Three Thoughts About Telling Stories in Genres You Don’t Know

2015 Artwork In A Genre You Don't Know sketch (version two)

A while before I wrote this article, I started playing a wild west-themed computer game from the 1990s called “Outlaws” (I’m not sure if I’ll review this game – although I probably won’t). Anyway, after playing it for about half an hour, I briefly thought “Hmmm… I want to write a western story or comic“.

Of course, the idea passed fairly quickly, but I suddenly realised how little I know about the western genre. Apart from playing this computer game and watching a couple of famous western movies (and “Firefly“, of course), I know relatively little about the western genre.

Still, this made me think about whether it’s possible to tell stories in genres that you don’t have a hugely detailed knowledge of. I’d argue that it might be possible and here are a few thoughts on how you might do it:

1) Use the surface only: One of the easiest possible ways to tell a story in a genre that you don’t know is to just tell a story in a genre that you do know, and just make it look vaguely like something from the genre that you don’t know.

For example, if you wanted to write a western, but you know a lot more about the horror genre than the western genre – then just write a horror story which has a vaguely wild west-style setting. Tell a story about a ghost town in the wild west, with much more emphasis on the ghosts than on the wild west itself.

One of the advantages of using this approach is that, since you’re blending two genres together, your story will probably be a lot more original than you might expect. Yes, it might annoy purists, but for “regular” fans of the genre that you’re trying to write in – it’ll be something interesting and different.

2) Use the underlying qualities: Think about what exactly interests you about a particular genre that you don’t really know or understand that well. Write up a list of qualities that make this unknown genre stand out to you. Then see if you can find a way to fit these qualities into a story or comic in a genre you do know and understand.

For example, the things that interest me about the western genre are the desolate settings, the individualistic characters, the dramatic gunfights, some of the music that’s associated with films and games in the genre, some of the fashions, the wandering “outlaw” characters etc..

Now, of course, if I wanted to, I could make a cyberpunk comic that included all of these qualities. I could come up with an idea for a fantasy story that included most of these elements. Neither of these things would actually be a western, but they’d have a very similar “feel” to a western.

3) Make it up: You have an imagination, so why not use it? As long as you add something to your story that makes it clear that it isn’t a “typical” example of a story in the genre you want to write in, then just use your imagination to work out what a story in this genre would look like.

For example, I’m not an expert on 19th century American history. So, if I tried to write a “proper” western, then I’d fail miserably. However, if I was to set the story in a parallel universe, or in a virtual reality program, or in a dream or even on another planet – then I’d have the freedom to create whatever I imagine a western to be like because none of my readers would expect it to be a “realistic” western.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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