Consider the blog format. When people read a blog, they have certain expectations that must be fulfilled. Sure, there are many variations on the theme, but for the most part, we expect episodic snippets of advice, images, videos, podcasts, or other interesting fare—likely with the ability to interact.
The same is true with books. When we shop for books of any sort, we know—generally—what to expect from a genre. Self-help books provide steps and ideas to reach some goal; technology books tell us how to use a program or how to configure hardware; fantasy novels mean we’re getting a fantastic world with extraordinary characters.
The struggle for writers, however, is figuring out how creative we can be. Where are the limits to creativity?
It would be great to say that writers have free rein to explore the reaches of their imaginations, but that’s not completely true. When we write, we can bring fresh ideas—within borders. We have to deliver marketing copy that fits with current consumer expectations; we have to make our novel structure follow the classic conflict expectations. Some people do push beyond those constraints—and they can find success—but it’s not always an option.
And I’m okay with that.
What’s great about writing is that the structure means we can explore endless variation within the limits and find ways to twist what people think is coming. This isn’t a creativity stifler; it’s a creativity inducer.
Bring original ideas to a genre. Throw in the unexpected. But don’t dismiss the boundaries simply for the sake of artistic license. In my mind, the greater challenge is in finding new ways to rejuvenate an old idea.
The reason that genres and formats exist is because people like them. And, if we’re honest, it’s because there’s comfort in knowing what to expect. Is that laziness? Perhaps—but the real iconoclastic action is not in throwing out history; it’s in transforming from the inside out.
I love exploring boundaries, but I also want to make my readers feel like they’re pulling out a familiar, cozy blanket and sitting in front of the fire. The fun part is keeping them hooked long after the fire has turned to embers.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and struggles about meeting expectations—while still finding ways to make your writing stand out.