Fantasy Writing: Stay the Path, Ride the Trend, or Miss Out?

Often a point of discussion for writers of all types is to stay true to yourself and your writing and you’ll eventually find the market you’re looking for. People who change their style to ride trends never find long term success, are hacks, etc. (not sure that’s always true, but more on that later). Then there’s always that moment when you write something awesome and just for whatever reason zombies aren’t cool anymore and no one wants to read your book even thought it’s awesome. This may have something to do with why Pacific Rim didn’t do as well as it should have. As Red Letter Media expressed in their review series Half in the Bag, people are sick of giant robots. It’s shame, because they missed out.

So I just have to indiscriminately kill my characters and I’ll be like GRRM right? Oh, it’s not that easy. Shit.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know the current trend in fantasy tends towards darker, grittier characters. This kind of fantasy just so happens to be one of my favorite styles. I’m going to go a little hipster here, but I was reading Martin before he was popular because of the TV show. Some writers may feel that killing off characters, having lots of sex and violence, and being generally depressing will make them as famous as Martin. But here’s the thing: Martin is really, really good at this. If you’re not, then maybe it’s best not to try to emulate the style. There are other writers that may fit into this style as well, such as Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, and R. Scott Bakker for instance, but they’re also extremely good at what they do. I don’t get the feeling that any of them are writing their style of fiction simply because it’s popular at the moment. There are some out there that may be trying to be like them and not having much success. However, there may be some that are doing well riding the trend and getting all they can out of it.

As a writer you stand at a crossroads. You can choose to stay where are, comfortable in your own skin and just hope for the success you know you’re destined to achieve. You can ride the wave of whatever thing is popular at the moment and hope to find that success that has perhaps eluded you. Or you can wait too long to pull the trigger and risk missing the boat altogether.

Decisions, decisions.

I’m going to give some pros and cons of taking each path. Then, I’ll let it up to you what you decide to do.

1. Stay the Path

Robert Frost says to take the road less traveled. He also kills trolls in his spare time. If you want to know why, ask. I’ll send you the story. 🙂

a. You are able to hold your head up high and say you never changed your style for anyone. This could mean editors, critique partners, etc. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in denial, but it could mean you’re probably more prone to stick to your guns and let the cards fall where they may (enough metaphors for you?)
b. If you write what you love, you’ll find success no matter what because you’ll be happy.
c. People tend to like writers who have passion about their style and subject. Even if it’s not something they’d normally read, passion shines through.

a. Your stubbornness may cause you to miss out on several opportunities. Just because your vision is clear about what you want to do, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful. Sometimes it’s good to realize what you’re doing isn’t working and at least give something else a shot.
b. You may not be listening to others who are saying what you’re doing isn’t working. Blocking out bad advice is always good. But tuning in to good advice is paramount to grow as a writer.
c. You may be writing Depression era fantasy about talking boll weavels the rest of your life, never finding a single solitary reader.

No hate on E.L. James. She’s doing her thing. But yeah, we don’t need a thousand stories about billionaire erotica. Or maybe we do, who the hell knows? I may yet try my hand at it…(?)

2. Ride the Trend
a. There’s a chance of getting more readers since they’ll be looking for more stuff like “that guy that writes about space zombies.”
b. You may find readers that you’d never get otherwise.
c. You may actually enjoy the writing you do even though you’re riding a specific trend.

a. You may be perceived as a sell-out or a hack. But if you’re jumping in money like Scrooge McDuck, who cares right?
b. You’ll feel a black soul-suck deep in your gut.
c. You may find yourself writing really crappy fiction and thus further inflaming your soul-suck.
d. Once the trend is over, you’re that person that wrote “Cthulu children’s stories.” It may be hard to break out of that box once you’ve gone down this road.

3. Miss Out

I knew I should have submitted my epic fantasy about centaur pirates while I had the chance.

a. Despite missing out on making tons of money, you’ve found the success you wanted and are happy with your lifestyle writing what you want.
b. You’re not assaulted by fans or given death threats for killing off beloved characters.

a. The obvious. You missed out on catching the trend and now it may never come around again. Even if you wrote a specific style that was once popular, it may be hard for people to get hooked to that again.
b. You live a lonely life full of emptiness. Nah, just kidding. Well, maybe…
c. You may not reach your full potential as a writer and spend your life regretting.

Now of all the choices above, I assume most people would say they’d Stay the Path. What does that say about us as people though? We’re willing to put it all on the line no matter what the cost? Well, I’d say that’s a pretty good quality. However, I wouldn’t be afraid to break out of your comfort zone and try some new things now and again. If something’s trendy, it couldn’t really hurt you to at least try it out. You can always stick it in the “DO NOT OPEN” file on your computer if you want, never to see the light of day.

So what’s your philosophy on your writing: do you always stay the path, look out for trends, or just watch the whole thing flash by you, never really going one way or the other? Comment below!