Have you ever tried writing an unfamiliar genre?
I’ve always been more interested in looking forwards than back, in science fiction rather than history, so this week when a friend challenged me to write a short story for a competition that required you to use one of three given photographs for inspiration – all of them taken around 1900 – I laughed and said no.
It was so far out of my comfort zone of contemporary fiction and, knowing there were so many potential pitfalls I could fall into (like failing to get the language, social customs, beliefs, locations, and practicalities of the time accurate and vivid without overdoing them), I felt there was no way I could write historical fiction well enough.
That’s the thing about comfort zones, one of the first challenges as a writer is to find your voice, your style, and where your stories naturally ‘fit’, but once you have found your niche it’s far too easy to get stuck in that comfort zone – and it becomes a scary thing to venture into the unknown.
Before we said goodbye, my friend handed me a spare leaflet with the details of the competition and again asked me to consider it. Now, there’s a part of me that quite enjoys a challenge. That evening as I read the leaflet properly, I realised there was one photograph of two men in Navy uniform that would be ideal for the type of story I enjoy writing.
Perhaps I could do this after all. I was tempted to think of a way to adapt it into a contemporary, or maybe a time-travelling sci-fi story, but something niggled at me, telling me it needed to be set in the past. But what about all the essential historical facts that I had very little knowledge of? It was quite overwhelming, but then I considered that perhaps because I was aware of this shortcoming it was something that I could fix.
Could I really write historical fiction? I had all the resources I would need right on my doorstep… it would be a lot of work… but perhaps it would be fun? Okay, here goes nothing. Challenge accepted!
Next stop the Naval history museum to search for plot bunnies and to get a proper feel for the era…
Could you step out of your writing comfort zone and try something new?