April 25, 2013 by KWills
And I don’t mean music hall.
Human beings like patterns, and we fall into them easily. Often this is a good thing, as it allows learned skills to develop into routine tasks, and frees up our conscious mind for more important things. However, some things should NOT become routine.
It’s useful, every now and then, to take stock and ask, “Is there enough variety in my work?” I don’t mean ticking all the boxes with token characters, or even writing in every genre, but am I making an effort to stay out of creative ruts?
It is useful to apply the first stage of a Mary Sue test here. Instead of asking “Is this a self-insert?” I ask “Is this a carbon-copy of my last hero/villain/lovable side-kick?”
If I find myself getting into look-alike territory, there are a few things to do. First is to stop and identify the problem. The sameness is a symptom, not a cause. Is something holding me back? Then I play an opposites game, and treat it as an exercise. That way I don’t worry about working it into any of my existing stories. Once I have my new, “opposite” characters/locations/plot arcs ready, I send them into a short story, or a scene. It doesn’t have to be anything special, just a way to strengthen weak areas of characterization, or plot. For example, I rarely write romance, or fight scenes, or supernatural/horror – mostly because I have no real interest in reading these genres. However, I also avoid them because I don’t know how to write them well. It’s easier to stick to what I know, my comfort zone.
So, in the interests of learning, I set myself the task of writing a love story, a battle, and a creepy, supernatural story. The romantic scene was horrifyingly bad, and will never see the light of day, the fight scene was used in a fanfiction and garnered some very useful feedback/advice, and the supernatural, creepy story ended up in a small, online contest. It didn’t place, but I got some good reviews, and some very constructive criticism.
It’s good to know that I can write outside of my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean I have to abandon my prefered style. Variety is important, but should never be the driving force behind a story decision. Don’t think, “I’d better make one of my characters [insert adjective here] because I need a bit of variety.” Instead, if you notice that all your warriors are, for example, dark haired then ask yourself if that is an important plot point. If it isn’t, then why not shake it up a bit? (If it is a plot point, then that’s fine.)
Introducing variety is a writing tool. It is not (or at least should not) be a real-world political issue. Writing different characters, different settings, different genres – these are all ways of growing as a writer. You can then choose to settle, or not, in a particular style. There is a world of difference between falling into a rut and ploughing a furrow.