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  • Writer's pictureCatherine

A Hop, Skip, & a Jump through Genres

In 8th grade, my last creative writing assignment was to take the first couple chapters of a book (that I can’t recall now) and rewrite our own version of them in a short paper. Little did I know that the characters I created for this assignment would still be living rent free in my head 12 years later.

Their story grew from a short paper to a multi-hundred page story to a duology to a series all the way to their current many-book universe filled with prequels, sequels, side stories, and lore. We've covered over a million words. But what's even more wild is how we’ve been in and out of genres. That’s right. The characters & I took many trips through genres because they needed a place where it felt like they were at home. Not stuck in a setting. Not forced into a world that wasn’t their own. Not somewhere that was ‘okay’ but not ‘perfect’. They deserved the right place to call home.

And boy did we try out a lot of places together. Their story started in a modern setting that essentially took place in the world I lived in and knew best: South Louisiana & Southeast Texas. The original draft had no magic system, just some crazy endeavors that I thought sounded cool. But by the time the story grew from a short paper to a couple-hundred-pages of a book, magic had wormed its way into the story and so the genre shifted from contemporary to low-fantasy.

We stayed in low-fantasy, a magic world superimposed atop our world, for a couple years. There the characters formed their bonds, their relationships, their arcs that for the most part are still the same at their core in today’s iteration of the project. The magic system began to develop, because I needed it to make sense. Low-fantasy let me explore a chemistry-based magic system, a will-based magic system, a mad-scientist-and-oh-no-we-created-magic-system, but none of them quite worked for what I wanted for the story. It was close. But we hadn’t found home yet.

The next couple years marked the crazy journeys. Sci-fi? Yup. They spent a little while in a futuristic version of our world, under new names while their basic bonds remained the same, exploring not with magic but with imagining what the future of technology would bring. Dystopian? Yeah, couldn’t avoid that with the dystopian craze of my teen years. Discovering they were secretly the children of gods & goddesses? Hello the few rambling pages of PJO fanfic that I tried to disguise as my own story.

There was even the time I dropped them into a world where the main cast formed a band to save a small town. That was wild.

The point of this is, though, that I had characters. I had relationships. I had a plot that formed from those and all it needed was a home. So we kept trying. Until finally, after avoiding it for far too long, I turned to going full high-fantasy and that’s when things fell into place. After all of our crazy searching, the characters and I finally knew we had found our story’s home.

And that’s what I challenge you, fellow writers, to do. If you have a beloved cast and something’s not working - drop them in a new genre. If you have the makings of a plot but can’t figure out why “X” causes “Y” to happen? Let them try it out in a different world.

The freedom of taking a cast and setting them loose in a new world opens new windows for creativity. Perhaps you thought your story belonged in a high-fantasy setting, but really they need the comforts of our world with your own brand of magic sprinkled through. Perhaps you thought they belonged in a dystopian world, when really the film-noir-world vibes are where they can shine. Perhaps you thought they belonged where you originally started, and you let them loose in a few places, only to discover you had it right all along - but now you know why.

Don’t be afraid of exploring worlds with your cast, with your plot, as you fine-tune the way your story should be told. If you’ve got characters you love, bits of a plot, but something isn’t clicking - take the leap of faith and try a new genre. Try a new world - if a whole new genre is too big a step just move them from Texas to California and who knows, maybe that’ll solve it!

We get used to our comfort zones but it’s in breaking through our fears that our stories come alive. I avoided high-fantasy for years because it intimidated me and yet now? It's exactly where I need to be. I never could've imagined it. But that's the thing - often our imaginations are smaller than the story itself. Don’t limit your story as you’re discovering it. Let it loose until it finds a home. You just might be surprised with where you end up.

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