We’ve all heard it: it’s important to try new things. It’s really tempting to write in the same format all the time, but varying it up can improve your writing skills in your home format. You are forced to think about scenes, events, and people from different perspectives, use words in new ways, and consider ways to attract different types of readers.
Poetry, for instance, helps you develop a theme using limited words. It forces you to think about rhythm and word play, which can transfer more subtly to other genres. Short works (such as flash fiction) show you how to make good use of limited words. Longer works (like novels) teach you how to show, not tell and follow multiple characters and plots. Here, I have a list of writing formats to try.
Genre Novel—the type of book you probably read most often. Regardless of the genre, there are some aspects of writing a novel that remain consistent. The word count, for instance, is usually in the range of 80,000 words. Following a single story and cast of characters for that long requires developing and exaggerating obstacles and really getting to know your main character. It also requires you to think about whether a story is worth a reader’s time. Will somebody spend eight hours reading a book you could have explained in five minutes? What makes each of those 300 pages worth reading?
Novella / Novelette. These are similar to short novels, ranging from 7,500 to 40,000 words. For someone who typically writes novels, this requires condensing information and cutting out unimportant storylines. For someone who typically writes short stories, this requires extending and elaborating upon ideas.
Short Story / Flash Fiction. Writing short pieces, especially flash fiction (which is less than 1,000 words long), is hard. Conveying a meaningful story in a short amount of time requires getting your readers connected to your characters and invested in your plot almost immediately. Not a single word can be wasted as you go through the entire Freytag’s Diagram in a few pages. It is essential to keep in mind word choice and sentence structure at all times.
Free Verse Poetry. It sounds easy—write whatever you want. But there’s a lot more to it. It still has to be a poem, even if it doesn’t follow a strict rhythm or rhyme pattern. The leniency of this writing format can make it hard to follow. Writing free verse poetry can improve your creativity and understanding of your own writing style, while challenging you to break rules of grammar usually found in prose.
Formal Verse Poetry. Of all the writing formats I listed here, this is the most strict. Once you pick a specific form of poetry (limerick, sonnet, etc.), you need to adhere to its rules. That means obeying guidelines for rhythm, rhyme, meter, etc. Looking for the right word to convey your message with the three syllables you have left in a line can really improve your vocabulary. Simply understanding the different types of formal verse poetry and what they entail can make you better-versed in some of the oldest pieces of writing, including Greek epics and medieval hymns.
Spoken Word. This could be free verse or formal verse poetry, with the added requirement of verbally presenting it. What looks good in writing doesn’t always flow off the tongue easily because our eyes and ears don’t work the same way. You really have to think about rhythm not just to follow a pre-set pattern, but to make sure your poem sounds good. You also get to work on your public speaking skills—exciting, I know.
Screenplay. This could be for a film, short film, or TV show—anything you might watch on the screen. Writing a screenplay requires constant showing because you don’t really have the opportunity to tell your audience anything. You have to really figure out how to describe the setting and action well enough for your reader (a director, producer, showrunner, etc.) to be able to clearly visualize what is happening. You need to keep dialogue scenes short to prevent your audience from getting bored, and avoid narration where it can be avoided.
Stage Play. This has all the challenges of writing a screenplay, but you don’t have access to special effects—everything has to happen in the moment. On the bright side, stage plays can have more dialogue than screenplays, so you have another medium for conveying messages.
Getting Better at a New Format
Sure, it’s fun and exciting to try out a different writing format, but how can you really tell if you’re doing it right? It’s important to learn about the format and what it entails in order to avoid common pitfalls. The internet is your biggest resource here.
Additionally, see if you have any friends or acquaintances that write in that genre. Seek their advice. Maybe even show them a page or two of your work, and ask for their feedback.
If you’re really dedicated to getting better at this new format, you might want to take some classes with an online platform or find something at your school or local library.
And—as always—read, read, read. See how successful writers use that format, and learn from their pieces.
Using a New Format to Grow in Your Home Format
Do you have that one short story lying around because it doesn’t feel right? Or a book that’s too short to be a book? Or a poem that really doesn’t get the right message across? Rewrite it using a different format. Pick something similar or even completely different to your current genre and rewrite the same story—give the same message—in a different way.
Who knows? You might discover that your piece is better conveyed through a different medium than you originally intended. Even if you don’t decide to change the format of your piece, you may be able to use what you learn from changing the format to improve the original piece.
Let’s say you want to write a novel, but it’s easier for you to write action and dialogue. You might want to write a script that you can eventually add internal thoughts to.
So, writing in different formats exercises different writing skills and generally helps you become a better writer. And you never know—you might discover your newest passion.
I have tried almost all of the formats above, except free verse poetry and stage plays. My home format is novel-writing. What writing formats do you like to read and write?