Writer Problem: Genre “Bias” as Weakness?


Stay with me here.

The other day I was thinking about my writing and wondering if one of my problems is that I always write the same genre (or genres, since I occasionally do fantasy, but mostly do science fiction, as far as short stories are concerned). I don’t know how many of you who read this blog are writers, but I’m curious how many of you attempt to write outside of your “comfort zone.” For me, my comfort zone is science fiction and fantasy, because those are the genres I tend to read and enjoy the most and the ones that fill my head more often than anything else. But can thinking only of those things hurt your writing? I don’t know. I’ve started to think that for someone like me, it can, because must of what I write seems to suffer from a lack of character and an excess of plot (something that has been identified by some people to be a male thing).

The thing is, while I do read pretty much only science fiction and fantasy, I do occasionally venture outside of that and have, on occasion, enjoyed books so far outside my far outside of my chosen genres that the only thing that remains the same seems to be the language being used (that, of course, is because I can’t read any other languages, although I do have a knack for reading Spanish). For example, I really enjoyed The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan, a science book about the evolution of human intelligence. That might not be a great example, though, since science fiction and science often go hand in hand, even though the former tends to get the science very wrong. So, how about a “literary fiction” example: Fog of the Season’s End by … While you could consider this book a pulp-style novel, it is actually a character piece about people dealing with some of the darkest aspects of South Africa’s apartheid. It is one of my favorite books that I was forced to read while at UC Santa Cruz (in a class on South African literature, actually). Maybe I should write a novel like that (not about apartheid, per se, but something that looks at the world I live in, or something). I often feel like I am not educated enough to do that, though, as if I am not in-tune with the world in the way some of the best literary writers seem to be. My fingers aren’t on the world’s pulse.

I don’t know where I’m going with all of this, except that I seriously wonder if my obsession with genre fiction might be hurting me. I even tried to break out of it on Saturday in an attempt to do something new, only to find myself resorting to the same science fiction things that dominate some of my most recent work (well, a little different, but I immediately found myself needing to go into the future in order to pull off what I wanted to do). Maybe I have a psychological condition that perpetually puts me in the future, or I just don’t care about the present enough to write about it, or I simply want to write stories that don’t work in the world we currently live in (give it twenty years and who knows).

What do you all think about this?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

6 thoughts on “Writer Problem: Genre “Bias” as Weakness?

  1. I think you are missing out only reading one genre. Also missing out only writing one genre. Another tact taken could be that you are writing what you know, which you talked about in another post. I think that if you broadened your reading genres and read more things you would be able to write other things. You want to be able to write more realistic things and be able to connect with your readers. I personally like most any genre out there and read accordingly. I also like to discuss and write about anything that comes to mind. If you feel like you aren't able to connect with more people you should explore more and broaden your grasp of the world.

  2. Take it for what it's worth, but as far as I can tell, the best teacher for anything is real life and real experiences. While you may read voraciously in one genre or another, and write in yet another, NOTHING will inform your process like straight up living.

  3. I agree that utilizing real life makes a good author. You noted, ".. what I write seems to suffer by a lack of character and an excess of plot". Taking from your own life experiences gives the readers the depth of emotions they seek to read and the story will be able to carry over into any genre you choose. Continuing to step out of your comfort zone with everything & anything in life, will also enhance your writing abilities because you will be able to express and relate your dreams, desires, and fears with powerful words within stories.

  4. Jodi: I don't really want to write "realistic things." I find writing about real life boring as hell. I do want to write more impact-ful fiction at times, though. You can call that literary fiction if you like, but it would be nice for me to be able to write something that isn't standard science fiction or fantasy fare. Don't get me wrong, I love SF/F, and love writing it, but I want to grasp something deeper. It's not a connection with people I have issue with, just with characters.

    stace: I've lived a lot of life. I just choose not to write characters who have gone through what I have…I don't like reliving the crap.

    TruGenius: Yeah, that is true. I suppose my problem is figuring out how to express those things in a way that isn't hindered by poor writing or useless drivel 😛

  5. Well, I'm one of the writers who reads here:) And I'll say yes, I have a problem sometimes with the comfort zone business… but all the same I do try and write outside of it.

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