The Benefits of Writing out of Your Comfort Zone

As anyone who knows us is well aware, we’re passionate fans of big, sprawling epic fantasies. We’re talking about books that could easily double as doorstops (think Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and George R.R. Martin). We love seeing the way in which they manage to bring together various narrative strands, we love the world-building, and of course we love the epic heroes and heroines. And, to be honest, we just love the sheer physicality of an epic fantasy novel.

And, of course, most of our writing to date has been located squarely within this tradition. Both The Filliquian Chronicle and our other writing adventures (which are, as of now, still in the early stages of writing) are epics, even if the former is told in a serialized form. Given how much we love reading epic fantasy fiction, it just seemed that the genre was our natural home when the writing bug bit us.

However, both of us have started to think about other forms of fantasy that we want to work in. In particular, we’ve started to develop some ideas in both dark fantasy and gaslight/gaslamp fantasy, both sub-genres with which we are familiar but in which we have yet to write anything (until now, obviously). We have, of course, read in these genres: both of us were and are fans (if conflicted ones) of Stephen King’s dark fantasy series The Dark Tower, and at least one of us enjoyed the gargantuan gas-lamp fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And so, to give ourselves an outlet for some our other creative energies, we started working on stories set in these genres.

At present, we’re hard at work on a number of short projects. These include: a short story in the gaslight fantasy genre (about a Japanese princess sent to marry the Prince of Wales who’s kidnapped by a group of renegade angels); a dark fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic Appalachia that features a young woman known as a Pureborn who must go on a deadly journey; a novella/novelette about the three sisters of King Arthur and their conflict with the Lady Nimue after his death; and last, but certainly not least, a number of short stories set in the world of The Filliquian Chronicle but focusing on a number of secondary characters (at the moment, Stefan the stableboy and Julian the Corsair).

This list makes it clear that we’re really trying to stretch our wings in terms of our writing, both in terms of genre and form. Both of us are more comfortable reading and writing epic fantasy, but we we are very excited about these new ventures. For one thing, it gives us a little bit of a break from our continuing work on The Fillquian Chronicle. As much as we love that world and the characters in it, we’ve both found that we can keep ourselves fresh and sharp by working on multiple projects at the same time, and it definitely helps if at least a few of these aren’t epic fantasy.

For all of the limitations imposed by a reduced word count, there is also something refreshing about it. When you’re writing an epic, word count is less of an issue, precisely because those who enjoy the genre do so because of its sprawling stories and enormous world. With shorter projects, meanwhile, the pleasures–for both you and your reader–are significantly different. You must always be wary of introducing new plot threads (and characters) that you cannot possibly explore in any detail within the confines of a short story.

Don’t get us wrong. For two people with an epic temperament–particularly KC who, it must be said, tends to be verbose–it can be very challenging indeed to both tell a smaller story and do it in a very short form. However, writing within the confines of a short story means that you have to be especially attentive to each and every word that you’re using, since you have such a small canvas. Needless to say, honing this skill is also very useful for when you expand to larger projects, and it (hopefully) helps you avoid the sort of narrative and expositional bloat that so often beleaguers epic fantasists as they move further into their own series (we’re looking at you, George RR Martin).

There is also something liberating about writing outside of one’s generic comfort zone. Generically, it makes you consciously evaluate what it is that makes the various sub-genres of fantasy work. What’s more, understanding, say, dark fantasy and its conventions and mechanisms, allows you to also gain a richer and deeper understanding of epic as well. You find new things that you can bring into your own writing, new facets of the fantastic that can enliven your epic fantasy, giving it a richness and a depth that might otherwise have lacked.

Writing these short pieces is still very much ongoing, and we have many more ideas that we want to continue exploring. However, we already feel like we’ve learned a great deal, both about our own writing processes and about the genres that we’ve chosen to explore. When you get right down to it, we’ve found that we truly love writing fantasy in all of its forms, and we look forward to sharing our work with all of you.

Of course, for right now our focus is going to continue on epic fantasy, but we’re very excited to be working in a number of other forms and genres. Though we know it’s a lot to ask, we hope that our readers will continue with us as we take this journey into the unknown. We haven’t yet decided what we’re going to do with most of these projects (the short stories set in the world of Filliquian will most likely be available on Amazon). In all likelihood, we’ll submit some of the others for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest and, if they don’t win, we’ll publish them either on Amazon or here on the website.