Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres

When I posted daily short stories here last February, I quickly realised that I probably wouldn’t be able to write in some of my favourite genres. Sometimes this was due to practical reasons (eg: time reasons, research reasons etc..) and sometimes this was due to worries about potential censorship (eg: with regard to gruesome splatterpunk horror fiction etc…).

Yet, despite these limitations, I was still able to feel inspired regularly and to find interesting workarounds to solve this problem to some extent. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for what to do when you can’t write in your favourite genres (whether because of self-censorship, skills, circumstances etc…).

1) Bury it within another genre: I’ll start with what to do if you don’t feel that you have the practical skills to really do your favourite genres justice. Although this can be solved by the right amount of research into the genre (and thinking about it like a critic), there’s also a quick workaround if you want to start writing this genre right now.

Basically, find a genre that you are confident writing in and then find some way to add stuff from the other genre to it. This way, you won’t find yourself “out of your depth” because, if you’re struggling, you can just fall back on the other genre.

To give you an example, I’ve always wanted to write something about pirates – but, this requires lots of historical research, research about ships etc… to do properly. So, instead, when I really wanted to write a pirate-themed story last year, I mixed it with the cyberpunk genre. The short story takes place in a stylised virtual reality pirate-themed videogame, allowing me to add all of the hilarious and/or melodramatic pirate tropes that I wanted to without worrying about historical accuracy, nautical accuracy etc..

So, one way to write in a genre that you can’t write in is simply to combine parts of it with a genre that you can write in.

2) Elements, implications and hints: If censorship or self-censorship is a problem, then one way to keep the enthusiasm of writing in your favourite genres if you can’t write in them is to be a bit more subtle. In other words, use implications, subtle elements from your genre and/or references to it.

This one is pretty self-explanatory really, although the exact details of how to do it will probably vary from story to story. So, the best advice that I can offer is to look at what film and television do. Since these mediums are more heavily plagued by censorship than literature is, they’ve had to come up with all sorts of clever and creative ways to say or show more than they actually do on screen.

Likewise, take a look at slightly older literature (eg: from the early-mid 20th century) too. Yes, this literature often contains elements that are fairly dated when read these days, but it’s also a great way to learn about how to get stuff past the censors too.

Whether it is the way that things are described (eg: in a brief, clinical and/or detached way), whether it is the way that writers create an atmosphere (through descriptions, characters etc..) where it’s obvious that shocking events are probably happening “out of sight”, whether it is what a writer chooses to focus on etc.. Older literature can offer a few interesting pointers for getting stuff past the censors.

3) Metafiction: Finally, one way to write in genres that you can’t write in is to write about them instead. This also allows you to write much more sophisticated stories too.

For example, this story about two ageing 1980s horror writers is a story about the splatterpunk genre, but it isn’t a splatterpunk story. Instead, it’s kind of a tragi-comedic look at what happens when a genre loses popularity, the contrast between modern culture and the 1980s etc… This allowed me to write something about the splatterpunk genre, without writing anything particularly gruesome.

Likewise, this story about the censorship of horror and crime comics during the 1950s was a way about talking about one of my favourite types of comics – but it was also a story about the damage that censorship does to culture (eg: the current dominance of superhero comics/movies can be directly attributed to the censorship of much more interesting horror and crime comics during the 1950s).

So, yes, if you can’t write in a genre – then try writing about it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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