And it will probably get shelved in the fantasy section.
    Thanks for sharing. My own WIP is a mash of genres so it’s good to know there’s otehrs out tehre in a similar place.

  2. so true – my series which people keep trying to label sci-fi which I strongly deny – is first and foremost a story about love (men/women/children/friends/land etc) based on archives and history albeit history set in future – we have to fight hard to keep these labels at bay and write what the story and our instincts dictate – genres are for book shelves and distributors ease:)

    good post:)

  3. Yay! I love reading about people who break the rules and say “Fie” in the face of conventional wisdom. (Or just say “Fie” in general.) Go Girl!
    ~Just Jill

  4. Lovely back story! Inspiration comes in a dream. What could be more fantastical? I’m on the final edits/revisions of Book 2 (with 3 planned), historical fiction set in mid 19th Century. How did I get started? With a short story about mermaids. Once I began research on Scotland, the mermaid disappeared, and the story took over. Your post is neatly inspirational to writers of any genre.

  5. Don’t futz about the label until the story is written, Emily. There will be enough time and enough people who want to shove your story into a box, don’t pressure yourself to do it before the story is written.

    Also, remember there is a lot of romance (and sometimes mystery and suspense) in fantasy and sci-fi. They’re big genres; and they’ve grown up enough to be able to handle some genre weaving.

    I read a few weeks back an article that listed various sub-genres of fantasy. I can’t think of it now, but here’s a less nicely defined list that still may be able to help: http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/fantasy-sub-genres/

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