Using Influences From Outside The Cyberpunk Genre In Cyberpunk Fiction

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Well, for this article in my series about writing cyberpunk fiction, I thought that I’d take a brief look at how you can improve your cyberpunk stories by using influences and inspirations from different genres.

This was something that I was reminded of when I wrote this short story that was posted here late last year. My first idea was to write a dystopian story about some kind of police robot, since I’d watched an absolutely brilliant TV miniseries called “Robocop: Prime Directives” on DVD. I was in the mood for some good old-fashioned dystopian science fiction. With heavily-armed robots.

But, before I wrote this story, I remembered an extract from a short horror story I’d read somewhere on “Too Much Horror Fiction[NSFW] a few weeks earlier. Although I can’t seem to find the exact page or remember the author’s name (I think he was the son of a famous horror author), the extract was especially interesting because it was a vampire story that was narrated using just 1-2 word sentences.

This gave me the idea to narrate my short story from the perspective of the robot. After all, this kind of terse, abrupt narration has a slightly “robotic” sound to it. However, I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to use this exact style in the story because I also wanted to include slightly longer things like descriptive error messages in the story too.

But, the idea of it helped to turn what would have been a generic sci-fi story into something a bit more interesting. By using something similar (but different) to this style, I was able to write something that was only about 400 words long, which told a reasonable-length story and which left enough details to the reader’s imagination to be either chilling or hilarious (depending on your sense of humour).

And this never would have happened if I’d only taken inspiration from the cyberpunk genre.

One of the problems with the cyberpunk genre is that it’s a relatively small genre. There just aren’t that many things in it, when compared to many other genres. It’s a tiny sub-genre of the science fiction genre, whose heyday was 20-35 years ago. It’s amazingly cool, and it’s had something of a resurgence within the past few years, but it’s still fairly obscure. So, taking inspiration from other genres is especially important.

In fact, many of the classics of the cyberpunk genre do exactly that. For example, the 1982 movie “Blade Runner” takes huge amounts of inspiration from old 1930s-50s “film noir” movies. Likewise, the brilliantly distinctive narrative style in William Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy” has strong echoes of both hardboiled detective fiction and thriller fiction.

Likewise, Warren Ellis’ excellent “Transmetropolitan” comic series is very clearly inspired by the unique journalism of Hunter S. Thompson. Plus, the original “Deus Ex” computer game takes a lot of influence from pre-existing conspiracy theories, alongside more traditional cyberpunk influences (like “Ghost In The Shell).

What I’m trying to say here is that, if you’re writing cyberpunk fiction, then you need to look outside the genre for inspirations and influences. In fact, this is true for whatever type of fiction that you are trying to write.

“Unique” and “distinctive” fiction usually just means that someone has been inspired by something that the audience didn’t expect them to be inspired by. So, if you want to make your fiction stand out more, then try looking outside of your genre of choice for inspirations.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Basic Ways To Add Other Genres To Cyberpunk Stories

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Well, for the next article in my series of articles about writing cyberpunk fiction (which were written at the same time I was writing this old series of short stories), I thought that I’d talk very briefly about how to add elements from other genres to your cyberpunk stories.

After all, whilst the cyberpunk genre might have a reputation for only containing grim, gritty “edgy” stories – it’s a genre that is surprisingly easy to mix with other genres.

1) Virtual reality: Just like how traditional science fiction often included fantasy elements by having the characters land on a planet that was still in the middle ages, cyberpunk fiction can do something similar.

After all, most classic-style cyberpunk stories revolve around the characters venturing into a futuristic virtual reality world of some kind. And, just like the holodeck in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, you can use virtual reality settings to add other genres to your cyberpunk story. Just come up with a fictional game or program that includes the other genre that you want to add to your story.

2) Components:
Simply put, one easy way to add another genre to your cyberpunk story is to look at what makes that other genre so distinctive and then try to find a way to add that to your cyberpunk story.

For example, the classic cyberpunk movie “Blade Runner” is probably more vintage film noir than it is cyberpunk. Yet, these two genres go together really well for the simple reason that, although the story is set in a futuristic cyberpunk city, many of the character’s outfits are based on 1940s fashions, many of the locations also feature old buildings and many of the characters’ personalities could have easily come from an old pulp novel.

So, break down both genres into their essential themes etc… and then try to create something new that includes elements from both. Doing it this way will also help you to avoid having elements from each genre clash with each other, or look silly.

3) Look for commonality: Although I ridiculed the fantasy genre in this cyberpunk story, the truth is that it isn’t actually that different from the cyberpunk genre.

Both genres often rely on the main characters having a mastery of uncommon and arcane skills. In the fantasy genre, this is called magic, sorcery, necromancy etc…. In the cyberpunk genre, it’s called hacking.

Likewise, both the fantasy and the cyberpunk genres also rely on suddenly immersing the audience in a fascinatingly confusing imagined world. In the fantasy genre, this world is stuck at some unknown point in the distant past. In the cyberpunk genre, this world is stuck at some unknown point in the distant future.

This was just one example, but if you can find what the cyberpunk genre has in common with the genre you want to mix it with then you’ll probably be able to mix the two genres in a much more seamless way.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… Genre-Specific Creativity

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Although this is an article about art, comics and fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. This is mostly because, a day or two before I wrote this article, I heard a rather interesting song called “Metal Inquisition” by Piledriver that made me think about audiences and genres.

“Metal Inquisition” is a song which heavy metal fans will find absolutely hilarious and non-metal fans will probably find mildly disturbing. It’s a knowingly silly song about a Spanish Inquisition-style group who try to ensure that everyone listens to heavy metal… or else!

And, it’s also the perfect example of a genre-specific thing. It’s a comedic song that is written specifically for heavy metal fans. If you aren’t a metalhead, then you probably won’t get the joke (eg: it’s about heavy metal’s [lack of] mainstream popularity etc..).

There’s certainly something to be said for things that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre. For starters, the trouble with making everything suitable for everyone is that, unless it’s done extremely well, it often ends up appealing to no-one.

Unless you are the mythical “normal person” that mainstream cinema, pop music, advertising, gaming etc… exists to serve, then there will be a certain emotional distance between you and the creative work in question. And, well, no-one is that idealised “normal person”. We’re all geeks or nerds in some way or another. We all have preferences and fascinations. We’re all fans of one thing or another. After all, we’re all unique human beings.

Creative works that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre acknowledge that uniqueness. They say “some people like this, and that’s cool. Some people don’t, and they should probably find something else“. As such, if you find something that you are a fan of, then it’ll feel more meaningful to you. It’ll feel like something made specifically for you.

This is also useful for creating a sense of community too. After all, if you’re a fan of a slightly obscure genre, then genre-specific things can be a thing which reminds you that “other people like this stuff too!“.

For example, going back to “Metal Inquisition”, the song is such an amazing song for the simple reason that it is a gleeful celebration of heavy metal music (a bit like Saxon’s “Denim And Leather”, Judas Preist’s “Deal With The Devil”, Helloween’s “Heavy Metal (is the law)”, Sabaton’s “Metal Machine” etc… ).

It’s a song that amusingly imagines what the world would be like if heavy metal was the most mainstream genre instead of the least mainstream genre. It’s a song that recreates the feeling of going to your first metal concert and seeing literally hundreds of other people who also like the same music you do. That awestruck sense of actually belonging somewhere.

But, in addition to this, genre-specific things are also awesome for the simple reason that they’re an expression of creative freedom. They show that the person who made them is such a fan of that particular genre that they felt compelled to actually make things for other fans. They show how great stories, films, games, albums etc… can inspire people to create things themselves. After all, you don’t make a genre-specific thing unless you’re a massive fan of things from that genre.

Genre-specific things aren’t “manufactured pop band # 345,237” who were designed by committee in order to maximise sales to the 16-24 demographic. They aren’t “Generic military action videogame #17” churned out annually in order to sell more games consoles. They aren’t “CGI-filled Hollywood Movie # 500,000” with 20% less dialogue to reduce translation costs for international distribution. They aren’t “hip fashion trend #7653” that will empty the wallets of trendy people in London, New York etc… 50% faster than usual.

No, genre-specific things are things made by people for people. They’re the sorts of things that people would make even if they didn’t get paid. They’re things that are made out of love, rather than out of greed. They are things that aren’t “mass-produced”. They’re things that are brave enough to say “if you like this, then that’s great. If you don’t, then find something else!

Genre-specific things are a testament to the power of creativity for the sake of creativity, and to the value of individuality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Ways To Blend Different Genres Of Art

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I started thinking about blending genres again when I was making a digitally-edited painting that will appear here in mid-late June. Here’s a reduced size preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 21st June.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 21st June.

This painting basically grew out of the fact that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to make an “ordinary” 1980s style painting or a 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk painting. In the end, the painting ended up being a blend of both things. So, I thought that I’d talk about how you can blend genres like this.

1) Use parts of both: The easiest and most obvious way to blend different genres of art is simply to take elements from each and put them into the same painting or drawing. For example, if you’re making a sci-fi western painting, then the easiest way to do this is just to draw some cowboys and then to draw a spaceship or two in the background.

Yes, this approach certainly has it’s limits (eg: it can look weird if it’s done badly) and it’s best done in a slightly subtle way but it’s one of the easiest ways to blend two different genres of art together.

For example, in the art preview I showed you earlier, the man in the foreground is a cyberpunk character (with a trenchcoat, a gadget and cybernetic sunglasses) whereas the woman in the mid-ground is a more 1980s-style character (who is wearing a garish “so bad that it’s good” vintage ’80s outfit). Yet, the background is a much more subtle blend of the two genres.

2) See what they have in common: A more imaginative way to blend two genres of art is to see what visual features the two genres have in common with each other.

For example, both Baroque and Renaissance art use a very realistic style (even if the lighting and the subject matter is slightly different). Likewise, both art nouveau and Japanese Ukiyo-e art use a realistic, but minimalist style. Likewise, heavy metal art and fantasy art often share a focus on both realism and stylisation. Any of these six genres of art could be blended together relatively easily, because they have a lot in common.

Generally, most genres of art will have at least something in common with each other. It just requires a bit of thought and careful study to find what these things are.

For example, the art preview I showed you earlier includes bright colours against a gloomier background. This contrast between light and dark is a hallmark of the 1980s/1990s, but it’s also similar the main lighting technique that cyberpunk art uses. Likewise, both the 1980s and the cyberpunk genre were times when neon signs were popular etc…

Likewise, my decisions about which colour schemes to use in this painting were heavily inspired by the use of colours in a set of non-cyberpunk 1980s sci-fi themed levels for “Doom II” called “Ancient Aliens“, which showed me how multiple complementary colour schemes can be used in the same piece of art.

3) Look for things that have already done it: Generally, if you can think of two genres to blend, then there’s a good chance that someone else has done it first.

Whilst you shouldn’t directly copy any pre-existing works, you can look for general visual features (that aren’t highly-specific enough to be copyrightable) and general techniques, that you can use in new and creative ways. If you’re unsure where the line between plagiarism and legitimate inspiration lies, then read this article for more clarification.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One Basic Way To Find Your Own Unique Artistic Interpretation Of A Particular Genre

2017 Artwork Find Your Artistic Interpretation Of A Genre

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to find your own unique artistic interpretation of a particular genre (eg: science fiction, horror, romance etc..). This is a subtly different thing to finding your own art style, since two artists can have very different interpretations of the same genre, whilst also using similar art styles.

To give you a non-art related example of what I’m talking about, I’ve been going through a cyberpunk computer game phase recently, where I’ve been playing two classic PC games – “System Shock” (1994) and “Deus Ex” (2000). Or, rather, I’m about one and a half levels into “System Shock” and I’m about the same distance (or slightly more) into “Deus Ex” too.

The interesting thing about these two games is that they have at least a couple of common inspirations – both of them seem to take at least some inspiration from “Blade Runner” and “Neuromancer“, the defining film and novel (respectively) of the cyberpunk genre. The protagonists of both games are also cybernetically-enhanced humans.

However, despite having a lot in common, they both interpret the same genre (using similar influences) in radically different ways. “System Shock” goes down a more “classic” route, with surreal-looking “cyberspace” areas, spaceships, Borg-like robots, mutants etc… with some gory horror elements too. Whereas, “Deus Ex” goes in a somewhat more gritty, ‘realistic’ and dystopian direction. Here’s a screenshot from each game to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from "System Shock". As you can see, it interprets the cyberpunk genre in a more 'classic sci-fi' kind of way. In this screenshot, the main character is shooting a Borg drone with a pha... Sorry, shooting a CYborg drone with a "sparq".

This is a screenshot from “System Shock”. As you can see, it interprets the cyberpunk genre in a more ‘classic sci-fi’ kind of way. In this screenshot, the main character is shooting a Borg drone with a pha… Sorry, shooting a CYborg drone with a “sparq”.

However, this interior location from the second or third level of "Deus Ex" has much more of a gloomy, gritty, "Blade Runner"-like look to it.

However, this interior location from the second or third level of “Deus Ex” has much more of a gloomy, gritty, “Blade Runner”-like look to it.

Now, compare these games to two cyberpunk “point and click” games called “Gemini Rue” and “Beneath A Steel Sky” (screenshots in the linked reviews). All four games are in the exact same thematic genre (and both “Gemini Rue” and “Beneath A Steel Sky” use similar art and gameplay styles), but they are all clearly very different from each other.

Hopefully, this long-winded and nerdy example has shown you what I mean about interpreting the same genre in different ways. So, how can you find your own interpretation of a particular genre?

The first thing is to get to know the genre. Read, look at and watch as many things in the genre as possible. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself “What visual elements of this genre do I REALLY love? What are the coolest-looking things in this genre?“. Then learn how to draw or paint things like this – through observation, experimentation and practice.

If you have to, start by precisely copying specific things when practicing. But, also learn how to draw more general things of this type too (to use as a basis for your own designs) – so that your final artwork will be original, rather than just a copy.

For example, if you really like the Tyrell Building from “Blade Runner” (Best. Fictional. Building. Ever! :)) then you could start practicing by drawing a copy of the building from a photo. However, since your final art is going to be original, you need to look at the building in more general terms. At it’s most basic level, what is this building? It’s a giant pyramid and/or a giant trapezoid. So, learn how to draw pyramids and trapezoids, and then create your own original futuristic buildings that use this general shape.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t research a genre too much- then just remember what you have seen and see which parts of it really stick in your memory. Try to work out a way to draw these specific things, and then to draw more general versions of these things (which you can use as a basis for more original designs).

Likewise, pay attention to things like lighting, shading, colour choices, fashions and themes within a genre. Decide what your favourite ones are, then reduce them to their most basic and general elements, before using this as a basis for your own original designs.

Once you’ve repeated this process enough times, then you will have found your own unique artistic interpretation of a particular genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Things To Do If You’ve Missed The Heyday Of An Interesting Genre

2016 Artwork Genre Heyday article

Although this is an article that is intended to help you make interesting comics and/or write interesting fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about one of my own interests. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious.

A while before I started writing this aritlce, I found myself returning once again to one of the coolest genres of comics in existence. I am, of course, talking about old 1940s-50s American horror comics. Although I have at least one book of them, quite a few great examples of the genre are also posted on a historical archive site called “The Horrors Of It All“.

I love the melodramatic artwork, the hilariously dark humour, the “so bad that it’s good” storylines, the vintage fashions, the delightfully over-dramatic dialogue etc… Ever since I discovered this old genre of comics, it’s been one of my favourites.

In fact, they were the things that finally allowed me to work up the motivation to get back into making comics again in 2015, after a year or so when I hadn’t made any comics. Even though the first comic I made was a 1980s-style sci-fi/comedy/horror comic, it was at least slightly inspired by old horror comics.

These old horror comics are such a joy to read and whenever I’ve made anything even vaguely similar (like the Halloween comic that is currently being posted here every night), it has almost made itself.

And, yet, the heyday of this genre of comics has long-since passed. It’s always annoying when you find a really cool genre, only to discover that no-one else really makes or reads anything in it any more. So, what can you – as a writer and/or comic maker – do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Make it anyway: This is the obvious suggestion. If you really love an obscure and forgotten genre of comics and/or fiction, then make your own examples of it. If the genre really fascinates you, then coming up with story ideas probably won’t be that difficult. Likewise, you’ll probably be so enthusiastic that your story or comic will pretty much make itself.

However, unless you’ve already built up a large fanbase, it’s possible that your project might not have a very large audience. In other words, if you want to make something that is squarely within a long-dead genre, then don’t expect it to be the thing that suddenly brings this genre back to life and makes it popular again.

But, if you’re just making a fun project, then this doesn’t really matter. The real joy is in making something that you love and making something that the few remaining fans of this obscure old genre will also love.

2) Look for it’s modern equivalent: Genres never really die. They might change a lot over time, but they never really die. If a sub-genre was particularly popular, then there’s a good chance that it will have been absorbed into the “mainstream” version of this genre (eg: back in the 1970s-90s, a gory horror novel was a “splatterpunk” novel, now it’s just a “horror novel”).

In addition to this, some obscure genres have blended with other genres over time. For example, very few people write westerns these days, but – over the past decade or two – the western genre has had some influence on the sci-fi genre (eg: TV shows like “Firefly” etc…). The same is true for how the vampire genre has mostly gone from being a sub-genre of horror fiction to being a sub-genre of romance fiction these days.

So, if you want to make something that appeals to a slightly wider audience and/or which seems a bit more contemporary, then look for the modern equivalent of your favourite obscure genres. Once you’ve found it, then try to see if you can find a way to tell the story you want to tell within the “new” version of your forgotten genre.

For example, when I made my Halloween comic, I didn’t really think that much about old 1950s horror comics. If anything, it was probably more inspired by other parts of the horror genre (eg: zombie movies). And, yet, I was still making a horror comic. And having a lot of fun making it.

3) Let it influence other things: If you don’t feel confident about pouring lots of time and energy into making things that fit into mostly-forgotten genres, then this doesn’t mean that you should abandon them entirely. Instead, learn as much as you can about this genre and let it influence the things that you make in other genres.

In fact, if you’re interested enough in an old genre, then you don’t have have to try to do this. It’ll probably just happen naturally, possibly even without you even realising it.

4) Parody: One of the problems with really cool old genres is that they’re… well… old. If you try to make “serious” or “realistic” things within these genres, then they’re probably going to seem somewhat contrived and/or old-fashioned.

Either that, or you’re going to have to do a ridiculous amount of research in order to get everything right – and, if a genre has mostly been forgotten, then finding research materials might be something of a challenge.

So, relax and have some affectionate fun with the genre. In other words, make a parody of it. Not only will this probably be extremely fun to make, but comedy has a fairly wide appeal too. So, even people who aren’t fans of the old genre might want to read your story or comic, because it’s funny.

And, if they really like it, then it might even make them curious about the things that inspired it….

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Storytelling And Seriousness- A Ramble (With A Comic Preview)

2016 Artwork Seriousness and storytelling article sketch

[Edit: I write these articles fairly far in advance, so I’m proud to say that something vaguely similar to the cyberpunk comic project I discussed in this article will end up being posted here. Albeit not for quite a few months (check the ‘2017’ section of this page for more details), due to a few other failed attempts at similar projects, that I’m sure I’ll end up talking about in future posts]

Even though this is another article about how the types of stories you enjoy telling can change over time, I’m probably going to have to spend most of this article talking about my own creative processes. If you’re not interested in reading about them, then feel free to skip to the last few paragraphs of this article.

I’ll also be talking about comics again for a few paragraphs. This is mostly because my experiences with planning an upcoming comics project (and then making another comic instead) was one of the things that gave me the idea for this article.

Anyway, I had a rather strange realisation when I was preparing to make the fifth mini series of my long-running “Damania” webcomic (the previous four can be found here, here, here and here and the fifth one should begin on the 3rd August).

At the time, I was more than in the mood for making a comic of some kind, but I couldn’t decide between making another webcomic mini series or starting a new and original “serious” narrative cyberpunk comic. I made a few quick sketches for this cyberpunk comic – mostly to try out an interesting panel layout – until I suddenly realised that I not only didn’t have a good enough idea for an actual story, but that I wasn’t that interested in telling a “serious” story.

Sure, I liked the idea of it. I liked the idea of making a “serious” cyberpunk comic, filled with cool-looking limited palette artwork. But, when it came down to the practicalities of actually making it, I felt extremely reluctant.

So, naturally, I chose to make the mini series instead. However, it’ll contain some small hints of what my unmade comic might have looked like. Here’s a preview:

It's a glimpse of what could have been (this preview is a detail from "Damania Resurrected - Electric Dreams", which will be posted here on the 5th August)

It’s a glimpse of what could have been (this preview is a detail from “Damania Resurrected – Electric Dreams”, which will be posted here on the 5th August)

This whole experience reminded me a lot about how my attitude to storytelling has changed within the past few years. Back when I thought of myself as a fiction writer, I used to revel in writing dark, nihilistic and/or horrific fiction. I loved to write about bleak dystopian futures, gratuitously gruesome deaths, wearily cynical protagonists and all of that gloriously melodramatic stuff.

But, these days, it seems that I just can’t tell “serious” stories any more (the last time I really tried was in an unfinished sci-fi comic that I tried to make in early 2014).

Even when I briefly got back into writing prose fiction just before Halloween last year, I ended up writing a fairly comedic horror story rather than the more “serious” horror story that I might have written a few years ago.

Whenever I even think about writing a serious story or making a serious comic, it just feels “heavy” and dull in a way that it never used to. When I think of writing a story or making a comic that contains serious drama, it just feels contrived and “too earnest” in a way it never really used to. When I think of a “serious” story or comic idea, it can just seem more depressing than dramatic.

But, when I try to write comedy or add a lot of comedy to a ‘serious’ story idea, it just kind of comes alive. My mind latches on to the idea and refuses to let go.

I love finding sneaky ways to add subtle comedy to things, I love the idea of using things from the horror and sci-fi genres in comedic contexts, I love the idea of making something that will make me (and some of the people who read it) laugh. I love the sense of sheer freedom that comes from writing comedy. I love making parodies. I love cynical satire. I love dark humour (which is also about the closest thing I can get to “serious storytelling” these days).

Another surprising thing is my emotions and state of mind when I write comedy these days are fairly similar to what they used to be like when I wrote horror. When I write comedy, I feel the same gloriously inspirational sense of inventiveness and energetic sense of mischievous glee that I used to feel when I wrote horror.

I’m sure that I’m not the first comic maker or writer to have ever experienced something like this (and it can happen for a multitude of reasons). For a while at least, I was kind of annoyed about it. After all, I couldn’t tell the kind of stories that I used to really enjoy telling. I didn’t feel like I could really take anything I made seriously any more.

Then I finally realised that, if I tried to keep making the kind of things that used to inspire and thrill me, I’d probably end up losing interest in creating things altogether. This change in my creative sensibilities had been quite a surprising one, but I found that I could actually produce more things (and enjoy producing them) if I just let it happen.

So, although I’ve probably given this piece of advice before, don’t worry if you gradually feel like telling radically different types of stories to the ones that you used to tell. It isn’t the end of the world.

Whilst this doesn’t happen to everyone, there are plenty of examples of famous writers who have switched genres after becoming established in one genre (eg: like how Clive Barker used to write horror fiction and then started writing fantasy instead). This has annoyed some of their fans, but at the same time, these authors probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as prolific if they hadn’t gone along with the changes.

So, if you suddenly find that a genre that you used to love writing in doesn’t appeal to you any more, or that you’re suddenly interested in a very different genre, then just go with it. Yes, it might be a bit weird at first. But, you’ll probably end up having more fun and telling more stories than you would if you doggedly try to stick with the genres you used to enjoy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂