Keeping your voice when writing different genres, with 11.22.63

I tell people that I write speculative fiction. And I do, technically. But speculative fiction is an umbrella term that includes science fiction, fantasy and horror. Everyone sort of knows that. 

On the one hand, I can kind of see why. These three genres are easy to blend, especially horror and science fiction. Some pieces of fiction you have to pick apart to figure out which side of the fence it falls on.

On the other hand, science fiction and horror are pretty distinct. If you compare the last horror book I read (American Psycho) and the last science fiction book (Now, Then and Everywhen), they’re lightyears from each other. 

So when an author goes from one genre to another, some serious considerations have to be made. Many authors use pen names for different genres to help differentiate their work.

I don’t. And neither does Stephen King, one of my writing mentors. (In my head. I’ve never met the man, I’ve just read On Writing many times.) His time travel novel, 11.22.63, was a worldwide hit. That’s no surprise, he could stick his name on the front of a phone book and it would sell. But this was a really good story. I just finished watching the mini-series on Hulu, and it was quite entertaining. More than that, it was a shining example of how to switch genres like a pro.

(Oh, and it has a satisfying ending. I won’t tell you what it is, but it’s there.)

Lee11.22.63 is purely a time travel story. It checks all the boxes. We have betting on sports, falling in love with a woman in the past, trying to hide knowledge of the future. The main character, Jake, is amazed and hurt by the racism of the past. I was, too, honestly. 

This was not, in short, a horror story. There was some blood, some spookiness at the start. It begins with the tale of a man who’s family was murdered by his father. But after that, there’s precious little blood. There are no jump scares. No serial killers. No eerie thing creeping in the night, clicking its teeth in anticipation of crunching into flesh and bone.

And yet, this is a King story. No one who’s read as much of his work as I have could ever mistake it. 

I mean, let’s start with the fact that Jake is from Maine. He’s an English and Creative Jake and old guyWriting teacher, from Maine. He’s divorced, and he has an older cantankerous man as a good friend. 

Does King know that people have other jobs besides writing? Asking for a friend. That friend is King. 

In case we didn’t notice that this is a King story, the directors helpfully left little clues all over the place. I loved this. Eagle eye watchers will notice that Randall Flagg made a cameo in the last episode. At one point the word ‘redrum’ is written in red on a wall. Christine also makes an appearance, driven by Sadie’s ex-husband. At one point Jake, while pretending to be a drunk JFK fan, tells an FBI agent that he’s his number one fan. In one episode that includes kids trick or treating, we see children dressed up as killer corn monsters and Pennywise the Clown.

Maybe because I’m so big on dialog myself, this is the biggest sign of style for me. The word usage and names are very much King’s style. It’s a difficult thing to explain, style. But you know it when you see it. You can recognize a page of writing from Tolkien, Grisham or King. It’s just something you can feel.

I hope that someday people say that about my work. 

So if you’re a writer and you’re considering switching genres, go for it. Your style will come through, whether you’re writing about demons or spaceships. 

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