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March Challenge

March Challenge: Genre Swap

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Expand Your Toolbox

Open to Everyone

Some of the best advice young writers embrace is to ‘write what you know.’  This isn’t always a one-to-one process where you directly recreate your life experiences memoir style into a piece of fiction.  Often it is allegorical or metaphorical: your life experiences inform your writing.  If you find yourself often on the road and away from home, maybe that’s a theme that comes up in your science fiction stories about deep space travellers.  If you recently experienced a tragic heartbreak, maybe your romance novel takes a shattering turn that leaves the reader in tears, rooting for the main character to pick up the pieces of their love.

We write in the space we are most comfortable.  We write what we know!

Now, that said, comfortability often breeds complacency.  And while we will never suggest that the writers here are complacent (we know how hard you work!), there’s always the opportunity to stretch yourself as a writer.

This month’s challenge is designed to get you out of your writing comfort zone and experiment with other genres.  And this is not exercise for the purpose of exercise.  Right?  We’re not saying lift weights to get better at lifting weights.  We are going to teach you a little about each genre to help you understand the skills you can better develop by occasionally experimenting with them!

Because every genre does something particularly well that can be adopted into other genres.  After all, if you can readily world-build the neon-drenched post-apocalyptic skyline of a future megacity, racing with hover cars and populated by nuclear punks, imagine how much better you’ll be at world-building 1830s Chancery in a historical fiction.

If you can convincingly write the human emotions of love and attraction like a skilled romance writer does, imagine how much better you’ll be at conveying dread and fear in your paranormal horror story!

Every genre embraces a particular skill set a little more than the others, and we want you to get experience flexing some skills you may not be accustomed to.

Challenge Instructions

First, order this list of genres, with the ones you love to write at the top and the ones you least enjoy at the bottom.

  1. Action/Adventure
  2. Comedy
  3. Contemporary
  4. Crime
  5. Fantasy
  6. Historical
  7. Horror
  8. Literary Fiction
  9. Mystery
  10. Romance
  11. Science Fiction
  12. Thriller
  13. Western

This month, you are going to write four scenes in your four least favorite genres, one each week.  It’s important you stick fairly close to the genres listed since we don’t want to get so hyper-niche that we lose the forest for an individual Ficus.  You may really dislike ‘occult thriller steampunk grimdark,’ but that’s a little too specific to really glean a high-level skill from.  And we want to keep this accessible.

What we are encouraging is that you create a single scene for each genre of around 500 words (but, please, do not get hung up on the word count if this is too aggressive or not aggressive enough for you) that embraces the skillset represented by the genre.  If you feel confident enough in your writing pace or ability to write an entire short story for each genre, even better!  But we do want you to complete at least one scene for each of your ‘bottom four’ to get a chance to practice skills you may not normally flex.

You can pick the genre each week, or start with the best of the worst and work your way down to the bottom of the list. Ease into it. And if you’re already rolling your eyes, remember the scenes you write can be throwaways—the goal is to get exposure to the skills each genre specializes in. So have fun with it! A good tip is to go over the top with your practice. Write the most actiony action scene ever to grace the page, the most fantastical fantasy, and you will reap a bigger benefit from the exercise.

Each week, we suggest you spend 10-20 minutes researching your chosen genre. Since you may never have written in them before, it’s good to get an idea of the themes and tropes that often appear. Beyond helping you develop skills, you may find interesting ways to subvert these premises when returning to your preferred material.

Below is a brief explanation of each genre, the skills they best exemplify, and a potential prompt for you to utilize to write your scene from.  You do not have to use the scene called for, but try your best to adhere to the skill being explained.  For example: Action/Adventure stories have constant tension, so whatever you write, punch it up so that it is brimming with tension.  Romance stories are all about human emotion, so make sure your scene is overflowing with real, human emotion.

To keep the spirit of community alive, we are also encouraging you to share a sentence each day from your writing that you liked, or exemplifies the genre you are attacking. Show us how you’ve been stretching yourself! If you didn’t write anything on a given day, try sharing a common trope of the genre or any other interesting information you found. The more discussion there is, the more people will find inspiration in unlikely places. Jump into the Discord and talk about how you are opening yourself up to a new style and what you are learning from it!

Let’s share and learn together!

Action/Adventure: What is one of the best ways to hold and keep a reader’s attention?  Having tension on every page.  You’ll find this advice in many writing courses, and action/adventure novels and stories are masterful at this.  They excite their readers.  And in exciting their readers, they pull the story forward constantly.  Write an action scene that develops a story or plot point in a meaningful way to practice keeping tension on the page.

Comedy: One of the most effective deployments of comedy is in disarming a more serious topic.  Sometimes this is in the form of satire, sometimes as self or character deprecation, and sometimes it is lampooning.  However, getting an audience to laugh about a topic can be an incredibly effective way of capturing their attention.  Practice writing a comedic scene that tackles a topic that you want your readers to take seriously without undercutting the message.

Contemporary: Contemporary Fiction tends to be rooted in ‘realism’: stories that could actually happen to real people.  This is incredibly important when it comes to relating to the reader.  If the reader can imagine themselves in a character’s shoes, they immediately become more engaged with the story.  Write a Contemporary Fiction scene to practice humanizing your characters and making them more instantly relatable to audiences.

Crime:  Crime and Noir novels absolutely nail tone.  They use setting elements, character traits, and themes in concert to craft an intangible feel for the story on the page.  It isn’t just femme fatales and dark alleys: it’s how the characters speak, the flaws that drive them forward, and the inherent danger of the world around them.  Write a Noir inspired scene that establishes a tone and practice showing, not telling.

Fantasy:  Perhaps no genre does world-building more effectively than Fantasy.  Most popular fantasy novels are master classes in how to establish a world for the reader, and effectively draw them into it despite their having no previous knowledge or frame of reference for that world.  Write a Fantasy scene to practice crafting a world your readers may never have experienced before, and make it as detailed and engaging as possible.

Historical:  No novel is better researched and grounded than a Historical Fiction.  These utilize real-world settings and events to propel their story forward in a manner so convincing the reader might well be reading a contemporaneous account of actual happenings.  Write a Historical Fiction scene where you practice utilizing familiar, real-world elements to convince your reader that the story you are telling them might have actually happened.  Draw from a researched event.

Horror:  Horror novels provide a blueprint for the most effective way to take an unbelievable idea, and make it believable by slow, gradual degrees.  Your reader may not start the story prepared to believe a shapeshifting demon lives under their bed, but by the end they will be checking every single night to make sure it is not there.  Write a scene that slowly stretches believability through believable degrees to take the reader from nonbeliever to true believer.

Literary Fiction:  Studies have shown that reading Literary Fiction has lead to increased empathy in readers, and this is largely due to how audiences relate to the experiences of the characters on the page.  For this exercise, you are going to practice writing a wholly believable character that audiences would empathize with.  Write their flaws, write their habits, their loves and dislikes, what they want out of life, what they’re willing to do to get it, and the whys of that character.

Mystery:  Mystery novels are undeniably some of the most story-driven, twisty-turny works in publication.  Every word on the page matters because it all points towards a grander conspiracy, and a reader paying attention could be able to spot a twist in advance by putting the clues together alongside the characters.  Write a Mystery scene where you weave the story tighter together and provide relevant clues about where it could be going next without telling too much.

Romance:  Romance novels are evocative studies of human emotion.  They can express triumph, sex, tragedy, and love, they can be brooding, playful, thrilling, or sensual, and a whole world of other colorful emotions.  Write a Romance scene where you focus on the emotions of the characters, and make those emotions so real that the reader feels them too.  Again, focus on showing not telling, and make sure you are utilizing sensory cues.

Science Fiction:  Science Fiction stories are distinct from Fantasy in that they tend to have a political or social message, or are in some way an abstract parable regarding humanity’s future.  Sometimes this message is obvious, and sometimes it is quite subtle.  Write a Science Fiction scene where you practice conveying a message through context.  Think in the style of Asimov’s message on the need for humanity to have a need as expressed in I, Robot.

Thriller:  Nothing keeps an audience reading chapter after chapter late into the night like a good hook.  Thriller novels start their chapters with a hook and end them with another hook, so you never feel like you have a moment to rest.  You NEED to keep reading.  Write a Thriller scene where you practice starting the scene with an impactful, engaging hook and then ending it with a similarly tantalizing hook that would leave your reader asking immediately for the follow-up!

Western:  When we think of Westerns, we tend to think of them in the framework of a callback to a younger, wilder time in American history.  While they are stylistically similar to Action/Adventure novels, Westerns are especially evocative of a call to adventure.  To practice, write a Western scene that leans into the reader’s sense that there is a big, open world full of dangers and gold for the taking.  Don’t just set the scene; convince the reader they must come along.