In case you’re not friends with me on Facebook or you don’t follow me on my author page or Twitter feed, my trip to Russia has been delayed. I won’t go into the reasons why, but just know we’re working hard to get a new date and as soon as I know, everyone else will know, including you, my wonderful Followers of Fear. In the meantime, I’m doing what I’d been doing before the delay: preparing, practicing German, packing, and of course, writing and blogging and editing (bet you expected something beginning with a “p”, didn’t you?). Which leads to this post, which is something I’ve been contemplating quite a bit:

It’s considered healthy in your personal life to get out of your comfort zone and try something new, whether that be a new hobby, a new group of friends, or just a change in routine or attitude. I think at times it’s the same thing with the stories you write. Sometimes you want to stick to writing content you feel is safe, that you as the author feel comfortable dealing with. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing–I’d say most writing is writing in an author’s comfort zone–but occasionally as an author you have to get out of that area and go in directions you normally wouldn’t go.

When we authors try to push our boundaries like this, we may do it for several reasons. On a personal level, an author may want to push themselves in the hopes that they won’t become boring or stale staying in what feels like safe territory, or they might want to see how far they can go. On the level of the story they’re working on, an author might feel he or she is helping to make things more exciting or keep it from becoming too much like some of their other works. Another reason could be for the audience’s sake: authors may feel that something different has to be done with the story, something untried and maybe even a little scary, so that either the audience stays interested or so that they too are pushed out of their safety spots.

An example of this happened to me while writing Rose. In one of the later chapters, my protagonist Rose Taggert remembers some of the formative events in her life. In the first draft, the first flashback in that chapter  ends with Rose being traumatized but not seeing any of the things that would cause the trauma. The flashback after that, while Rose does see and experience some traumatic stuff, it was all things I felt comfortable writing about, nothing that made me personally squirm.

While I won’t post excerpts here on the blog (too much space would be taken up and besides, the book’s still far from ready), I can tell you that in the second draft things changed quite a bit. I looked at that scene, those flashbacks, and I thought to myself, “You know Rami, this is supposed to be horror. You’re not horrifying enough in this part. Perhaps you should go deeper, show more and maybe try to go places you normally don’t. Besides, some other authors you admire would add some very nasty and hurtful dialogue in that second flashback. You should at least try it and see how it works.”

And I did. I expanded the first flashback so that Rose, rather than experiencing her trauma from afar, experiences it up close and personal. With the second flashback, I added a bit more dialogue that was meant to make Rose (and possibly myself) a little uncomfortable, just a bit more afraid than she normally would be. And you know what? It actually worked out pretty well. The flashbacks were much more intense, the tension and terror were heightened, and you got much more of a sense as to why these moments affected Rose so much in her later life.

This experience taught me that sometimes you had to push yourself and your boundaries and be bold, try writing stuff you might not at first be comfortable with, see how it fits with you, your story, and what you’re trying to do with the story. I think that’s especially important to me as a horror writer. Often I’m diving into subjects or going into directions meant to scare people, to make them afraid of what might be lurking outside the house or what is underneath their beds. If I’m scared to go someplace with my story, then perhaps that means I should try it and see how it fits in the story. If it scares me, imagine what it’s doing to my readers!

And I think for a bunch of other writers, from many different genres, backgrounds, and training, pushing those boundaries can be a good thing. It can lead to new and interesting stories, or within the stories themselves bring new twists that make what you’re writing (and what hopefully people are reading) that much better. It also can be considered part of the continual evolution that writers go through, constantly learning and getting better as they craft new stories to tell. And by going outside your comfort zone, an author grows not only as an author, but as a person too.

So I’ll keep pushing boundaries when I feel it’s necessary, see if it works out like it did with the second draft of Rose. Heck, maybe when I get to the third draft, I’ll push some more boundaries, add what happens from doing that to all the other edits my advisor and second readers suggested for me. You never know what could happen. But I think it could make the story much better much better than it already is.

Do you push your boundaries a little or maybe even a lot while writing? How so?

What was the results of pushing those boundaries? Would you do it again if given the chance?

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Comments
  1. I’ll be interested to read those flashbacks! 🙂

    Heh-heh, yeah I do it quite a bit myself. I have characters who say things I can’t even read out loud, and don’t get me started on some of the stuff they do…

    • I’ll let you know when the book comes out.

      Yeah, sometimes your characters do things that go against what you like to do. Most non-writers find it hard to believe when we say the characters come alive for us while we write, but it’s true, and sometimes we have to get outside the comfort zone in order to do their stories justice.

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