As a discovery writer, there’s an initial rush to crafting a story. There’s an excitement to discover the unknown elements that slowly unfold and eventually mold into the characters and setting and plot. In the beginning especially, there is nothing constraining the story to a particular genre. There’s an absolute freedom to being in that purgatory writing mode, because no genre constraints weigh down the story. Anything is possible. At some point though, you come up against something I call the genre junction: the crossroads where you have to start defining a story’s genre.
I find it bittersweet when I have to choose a path. Or two, if that’s your decision. The genre junction includes lots of diverging paths, and you can definitely travel down more than one, hence cross genre novels. But no matter the road traveled, crossing the genre junction starts the process of giving you a general template you have to fashion your story against. Different genres tend to have different rules that you are free to break at your leisure [read: I’ve learned and understood why they’re needed in the first place and have a reason for breaking them]. For the most part, you’re operating within the established guidelines of a genre. For example, medieval fantasy typically means having fantastical elements (wizards, dragons, etc.) in a setting that resembles the Middle Ages in European history. That means you can’t have spaceships zipping around your castles, unless you’re writing a science fantasy book that’s about aliens descending upon the world during that period.
The genre junction is somewhat contradictory. It shackles a story in some ways, but it also scoots the story down a generally accepted path that you’re more than encouraged to take detours from. Once you know you’re writing a tragedy, you know the story has to have elements of human suffering. But that’s just a starting off point. Add in other elements or ideas that you can turn on their heads and do differently, as long as you can write your way out of the problems you create.
I just finished reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It’s a science fiction novel that deals with space travel and first contact with an alien race whose far off presence was picked up through Earth’s satellites. Usually we think of NASA organizing a mission and exploring evidence of alien life. And with first contact, usually it’s the other way around: the aliens are the ones revealing their presence to humans either through crash landings or abductions. Mary had a fresh take on it by using members from the Society of Jesus as the central character group for dealing with the story. She explored the theme of how do these religious characters in the book deal with their own personal beliefs in the face of not just finding out that there are other life forms in the universe, but cobbling together an exploration mission to meet them. She takes it a step further by showing that even very smart, well-meaning people can faultily deal with issues that arise from cultural and biological differences with other sentient beings.
Drummer Song Scene
I have a scene below that I wrote and stopped at the genre junction. As I did in Song Lyrics Can Kill, I wrote this scene after hearing a particular song. The song is “Drumming Song” by Florence & The Machine. In my mind, the story needs to start showcasing elements of the genre it will eventually fall under. Take it and run with it, going down a different genre path that you would not usually take. There’s an old adage in writing that says that you should write what you know. I think you should write what you know in the beginning, but if you wrote the same things all the time, you’re stagnant. Try to write different stories in different genres. Try out different ways of writing so you can grow as a writer. I tried to hold off on giving most of the characters names because I didn’t want to define them too much. For the sake of the prompt after the scene, the more malleable they are, the better. At the end of the story, I have some ideas on how to branch out the story to different genre paths:
The rhythm surged through her body, electrifying her to move. She felt alive. She felt good. The weight of the night’s drinks press against her head, but they also made her feel fluid as she moved her legs to the beat of the music. She dropped her head back as it buzzed, letting it sway to the music. The DJ was hot; she hadn’t left the dance floor for the past several songs. The people dancing around her weren’t there in her eyes. She was the music as she allowed the beats to crescendo into her body.
He interrupted all that. She hadn’t noticed him until he was right in front of her. He grabbed her arm and she felt fiery warmth erupt from his touch. Maybe it was him; maybe it was the drinks. All she knew was that he seemed good for the moment. And he hadn’t groped her in a creepy way. Live a little, right? She allowed the stranger to pull herself into his embrace. As she moved her feet closer to him, the music filled her head and got louder. There was something sexy to the way he held himself. She knew he could keep up with her. She pushed her hand on his chest gently, moving her hips and playfully resisting him. His chest was well muscled and shifted under her touch—his torso bouncing side to side to the music. They were in sync. He shook his shoulders, dancing with her as she popped and locked her arms in the air to the quick tempo. His enticing touch pulled her in again, and she pushed against his body. The song neared its end and she strutted away, looking back at him as her feet stomped to the blasts of the bass. He slid toward her, his legs slowing to the dying beat. When the song was over, he stood in front of her, his dark eyes piercing into her own. There was a slight ringing in her ears and she breathed out a heavy breath.
“Nice moves,” he said.
“Thanks. You too.” She smiled and then looked around, feeling the heat make her thirsty. She put her finger up, telling him to hold on a second. On her way back to the bar, she wove through people in their own worlds. Fluorescent lights flared around them in their drunk and most likely drugged states. This wasn’t her scene really, but they always had good music.
“Water please,” she said to the bartender. He served her a tiny plastic cup filled to the brim. “Oh c’mon. Can I get it in a real glass?”
He rolled his eyes and moved on to the next patron. Apparently he was mad she hadn’t ordered one of his overpriced drinks all night. She was all about pregaming. Booze for home and water at bars made for a bigger checking account. And she needed every last bit in this expensive city. She gulped down the water made for little princesses and wiped the sweat off her neck. She wondered where her friends had gone—if she could call them that. They seemed to have ditched her. Scanning the crowd, she saw none of them nor the man she had been dancing with. Oh well, he was only meant for a moment. She sat at one of the empty stools, trying to figure out if she should go home. Liz and Natalie were probably off doing their own thing. She didn’t even know them that well, but they all seemed to start out together on their weekend adventures. She was their safety net. The person they sulked back to if they couldn’t find someone to hookup with. She was used to being the odd one out, left to go home by herself at the end of the night. It was no surprise when she sent them both a routine text telling them she was heading out and left the club.
The entryway to The Warehouse was surprisingly clean. She couldn’t say the same for the bathrooms that seemed like they served in several biological wars and lost. She passed the bouncer and stepped out on the concrete sidewalk. The frigid air was soothing. It was just the right amount of cold with her drunk-jacket on. She clacked down the street, her heels occasionally skidding or sticking. For the most part, she thought she had a pretty balanced tipsy walk. She moved her hips every now then to the music she replayed in her head. She’d go back to the seedy place next week for sure. When she got to the intersection at Franklin and 28th, she waited for the pedestrian signal. The little crosswalk man eventually shined to life, guiding her to cross the wide intersection full of other people calling it an early night. They, like her, probably rationalized it as getting home safely before the real drunkards got out and wreaked havoc. One’s personal safety was always a gamble in this part of town by then.
She was almost to the other side of the street when she felt something press against her back. She whisked around, but the closest person was nowhere near her. Her brows furrowed together. She probably got a contact high from all the drugs hotboxed at The Warehouse and was imagining it. When she turned around, she collided into a wall. Or so she thought of first when she stumbled back. She looked up to find the man she danced with at the club. “Oh sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t even paying attention.”
He flashed a smile, the skin around his dark orbs crinkling at her.
“Oh no-no.” she said. “As sexy as you are, you don’t get in my pants because of one dance.” She tapped his chest and walked by him. “Have a good night.” She walked to the curb before the pedestrian signal switched off, and trotted down Franklin Ave. The amount of people thinned out as she got closer to her apartment complex, set back from the main drag. In four blocks, she could be on her couch, with her bra and heels off. The heels especially were a beautiful pain in the ass. Or feet she guessed.
Something in her instincts waved a red flag through her drunken state. She didn’t want to turn around, but she felt like someone was following her. She fished out her phone from her pocket casually. When she got to the next intersection, she crossed the street. In the empty storefront that loomed at the corner on the other side of the street, she saw him. The same man from the club was trailing her in the storefront’s glass reflection. Her heart thrummed. She dialed 911 on her phone. Her legs moved faster as she held the phone to her ear.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Someone’s stalking me,” she whispered.
“Where are you located?”
“Franklin and 30th.”
“Are you—” The voice died away. She looked at her phone, mashing the power button in. The thing was dead.
Genre Junction Options
Now, your writing prompt is to pick up the story and figure out which genre junction to travel down. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Someone you don’t know stalking you home is pretty creepy. The beginnings of a horror story could easily be fleshed out as we see how the characters deal with the situation. You have to figure out what ulterior motives the man has for following her, and what defenses does the woman have left, if any? Maybe the man is a ghost that can only interact with her. That would make for an interesting conflict if the cops show up and they can’t see the man she’s claiming is stalking her.
Perhaps this can go the route of a romantic comedy. Maybe their first meeting had all the beginnings of being creepy, but then the story is turned around and the man is super charming and is only trying to catch up to her to give her something she dropped on the dance floor. She laughs for being paranoid and they talk and hit it off. The start to their relationship, whether it ends well or not.
This could be the beginning of an urban fantasy story. The guy tailing her might be looking for her for some specific reason. Maybe she has some latent powers he’s seeking for good or bad, or maybe he’s got some powers he uses. Powers that allow him to manipulate people’s emotion at will. He’s got the mysterious vibe, so anything could work.
Perhaps this is a human suffering piece where the girl is brutally attacked for whatever reason and it’s about her coming to terms with it over the course of the story.
Maybe the man follows her throughout the entire story, and it’s the characters job to figure out why. Maybe something happened to him and she’s the only person who can help and figure it out.
[Featured photo credit: Carsten Tolkmit]