World-building: Getting Outside of Your Genre

vintage cookbook, spoon and spicesOnce, during a read and critique, a fellow writer shared that he loved the way I described food. I can’t remember what food I had described, but being a writer (writers never forget things said about our writing, be they bad or good), I sure remember the compliment. And I remember the short story, too—it was about a gray alien who crash-landed on earth and was being treated at a hospital for his injuries and other ailments. It wasn’t a story about food; it just had a good description of food in it. And the thing is—and here’s the point of this little anecdote—is that I had been reading cookbooks at the time. My wife and I were making some dietary changes, and since I love to cook, I had just sort of been reading whatever stuff about food that I could get my hands on. And it automatically just translated right into my writing, giving life to an old bit of advice: read outside your genre. Of course, this applies to our world-building, too.

It’s not easy to force yourself to get outside your genre. We tend to stick with what we like. And it’s not just reading, either. TV, movies, video games, hobbies, the places we go, the people we talk to—all of this stuff can impact our writing and give way to inspiration and new ideas, but all of it can stagnate as well. Here are some tips to help get out of your genre and get some fresh ideas.

Read outside your genre. This was easier back in the day when we could go to actual bookstores and browse. I find that that electronic-everything tends to enforce our current thinking (how many times today have you seen a suggestion of what you may like based on your recent activity). If you can get to a real bookstore, do it! Go to the mystery section, or the religion section, or even the cooking section. If going to a bookstore is out of the question, just pick a genre that you normally don’t read (like romance, or young adult) and check out some blogs to see what’s current. Or browse a list of classics. You can even do this on Netflix; try watching some shows that you normally wouldn’t. You never know when inspiration may strike.

Go somewhere new. Another easier-said-than-done bit of advice, I find that looking at new places or doing new things helps with the world-building process. Most of us can’t up and leave to an exotic locale (and if you can, I’m super jealous), but there’s usually stuff right around that we can check out that might be new or interesting. Browse a new shop, go for a walk in the park you’ve never been to, or check out an exhibit or take a guided tour of a local historic site.

Talk to someone. We often get entrenched in our thinking because we are surrounded by the same people day in and day out. So mix it up and reach out to someone different. It could be a young person or an old person, a person with different political beliefs, whoever! Go visit. Reach out to someone online. Listen to what people have to say. Your writing will be better for it.

Ideas are kind of like viruses. They spread easily when the conditions are right, but they won’t spread at all if you seal yourself off inside of a bubble. Break out of your genre, and you’ll be getting compliments on the worlds you create in unexpected ways.

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