I am primarily a Fantasy and Science Fiction author. The three books I have out for sale right now are all fantasy and I do have a science fiction scheduled to be released next year. So when I started work on my historical fiction novel Persona I felt like a fish out of water.
Suddenly moving shadows had nothing to do with lurking monsters. And the idea of genetic enhancements stretching the limitations of the human body wasn’t an option. Suddenly I had to deal with real people, real problems, and real settings.
To make matters worse, I chose to limit my point of view character. Normally I write within two or three characters, but in Persona I limited myself to just one, just Megan. Because I wanted this to be a “Who am I?” story I wanted the so-called camera lens to be focused entirely on Megan as she struggles through Nazi Germany.
And these were the best decisions I could ever have made.
Let me tell you what I’ve learned about the writing craft through this experiment.
1) My other writings are severely lacking in setting. Yes, you can see some imagery and I give a sketch of what you’re looking at, but the settings in my other books don’t have the character that it should.
2) I have learned how to reach deeper into the personality of a character through Megan. By limiting myself to Megan I can now see how very vague I’ve been with other characters. (Even my beloved Trenna, though I think she’s purposefully private in many matters.)
3) The use of a theme-based outline has been supremely enlightening. Rather than just following the plot to its conclusion, this outline has been able to focus my writing on Megan’s journey to self-discovery.
I’ll use an example from this weeks posted chapter. We’re in chapter seven and Megan comes home to find a POW hiding in her bathroom. That’s all plot and action. My outline goes further to the main question of the scene; What will Megan do with this man, and what does it say about her when she does it?
There are more practical issues that I’ve learned during this process as well, most of them having to do with taking ownership of the story and my craft. But the main thing I want to say is that this decision, to write something outside of my comfort zone, has been incredible. I highly recommend any author to try it.
Pick a genre outside of what you normally write and commit yourself to it. If it’s just a short story then that’s fine, the point is to look at how writing within this new genre is different.