Three Quick Thoughts About What To Do When Making Stuff In Your Favourite Genre Feels Less Exciting

The night before I wrote this article, I was making a painting that will be posted here in a few days’ time. Since I was feeling mildly more inspired than I had been over the past few days, I decided to make a slightly more detailed painting in one of my favourite genres – the cyberpunk genre. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th July.

Although the painting turned out ok, it felt a bit like I was just going through the motions. I thought back to how the times when I’d started making cyberpunk art more regularly (in 2016/early-mid 2017) felt a lot more interesting and exciting.

So, what do you do when making stuff in your favourite genre starts to lose it’s “spark”?

1) Move to one of your other favourite genres: This is the obvious one, but if you find that making stuff in one of your favourite genres isn’t evoking the feelings of excitement, fascination and “this is awesome!” that it used to, then move to a genre that does evoke these feelings in you.

Whether it’s just a passing fascination with some random topic, or another genre you really love, you probably have more than one thing that really fascinates you at any one time. So, focus on one of the other ones.

After a while, when you start to feel temporarily bored with that thing – you’ll have probably had enough of a break from the genre that you were getting bored with for it to start to seem interesting again.

2) Change how you think about it: One of the interesting shifts that I’ve noticed in my attitude towards making cyberpunk art is that it has gone from being “let’s make something really cool-looking” to “let’s making something easy, that also looks cool“. Because I’ve had a fair amount of practice with this genre of art, I can pretty much make cyberpunk paintings in my sleep these days.

Still, this isn’t a bad thing. At the very least, it now means that I can still make good-looking art on less inspired or moderately inspired days. In other words, it is a sign of artistic progress. It is a sign that I’m progressing as an artist. It’s another backup for uninspired days. In other words, it isn’t a bad thing.

If you can find some kind of silver lining to your current lack of enthusiasm for your favourite genre, then this can help a lot. Because, even if it just means that it’s time to find a new favourite genre (and experience all of those feelings of excitement again), then this is certainly better than just feeling miserable about the fact that your favourite genre doesn’t excite you as much as it used to.

3) Find more inspirations: Simply put, the times when I’ve felt really thrilled about making cyberpunk art have been when I’ve discovered something “new” in this genre that I haven’t seen or played before and have been absolutely entranced by it.

So, one way to rekindle your enthusiasm for making stuff in one of your favourite genres is simply to find more stuff in this genre. The only problem with this is, of course, that finding “new” stuff becomes progressively more difficult over time since not only will you have already seen or played even more stuff in this genre but you’ll have already learnt a lot about that genre (and the thrill of learning new stuff is an important part of those feelings of fascination).

So, this approach isn’t perfect. But, if you’re experiencing this jaded feeling for the very first time – then, time and budget permitting, it can be a good temporary solution.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ultra-Basic Ways To Come Up With Story Ideas In Genres You Don’t Normally Write In

During a random conversation a while before I originally wrote this article, I was asked by someone to come up with random ideas for romance novels.

Although I thought that this would be an extremely challenging thing (since romance usually tends to be a background element, if anything, in stories that I write), I was actually able to come up with two vaguely ok story ideas within the following hour. They didn’t turn into actual stories, but I’m still surprised that I was actually able to think of the ideas in the first place.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to come up with story ideas for genres that you don’t normally write in.

1) Work out which part of the genre you like (and which part you don’t): If you have to plan a story in a genre that you don’t normally write in, start by asking yourself what you do and don’t like about the genre in question. When you’ve found the things that you like, then focus on them.

Although this won’t give you an instant story idea, knowing what you do and don’t like about the genre in question will point you in the direction of the basic story types that you’ll be best at planning. So, it will give you part of a story idea, although you’ll obviously have to think of the rest.

For example, in romantic fiction, I prefer stories where the romance is either a pre-existing thing at the start of the story or an inevitable thing. I’m not really a fan of stories that involve love triangles, affairs etc.. since this adds a lot of unnecessary tension and emotional awkwardness to a genre that is supposed to be uplifting and reassuring (albeit with some light dramatic conflict). So, knowing this, I was able to know a little bit more about the basic types of stories that I’d be best at planning.

2) You know more than you think you do: If you’ve ever seen a sci-fi film called “Limitless“, then you’re probably going to guess what I’m talking about here. In this film, the main character ends up in a situation that allows him to access literally all of his memories. This means that, thanks to lots of things he’s seen or read about briefly in the past, he instantly becomes a genius. The basic point of this film is that we absorb a lot more information than we actually remember.

The same is true for genres that you don’t normally write. Chances are, you’ve seen or read more things in this genre than you think – even if it’s just mixed with other genres. For example, if you’ve never read or written a horror story before and haven’t seen any horror movies, then you’ve probably still seen films, TV shows etc.. that include elements from the horror genre.

So, think carefully about all of the things that you have seen or read that include elements from the genre that you’re going to use in your story plan and see if those elements can teach you anything about how to tell stories in this genre.

3) Your own version: One of the best ways to plan a story in a genre you don’t know much about is simply to think of your own version of it. In other words, if you read a story or saw a film in that genre which you actually liked – what would it look like? Once you’ve worked this out, then coming up with a story plan becomes somewhat easier.

Yes, it might involve adding elements from other genres to your plan or it might involve using literary techniques from other genres, but it will help you to think of a story idea that is actually enjoyable to write about.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Genre Blending Is So Important

Although I’ve talked about combining genres before, I thought that I’d look at it from a slightly different angle today. This is because, whilst there are lots of ways that writers/artists/musicians/filmmakers etc… can mix genres together, the act of genre blending is important in it’s own right.

Here are a few reasons why:

1) It widens audiences: Normally, I’m not a fan of the superhero genre, especially when it comes to “traditional” superheroes. Don’t even get me started on how annoying it is when people use the word “comics” as a synonym for “superhero comics” (other types of comics exist!). And, yet, one of my many favourite TV shows is probably “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“.

This is an American TV series about Superman that was originally made during the 1990s and it is a world apart from “gritty and serious” modern superhero movies. This show is much, much better as a result. But, why? Well, because it includes elements from lots of other genres.

Rather than being in the action genre, it takes heavy influence from the comedy genre, the romance genre, the detective genre and occasionally the science fiction genre. It’s a fun, light-hearted and funny show about an incredibly cute couple (and their complicated love life), who solve mysteries that also occasionally include things like futuristic gadgets and spaceships. In other words, it’s a show that wasn’t made for obsessive superhero comic fans and it is amazing!

Likewise, I used to think that folk music was a boring genre. Then I heard heavy metal and punk bands make amazing songs that were based on various old folk songs. I also used to think that the fantasy genre was “silly”/ “nerdy in a bad way”, but then I read and watched “Game Of Thrones” (which takes influence from the horror genre), and played computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” that blend the fantasy and cyberpunk genres in really cool ways.

If you include elements from other genres, then you introduce audiences to genres that they may not have really been interested in before. Not only does this widen the audience for a particular genre, but it also allows people who aren’t usually fans of a particular genre to take a look at it without wasting their time.

2) Originality: As many people will probably tell you, there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is influenced or inspired by something else. And, yet, the most famous “original” works have got that title for the simple reason that they took influence from an original mixture of things.

For example, the film “Blade Runner” wasn’t the first sci-fi film about robots. It wasn’t even the first thing in the cyberpunk genre (a writer called Bruce Bethke got there first). The basic story behind the film isn’t even original (it’s an adaptation of a Philip. K. Dick novel). Even the film’s beautifully ‘futuristic’ set designs are clearly inspired by cities like Tokyo and Seoul, older comics like “2000AD” and “MΓ©tal Hurlant” and old film noir movies.

But, it’s recognised as a cinematic masterpiece because of the fact that it combined science fiction, film noir and philosophy in a way that no-one had ever done before. The film’s originality comes from doing something totally new with a wide range of different influences.

New genres and highly “original” creative works tend to emerge when people mix elements from different genres in ways that no-one has really done before. So, genre blending is essential to originality.

3) Awesomeness: If you’re a fan of two genres, then seeing them combined can make something even better. Whilst this depends a lot on how the two genres are blended, it can result in some truly awesome things.

The classic cinematic example is probably the film “Alien“. Science fiction is awesome. Horror is awesome. This film blends both genres together in such a way that they rely on each other to turn the film into something greater than the sum of it’s parts. Without the film being set on a claustrophobic spaceship, it’d just be a generic monster movie. Without the alien creature, the film would just be a generic “serious” late-1970s sci-fi movie. But, together, these elements create something truly brilliant!

When genres are mixed in a way that allows each genre to compliment the other genre, then it can turn into something that is mind-blowingly awesome if you happen to be a fan of both genres.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ways To Make Art In A Genre You Find Difficult

For quite a while, I found certain types of punk art (except for cyberpunk art) to be one of the most difficult genres of art to make.

Although the artwork surrounding American punk albums from the 90s/00s looked really cool, it was a genre of art that I just couldn’t “understand” (even if a few parts of my current art style were learnt from it). Yet, on the day that I wrote this article, I finally made some punk art. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 5th Janaury.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to make art in genres that you just can’t seem to make art in even if you really want to.

1) Try a different version: One of the things that surprised me about the punk painting that I made was that it was about a million miles away from the cartoonish (and mostly apolitical) type of American-style “punk album cover” art that I really wanted to make. It was punk art, but it was more like old-school British punk than anything from across the pond. It was a different version of the same genre, which I somehow found much easier to make.

Of course, this is probably because I’m British. Although I prefer American punk music, the political satire in classic British punk music has never felt more relevant in the modern age. Likewise, I also read quite a few reprints of old “Tank Girl” comics during my early 20s. Although I love one version of the genre, it turns out that I’m more familiar with another version. The same might be true for the genre you are trying to make art in.

So, trying a slightly different version of the genre you want to make art in can be a great way to make some art in the genre you love. The rule here is, of course, to go with whatever seems instinctively “right”, even if it’s a bit different to what you might expect.

To use a non-art example, when I wrote a series of cyberpunk short stories for Christmas 2016, I’d expected them to be written using a classic “rapid-fire” William Gibson-style narrative voice. But, for the most part, I ended up using fairly ‘ordinary’ narration, even if the content of the stories was cyberpunk-based. It just felt more “natural” and it allowed me to write fourteen cyberpunk stories in as many days.

So, try a different version of the same genre and you might find that things are a lot easier.

2) Try blending it with something familiar:
One easy way to make art in a genre that you really want to make art in (but find difficult) is simply to mix it with another genre that you are more confident with. By adding elements of your desired genre to a more familiar genre, you can rely on your experience and knowledge a lot more.

For example, most of the punk art that I’ve made in the past has been blended with the horror genre. Since I know how to paint skeletons, zombies etc.. then adding punk elements to this familiar genre of art meant that it was a lot easier to make…

“Punkocalypse” By C. A. Brown [2015]

So, if you find one genre of art difficult to make, then mix it with a genre that you find easy to make.

3) Have more influences: The more research you do into a genre of art, the easier you will find it to make. When you see how lots of different artists have interpreted the same genre, it can give you a few ideas of your own. For example, the idea to make a collage-style punk painting came from seeing the cover art for Green Day’s “Insomniac” album. This album used a traditional photo-montage and I thought “I could make a painting that looked a bit like it could be a photo-montage.”

Likewise, seeing lots of different works of art in the same genre can help you to see what they have in common with each other (eg: what the main features and themes of the genre are) and this can help to give you a greater understanding of how the genre “works”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

The Paradoxes Of “Subjective” Fictional Genres – A Ramble

Although this is an article about the horror genre, a lot of what I will be saying here can be applied to quite a few other genres too (the comedy genre springs to mind for starters…).

Anyway, the horror genre is a genre that is designed to provoke a strong emotional response in the audience. It’s a genre that can gain it’s emotional power through imagined situations, characterisation, suspense, subtle implication and/or vivid imagery. It’s also an incredibly subjective genre too – ten people can read the same horror novel and all have wildly different reactions to it. After all, everyone has their own mixture of phobias, anxieties and attitudes towards the horror genre.

Everyone has their own personal ideas about what is and isn’t “scary”. Some people like stories that gradually build up suspense and some people like stories that go from zero to abject terror as quickly as possible. Some people like their horror to be “serious” and some people like horror that includes some dark comedy. Some people focus entirely on certain sub-genres of horror fiction (eg: the zombie genre, the vampire genre etc..) and some people avoid certain sub-genres because they aren’t scary or interesting enough.

Yet, the people writing horror fiction can only write what they personally consider to be creepy, scary, shocking and/or disturbing. If they want to write truly great horror fiction, they not only need to delve into the darkest depths of their unique imaginations, but they also need to know what types of horror fiction really fascinate them. Then they need to write the kind of horror story that they would want to read. They also need to be scared by what they are writing, because how can they expect like-minded members of the audience to be scared if they are not?

If you stop writing a horror story because you are just too damn disturbed by it to continue writing, then this is both an extremely annoying thing and an extremely brilliant thing at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a testament to the power of the written word. On the other hand, it’s annoying because you’ve left a story unfinished. This is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the horror genre and the perfect example of how it’s an extremely subjective genre.

In other words, a good horror novel often tends to be something that only that particular author could have written. This is, of course both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the horror genre. When you read a horror story by someone else, you are stepping into the unknown territory of another person’s imagination and you have no clue whether it’s somewhere that you’ll feel at home in or not.

Most of the time, you’ll probably feel “slightly” or “mostly” at home with a horror novel. But, although you might have read the blurb or a few reviews first, there’s no real way to know for certain how you will react before you start reading.

Again, this brings up another paradox. On the one hand, a horror novel by a new author is a fascinatingly unknown thing that could scare you senseless. On the other hand, it might be hilariously cheesy, annoyingly boring or just completely off-putting. Even with a horror novel that sounds like it might be cool, there’s no real way to know for certain before you actually read it.

The horror genre is sometimes derided as being a “cheap” genre. A genre that is below the enlightened perspective of respectable critics. A genre that is often only talked about to other fans of the horror genre. Yet, it’s a genre that most people enjoy in some form at least occasionally. But, some people have a bizarre inherent dislike of the entire genre – sometimes with disdainful overtones. It has historically been seen by some as a genre that is a corrupting or dehumanising influence, and has even suffered censorship in the past as a result.

And, yet, the horror genre relies on humanity in order to “work”. It relies on someone expressing their unique imagination in the best way possible, in the hope that other people will find it an interesting place to inhabit for a few hours. It relies on provoking common instinctive emotions that all humans share in one form or another.

The horror genre is a genre that is about as far from “dehumanised” as it is possible to get! And, yet, this is both it’s greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness. On the one hand, it can contain immense emotional power and the potential for strong emotional catharsis. On other hand, you might find that you just don’t get along well with the unique imagination of a particular writer, director etc…

Likewise, paradoxically, the horror genre cannot “corrupt” people. In order for a horror story to disturb, horrify and/or disgust the audience, the audience must have pre-existing moral standards. After all, would anyone be unsettled by or fearful of something that they personally consider to be “good” or “righteous”? The horror genre relies on the audience having moral standards in order to work properly!

In other words, it’s a subjective genre. A genre that is, paradoxically, as much about the reader as it is about the writer.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚