Hey friends! In preparation for this post, I re-read Amanda Foody’s brilliant Writing in Multiple Age Categories post, which is a topic cut from a similar cloth, so definitely check that post out after you read this one~
Just a quick catch up with me – In 2017, I debuted with a YA Sci-Fi duology (the Rebel Seoul series), and in 2021, I will publish a YA Contemporary, XOXO, and in Winter/Spring 2022 a YA Fantasy, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.
Recently I did an AMA, and a few people asked the same question: What are the differences between writing sci-fi and writing contemporary? The quick and easy answer: worldbuilding. A sci-fi or fantasy novel has a lot more world to cover than a contemporary, and so it requires a bit more finesse when introducing the world to the reader. In a contemporary, you don’t have to explain what a subway is, but in a sci-fi, you might have to explain what a skyway is (without saying “a subway in the sky” because maybe subways don’t exist in this world).
And yet – let’s try another answer to this very same question: There *is* no difference. And what I mean by that is that, the genre of the book doesn’t matter. What matters is that the book I’m writing does three very important things.
3 Things a Book Must Do in Order for me to Write It
1. Appeal to my heart, inspired by something that I love
a. I’ll break this down a bit. When I say appeal to my heart, I mean it must be personal to me in some way. In The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, the heroine’s world is threatened by constant storms sent by the Sea God, and in order to save her brother, she jumps into the sea. It was really important to me that the heroine was saving her older brother because my older brother had a childhood illness. The parallel isn’t exact—I don’t live in a fantasy world, my heroine’s brother isn’t ill—but the emotions are real, and more importantly, *I* feel connected to the book because of it.
b. When I say inspired by something that I love, I mean just that. It’s not surprising to anyone in my family that I’m writing a book with K-Pop, XOXO. My entire childhood bedroom was plastered with posters of Shinhwa, Lee Hyori, Big Bang, Super Junior…
Also, a book can be inspired by something that you love that you wish there was *more* of. For example, my editor described The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea as Spirited Away’s older sibling, and I loved this description of the novel because it is literally that—GIRL has similar vibes and magic to Miyazaki’s classic, just a bit more kissing 😉
2. Be different than the last thing I wrote, challenge me
a. In Hayao Miyazaki’s autobiography, Turning Point, he mentions that in choosing his next project, his goal is “to defy the expectations of fans of our films who have supported us and to betray them with our next film (Turning Point, 399).” This has always stuck with me because I admire him as a creator, but also I truly believe in this philosophy. Not so much for readers, but for myself. I want to do something different each time I write a novel, to challenge myself, to keep the things fresh and new and exciting.
3. Make me feel like a writer.
a. What do I mean by this? It’s hard to put into words, but I want to have joy in the act of writing in and of itself, because I love the characters, or how the sentences are coming together or the themes that are coming through. That makes me *feel* like a writer when I’m writing. Wow, that’s vague. But do you get it?
So none of those things really matter for genre. And honestly I don’t think you should push yourself to write in a genre that you don’t *want* to write in just because it’s marketable or an easier sell. For example, contemporary right now is a *hot* genre, and I even asked my agent the other day if I should immediately follow up XOXO with another romcom; to which she replied “write the book that you want to write.” I repeat these words back to you.
I truly believe that an author’s “distinct voice” carries through to every genre they’ll write. You can cultivate it, hone your craft, but your voice is inherently your own & will persist even as you move from contemporary to fantasy to contemporary again. Let’s look at some authors as examples:
Courtney Summers has written incredible thrillers, including Sadie and the upcoming The Project, but did you know she also wrote a zombie horror book? This Is Not a Test is about teens stuck in a high school during a zombie apocalypse. It has all the genre conventions of a zombie horror – dread! jump scares! – but with Courtney Summer’s classic teen angst and stellar writing.
Melina Marchetta is famous for her voice-driven and moving contemporaries, but she’s also written an amazing fantasy series, Finnikin of the Rock, which – as you might have guessed – is as gorgeously written and moving as her contemporaries (but with sword fights and prophecies).
Stacey Lee is known for her historical fiction novels, but she also wrote the swoony and genre-defying Secret of a Heart Note, set in a contemporary world with touches of magic.
I could go on: Marie Lu, Traci Chee, Akemi Dawn Bowman… you get the picture.
O-KAY, you might say, but seriously how do you write in different genres?
The answer to this question is always: Read. Read in the genre you want to write in. After all, you can’t break genre conventions unless you know the rules.
How do you know that capitalizing words in a dystopia is an arguably overused concept if you haven’t read a lot of YA dystopia? How do you know 3 is a special number in fairy tales if you haven’t read a lot of fairy tale retellings? How do you know the breakup going into the last act is a common plot occurrence if you haven’t read a lot of romcoms? That all comes with familiarizing yourself with the genre. But like I said – your voice, what your interested in, what you *want* to write – more than genre, that’s what matters most.