Kicking the Comfort Zone to the Curb

…or trying something new!

Lately I’ve been playing around in genres I’m not nearly as comfortable in as my normal go tos of paranormal, sci-fi, or straight up fantasy: specifically magical realism and horror. Both have been a stretch for me and better yet, both have taught me things about writing in general and my writing in particular I hadn’t had a chance to explore before.

The month of October always seems to call to the spooky in me, so it should be no surprise to hear I wrote not one but two horror stories due during that month, one for a Haunted Hotel horror blog event (you can check my story out here if you haven’t read it yet: http://jolenehaley.com/haunted-hotel-c-l-mccollum/) and one for a dark fairy tale-esque themed Sherlock Holmes reboot for an anthology (currently pending editor decisions – wish me luck!). Both felt so far out of my comfort zone as to only barely feel like they still belonged under the SFF umbrella I write in most of the time. They were both creepy to the max (or at least for my version of creepy – I have a hard time even watching horror movies most of the time LOL) and had levels of gore and violence I don’t always lean towards even when writing in the paranormal genre.

But y’all I freaking LOVED the way the stories turned out! For all that they fought me off and on, they were still such fun to write for the most part. I got to play with word choice in a way I never would before, and also MAN were the stories ever a lesson in foreshadowing like none other. I’ve had mysteries in my stories before, but the sort of slow build to violence that was needed for each of these was something I’d never done before, especially in a short story.

I’m still not sure it’s a genre I’ll be good at long term, but I definitely think I’ll enjoy playing in the creepy sandbox for a while, even if it’s not specifically for a horror story. My NaNoWriMo novel this year, for instance, is going to be a witchy romp, and while it will be more contemporary fantasy than anything, I definitely think I’m going to work in some spooky creepy elements into the story.

The other genre I’ve been dipping my toe into is magical realism. It’s a relatively small genre as far as published books out there, and one very new to me – I think I only started reading it in the past year or so, but several of those authors have moved up to my “fave” list with ease. I’m currently attempting a YA magical realism set in a small Texas town, and it’s been another learning experience. One of the things I love about magical realism is the very lush, almost literary descriptions that tend to flow throughout the genre. I’ve rarely let myself play that much with how things should be described – for all that I used to hate writing action scenes, I’ve realized I’ve moved to a sparser, more action focused style for some of my projects. And diving back into a genre where rich full writing is key has been a major shift in focus and style.

It’s another I think I’m enjoying, but I’m not sure if it will be a style I end up being good at, if that makes sense.

But that’s the fun of this – even if I don’t stick with the genres I’m trying out, I’m still learning and growing with each story or novel I write. Experimenting is simply exercising my writing muscles, working out strengths and weaknesses I might not have even realized where there without diving into a new type of story or genre.

Have any of you been experimenting in a genre or format you’ve never tried before? Have you learned anything fun from it? Do you think you’ll still with the style or go back to your more familiar writing? Let me know down in the comments or on Twitter @C_L_McCollum!