Taking creative risks
Taking creative risks can push your skills as a writer. They can challenge how you structure your plot, develop your characters, and force you to come up with a unique twist.
Here are some pros to taking creative risks:
- you stretch your creativity and imagination
- you strengthen your writing skills
- you develop opportunities to collaborate (reaching out to new people, writing in a new genre, developing ways to cross-promote through blogs, etc.)
- you might discover that you enjoy writing in another subgenre/genre
- taking creative risks can develop into part of your brand
Here are some cons to taking writing risks:
- you might not have the current skill level to do the story justice
- you might alienate some of your readers if you switch genres or take too much of a risk
- the story might be so ambitious that it frustrates you, and you lose your desire to write it
- it can be a blow to your self-esteem to receive negative feedback
There are different types of risks an author can take. You can do something radical with the book cover. The issue with going too far off-genre with your book cover is that your audience might not recognise it and buy it. Many people do judge a book by its cover. If no one stops to read the blurb, they won’t buy it. You can do some A/B testing with your book covers to see which one gains traction. Sometimes, people will be attracted to an off-genre book cover. Other times they won’t. There’s plenty of opportunities to experiment with FB ads, IG, and reading groups.
I write romances, and romances rely heavily on tropes. If I’m reading a historical based in Scotland, readers expect a highlander in a kilt who often falls in love with an English bride. Let’s consider western romances where many stories involve saving a ranch.
I continue to listen to historicals and westerns, among many other books. There’s a certain comfort in knowing how the plot will unfold. I like seeing an unpredictable ending, which isn’t easy considering the sheer volume of stories in which the basic plot is the same: MC1 meets MC2, they need to save the ranch (or defend a Scottish keep), antagonist tries to kill MC1, the black moment between the romantic couple, resolution of romance and non-romance plots, an epilogue with babies.
The great books that stand out (for me) are those with moments of supreme humour (as in I’m walking alone on a highway listening to a book, and I burst out laughing) and unexpected resolution. Humour is fun to write and can push a writer’s skill. An original resolution that resonates is something that takes time, patience, and the willingness to push boundaries.
If you like historical romances, Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare and Sweet Revenge and The Switch by Lynsay Sands are (in my opinion) unique and funny. If you like contemporary romances, Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones might interest you. It’s not particularly funny, but it deals with a ranch-based romance that isn’t about saving the ranch (which for westerns is unique).
If you don’t like romances, Thirst by Katherine Prairie is a contemporary mystery with a unique plot. Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff is a fantasy with an interesting plot. Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols and Duchess of Terra by Glyn Stewart also stand out in the sci-fi space. These books aren’t humourous, but they do stand out.
What’s common about the books I mentioned is that the authors took risks. They pushed the boundaries of expectations and crafted memorable stories. I remember each lot very well because they were different. The authors met my expectation for the genre (romance—the couple has a happily ever after, mystery—is solved, SciFi—has spaceships, fantasy—has second world), and they held my attention, adding something different.
What’s different? Their profession, the conflicts they face, their background, the dynamics of the world, the plot they need to address, humour, and how the couple addresses their interpersonal conflict to address the plot.
You can push your writing boundaries and still gain an audience if you position your book correctly. Test out the cover to make sure it will be well-received by your target audience. Write a blurb that accurately presents expectations. I wrote an article for A Muse Bouche on how authors have a contract with their readers. The blurb is the establishment of that contract. Ensure it accurately presents the plot and how it fits in the genre, and how you’ve pushed the boundaries.
When an audience has a clear understanding of what they’re getting involved with, they’ll follow you to the end.
Don’t be afraid to take risks—that’s how authors grow.
What creative risks have you taken? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.
I'd like to thank @RCameronThomas for suggesting this blog topic.
James' and Mirabelle's story will be released in Fall 2021. It's a high heat contemporary romance set in eastern Ontario.
The beautiful thing about writing romances is that you can incorporate them into all genres. If you perform a search for your preferred genre and add romance, you’ll find a wide range of choices. Within those choices, you’ll have books marketed as romantic sci-fi and sci-fi romance. It might not seem like a big difference, but the subtle change of words significantly impacts the content and target market.
What’s the difference between romantic fantasy and fantasy romance? In short, the word count dedicated to the romance plot. If it is a romantic fantasy, the main plot is a fantasy plot, and the b plot (secondary plot) is romance. In a fantasy romance, the emphasis is on romance.
If something is marketed as romantic, less than 50% of the plot is geared to the romantic interest. In a romantic fantasy, there are different expectations of character development and interpersonal development. In traditional fantasies, the character’s development is triggered by outside events. The MC rises to the challenge or fails. Most non-romance genres are plot-driven. In a mystery, the MC is compelled to follow the clues and solve the problem. In sci-fi, the character is motivated to attack an alien base or explore the galaxy.
Romances, however, are character-driven. The MCs in a romance must address internal and interpersonal conflict with the love interest to be in the right head and heart space to engage in the romantic relationship. Until those conflicts are addressed, the couple can’t have their happy-for-now or their happily-ever-after ending.
If someone positions their book as fantasy romance, readers expect the romance plot to take precedence over the fantasy element. Some words that would have been dedicated to world-building and backstory will be allocated to the romance arc. When deciding to read a fantasy romance, flip through the pages to get a sense of how much world-building and back story there is. Like in fantasies, some are high fantasies, and others are low fantasies. A high fantasy book is set in a second world which may or may not include magic, orcs, goblins and the like. A low fantasy book is set on Earth and may have magical elements.
One last element to consider when positioning your book or selecting a book to read, and that’s the heat level. There is a tendency for higher heat (explicit sex or higher sexual tension) in fantasy romance. I’m certain there are romantic fantasies and non-romantic fantasies that have explicit sex on-page, however not as much space is dedicated to it. In high-heat romance (regardless of genre), more words are allocated to describe the attraction and sexual encounters. Some audiences will accept high heat, regardless of genres, and others won’t.
Bottom line: know your audience and know which expectations to meet and which ones to break.
What are your expectations when reading a romance arc? What percentage of the book do you like the romance arc to take?
Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to let me know if you prefer romance or romantic and why.
I'd like to thank @SStaatz for the blog topic suggestion.