What Genre Intimidates You?

Some writers have told me they find the prospect of writing historical fiction intimidating and this got me thinking about what, if any, genre, I would be reluctant to tackle. As a historical fiction writer, I understand that writing a novel set in a different time period to our own can be a formidable prospect. However, for me, the historical context for a novel helps provide a solid footing as well as a necessary framework for my story to develop. In many ways, writing about history is far less daunting than the present:)

Almost all of my story ideas spring initially from a historical incident or person (or, as with my latest WIPs, a ‘what if’ alternative history scenario). There’s literally no aspect of historical research that I don’t enjoy – from delving into primary sources to get a sense of life during the period, to reading secondary sources about the events of the period, to looking up (endless) historical details relating to things like fashion, architecture, furniture, food and even language (I use an online historical thesaurus which is so much fun!). I do recognize, however, that anyone contemplating writing historical fiction has to add a much greater research burden to their process. For me, this research is a critical part of finding the voice for any novel – with the specifics of time and place adding an additional dimension to everything I write. I totally understand, however, that tackling a historical novel is not for the faint of heart – but then that could be said for writing any novel! For me, the prospect of writing a contemporary novel is far more daunting than any historical novel (even one set in a period I know nothing about!). The most ‘contemporary’ period I’ve contemplated writing about is the 1980s:)

So what genres do I find more intimidating than writing a contemporary novel? Well, I feel pretty comfortable about facing the challenge of writing a romance, sci-fi or fantasy novel…but horror or erotica? Hmmm…not so much. I doubt that I’d be able to pull off a horror novel or even a really disturbing thriller…unless it was historical. Then, for some reason, I think I’d be able to go dark (though how dark my dark would be is debatable!). As for erotica, well anytime I’ve tried to write a graphic sex scene I’ve made myself laugh…so I doubt I’ll ever make a successful erotica novelist!

In general, I feel pretty open to writing whatever I feel passionate about – even if the prospect intimidates me – but I think deep down I recognize that there’s something about history – something about grounding myself in a different time and place that informs my creative process. What about you, TKZers? Are there any genres that intimidate you?

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37 thoughts on “What Genre Intimidates You?

  1. A political thriller would intimidate me. Politics is so COMPLICATED. I reckon you could research yourself to death and still miss some aspect needed to make your novel believable.

    • I must admit the political aspects of a historical period are often the trickiest as, more often than not, what happened then would be unacceptable now… so it’s hard to know how to place something in that context without being offensive or sounding too revisionist…can be a fine line!

  2. A legal thriller would also be tough. I wouldn’t know where to begin researching court procedures and what does and does not inspire a lawyer to shout, “Objection!”.

    • Even as a recovering attorney (I practiced years and years ago) I’d be wary of a legal thriller…It’s very hard to make these sound authentic. Lawyers would also be pretty touch critics to impress, reader-wise! Saying that I have had a barrister as a protagonist (but set in 1910!).

  3. My apologies if the post appears twice. Computer issues.

    This is a good question to ask yourself if you’re torn between what to work on next–gets out of the way those that are less appealing. I agree w/horror & erotica and the above comments on complicated political & legal thrillers. I would add teen books to that as well.

    My favorite is historical. But I would actually find contemporary most daunting. I don’t know if our historical predecessors felt things changed quickly, but they certainly seem to now. Even if writing a suspense or mystery set current day that was tied to a crime 10 years ago, the amount of changes in that time would make it daunting.

    Not that you couldn’t dig and get the information you needed, but history is more fun to research. I live in the contemporary age. Sort of a been there, done that, whereas historical is escapism. I do however, work on a couple contemporary projects from time to time to see if anything ever pops for me in that realm.

    • Totally love historical research and the escapism of it all! Contemporary seems daunting to me as it is hard to keep up with everything and what was ‘cool’ last year is already dated! I find writing teen/YA books a challenge but an enjoyable one (so far)…

  4. I think you nailed it, Clare. I get lost for days in my crime research, which helps with elements of what I’m writing. As a psychological thriller writer, I can’t imagine writing erotica or HEA love story. My brain doesn’t work that way. It likes it in the dark. Ha!

  5. Clare, interesting question. Your point that writing about the past is easier rings true. With history, we already know the outcome, e.g. which side won the war, if Prohibition was repealed, etc. If I were to try a different genre, I’d choose history b/c I can easily become a research geek.
    An aside–I notice stories set in the 1960s and ’70s are now classified “historical.” Whoa! Talk about feeling old. Maybe I can write history after all b/c I lived it???
    To me, sci-fi/fantasy is the most intimidating. To invent an entire world, culture, and concepts that don’t exist in reality would be daunting.

    • Epic fantasy. So much to figure out–what tropes are cliches, building the worlds, connecting the characters. And if you get one thing “wrong” the rabid fan base will let you know in no uncertain terms. Even if you’re successful, you can engender the ire of your readers if you don’t produce fast enough, as George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss have found out.

  6. History was my least-favorite class. I’ve read a few historical romances and know I would never have the patience or confidence to research all the details. Social hierarchies, clothing, proper forms of address, when was such-and-so invented, vocabulary … I’m freaking out just typing this.

    Actually I don’t think I could handle most genres. I’m comfortable with my simple mysteries and romantic suspense (although I’ve had a few readers call those “porn” which was a shock — if I could write porn, I’d make a LOT more money.).

    • Love the porn quip – I’m with you there, if I could write it, I’d be a whole lot richer! I don’t think simple mysteries or romantic suspense are all that simple to write but I agree, the amount of research involved in many genres requires a whole lot of patience, which can detract from the patience required just to write the darn book!

  7. Humor.
    I tried it once and failed miserably. I couldn’t hold the tone…kept wavering into hardboiled. My heart is dark. I can’t deny it.

  8. The one I’m working on right now. A pretty girl, from the country who does not have bound feet and bathes too often, is hired to assassinate the Dì yī bùzhǎng when he comes through the little village of Zài lùshàng. She is chosen because she comes from a line of female poisoner assassins whose duty has always been to protect their family.

    But wait. That isn’t even the story.

    And can you guess I can’t even find the research to start things off?

  9. I mainly write legal mysteries. To paraphrase Claire – There’s literally no aspect of legal research that I don’t enjoy. I always start by asking myself a weird legal guestion, then go and see if some court or law has already answered it. If not, it becomes the premise for the story. Unlike historical research where we already know the outcome, I must continually research the main legal issue. My greatest fear is while I am writing the story some judge in Butte, Montana or Burlington, Vt. will make a ruling that will blow up my storyline and the pieces of my novel will fall around me like confetti.

    I would have to say that comedy/humor (especially romance) would be the hardest genre for me to write. I often find when reading/watching something written in the genre the story takes off because of some stupid act or some unnecessary lie. I find myself screaming “fix it” or “apologize” or “tell the truth”, but no, the character does nothing which makes the situation worse and things snowballs out of control. I find it really hard to write a main character I want to strangle. What does that say about me? I have no problem writing the serial killer, kidnapper or lethal next door neighbor. CONFESSION TIME – I am addicted to Hallmark/Lifetime/ION/whatever channel Christmas movies – 90% of them revolve around something the character could have corrected when it occurred, but no …

    I like writing erotica and porn (depending on who is reading it).

    • Current legal thrillers must be very hard especially for the reason you outlined, as the law is constantly evolving. At least with historical research, that part is done and dusted! I would also find it hard to write humorous romance/rom-com still novels unless I could be clever and witty about it (unlikely!).

  10. I just started writing–for good about five years ago–so I haven’t had time to try many genres. I suspect any extreme version of a genre–hard sci fi, aerotica, etc–would be hard for me. If I was to try something extreme, it would be epic fantasy because fantasy is what I write now. I always love history, but the patience of researching primary sources is hard if not impossible fore me. That’s why I like fantasy world-building–I get most details from an historical culture, but I can invent what I like without getting burned.

    To that note, could you share the online thesaurus you mentioned, Claire? I’d love to use it.

  11. As for humor, I think I could tackle it in a script rather than prose. Somehow, I enjoy watching funny rather than reading it. I suspect it has to do with the actors.

  12. Right now every genre intimidates me, having just seen Tarkovsky’s _Stalker_ and read _The Brothers Karamazov_. My efforts to deal with aspects of the human situation seem shallow and dull.

    I share Michelle’s frustration with “stupid acts and unnecessary lies.” I was even frustrated with Mitya’s manic behavior in the middle of _Karamazov_, but I suspect a second reading–trying to psych myself up to plunge in again–would show that it was well prepared for in Dostoevsky’s earlier characterization of him. I think that may be the key to acceptable stupid acts and unnecessary lies that a lot of genre lit doesn’t provide.

  13. I wrote a short story that was military sci fi, and it really wants to be a book. So I’m circling the genre. I love reading it, I just don’t know if I can pull off the politics and strategies and tactics of war. I get to make it up, but that doesn’t help. I feel like I need to make a suspect web, the way I do with mysteries, only this would be political bodies and show who is allied/at war with who.

  14. Anything that would require me to be an expert in the field such as a legal or medical thriller. So far, I’ve been able to “wing it” with government conspiracies and medical experiments because my protagonist is a regular guy. My greatest fear, though, is our friend Mr. Gilstrap seeing how I write about weapons and their effects on the body and laughing in my face. Come to think of it, I’ve had that nightmare.

    • Not just the Gilstraps of the world!

      I sent a friend who writes YA Romance a chapter to read. Her notes were mainly grammar, except she crossed out the weapon I chose and wrote something else. Don’t remember exactly what she said in the margin, but it went something like this “ … this gun is better as the gun a boyfriend/police detective would give his girlfriend to keep with her at all time in case the guy trying to kill her shows up. It is lighter, fits in her bag or briefcase and she would be more likely to hit her target. The gun you picked is expensive, heavier and fairly uncommon – not something he would have just shoved in a desk drawer.“

  15. Brilliant topic and question, Clare!

    I’m so with you on erotica. I just feel silly trying to write hot sex scenes. Humor would be hard, too. But the most intimidating to me would definitely be the Political Thriller–there are way too many experts out there, and I know i would get it all wrong!

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