When I was a kid, I loved playing with Legos. Still do, come to think of it. Those boxes of unassembled joy promised hours of entertainment … provided nobody put the dragons on the pirate ship or the spacemen in the wolf-army castle. This was NOT ALLOWED!
That hasn’t changed because, for me, the world is very discreet, just like each Lego set had its own orderly universe. And that universe mustn’t be disturbed.
If there was a compelling reason why dragons would exist in the same world as the pirate ship, I might be inclined to hear you out.
While I value order over chaos, I also value imagination above almost anything else. Using imagination to create and tell stories helps us connect in a deep and meaningful way. I could tell you I like chocolate ice cream, and you might remember. Or, I could tell you a story about how I once ate an entire tub of chocolate ice cream and made myself vomit brown goo, and you’d think of a story of your own. And now we’re having a dialogue.
I’m sure you see where I’m going.
Genre is our lovely, pre-packaged sets of Lego. It’s designed to include certain types of pieces, and to be assembled in a way that is familiar and orderly. And it can very much be enjoyed on its own merits, providing hours of creative fun.
But genre is only one way of playing with words, ideas, and story. Sometimes combining genres is the only way of releasing the story you have inside. And that’s what has always infected me as a writer—that the story begs to be told not for how marketable it is, but because it has something to say. The characters and themes want to be built regardless of what box they originally came from. My interests range from history to science; pop culture to myth and magic. I think it’s natural for the stories I create to be a blend of things that inspire me.
And I’m going to come right out and say it. Sometimes we should stretch beyond the box. The Lego I loved as a child floundered for a while, yet has made a daring comeback—with one crucial change. The marketing is divisive. There was no expectation when I was young that a set of Lego would be ‘for a girl’ or ‘for a boy.’ The land of Lego had been one of boundless imagination, which wasn’t restricted to which body parts you’re born with. But now my daughter and son are reluctant to play with certain sets—until someone shows them otherwise.
Likewise, many people become comfortable with the genres they love, and perhaps forget that not every book will adhere to strict genre conventions. Sometimes stories are packaged in the most convenient way possible, with little care for the wider audience they might appeal to, if given the chance. So that western might be a western-fantasy hybrid. And that romance may have less kissing and more killing than you’re expecting from the cover.
By all means keep the dragons off the space station, but don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the time when they’re the astronauts’ last, best hope.
This is an entry from my bestselling* book, A is for Adverb: An Alphabet for Authors in Agony. To read the entire alphabet, join me weekly for #WriteTip Tuesday. If you’re in a rush, get the whole book free by signing up here, or do this writer a solid and buy the book on Amazon.
*Totally a bestseller for, like, a day on Amazon.ca.