Writers who’ve been writing for some time typically settle in and write similar stories. That is, after all, natural to the writer but wise for building a readership. The writer feels comfortable writing in their chosen area, develops a sense of expertise born in familiarity.
These are good things, because as we grow more familiar with our subjects, whatever they might be, the deeper we delve into them. So later books are richer for the intense focus of research and the new information gleaned in creating the earlier books.
Some would argue that the writer who writes the same type of book–stays in the box, if you will–risks growing stale. Writing and rewriting the same thing. I’ll admit, there is a risk of that, if the writer is one who writes without purpose. But if purpose and passion drive your writing, then the odds of growing stale are slim to none.
So what happens when this purpose-filled writer who stays in the box is offered a project that is outside the box?
That’s the position I found myself in recently with a continuity book in the Silhouette Bombshell IT GIRL series. I’ve never before written about the rich or famous. I’ve never before been concerned with fashion designers or A-List restaurants or bars or parties. I’ve been more interested in biological warfare, terrorist-attack potential, cutting-edge weaponry systems and military actions. I wasn’t sure I could write a truly “girl” book or if I did, if it would hold the same level of affection in my heart. So I discussed the project with its creator.
And I discovered the women behind the facades. And they intrigued me. Because all of them have everything and yet none of them are self-indulgent twits just taking up space on planet Earth. They’re invested in the lives of others. Quirky, strange to me at times, but really warm and genuine people. I liked them.
And the more I read about them in the series bible, the more I liked them. My targeted character is a princess. Chloe St. John. She’s twenty pounds overweight. (Gotta love that.) And she’s not her mother’s favorite child. Actually, she’s fought her entire life to just be accepted by her parents.
Chloe isn’t my typical heroine. She isn’t strong or brave or determined coming out of the gate. She’s not sure she can do what’s being asked of her. She’s not sure she won’t muck things up and cause others to be hurt. She’s not sure of much, actually.
Her confidence has kind of been beaten down since day one and events have occurred where she’s been blamed for others crimes and sins and–here’s where she stole my heart–she took that blame to protect her accusers because they were her parents and she loved them.
I was hooked. Still unsure about writing a rich-and-famous princess and all the pomp and circumstance that entails. Still felt ill-equipped to write about a city I’ve never lived in with any kind of authority. But now, like Chloe, I was willing to try. Truthfully, I had to try. I had to see if this woman who is noble and doesn’t know it, is brave and doesn’t know it, is strong and doesn’t know it ever finds it out. And if she does, what she does with it.
Then there are the interactions with the other women in her circle. What a group! Their missions are important, but their approaches unorthodox. They get their jobs done but the way they do them is really outside what I’d consider my normal realm. They think differently. They act differently. And while I initially worried that I would have challenges relating to these women, I don’t. Because for all their topical differences, at core level–in their hearts–they’re exactly the same.
I do a lot of prewriting, so I’m very familiar with the women and their stories. And I have to say that while this is a very different kind of book for me, I find these women enchanting and engaging. I’m about 80 pages into the book, and Princess Chloe has knocked me back on my heels twice already, doing something totally unexpected. And yet both times, what she did and the way she did it is as natural to her as breathing is to me. That is a real writer’s treat.
Before this project, I don’t know that I’d have said writing outside the box can be a fabulous thing to do. I likely would have stuck with the “it’s not a smart way to build a readership, and it’s sure to devastate reader expectation.” However, I’m finding that the same elements in my other books are in this one. I still think the same way. But Princess Chloe has me seeing things in a little different light. She’s shifted my perspective.
And I have to say that not only is it a fun experience, it’s a good one, too. So now, working on this project, I’d say, “By all means write outside the box. Give it a shot and see what you get. If you love it, keep it. If not, change it until you do. Just find a place where you connect to your characters, so that you genuinely respect them, and then stay outside the box to your heart’s content.”
If my experience is an accurate gauge, you’ll find yourself chuckling as you’re writing. And falling into that unfamiliar world and forgetting you’re uncomfortable and it’s not familiar. And–this might just be the best perk of all–you’ll find yourself writing longer because you just can’t wait to see what these people do next.
You know, I think I like this writing outside the box. And I’m wondering, if you have such a good time writing outside it, should you return to writing within it?
My answer is, of course, that if you love what you’re writing outside the box and you love what you’re writing inside the box, then do both!
Boy, do I love it that writers don’t have to choose…
“Trust is earned, one book at a time.”
–Vicki Hinze https://vickihinze.com
Note: I edit books and professional correspondence. But I do NOT edit email or this blog. This is chat time for me, so if the grammar is goofed or a word’s spelled wrong, please just breeze on past it. I’d appreciate it–and salute you with my coffee cup. 🙂
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Copyright 2005. Vicki Hinze
Vicki Hinze is a multi-published author, who has a free library of her articles on writing–the craft, business and life–at https://www.vickihinze.com.