Writing in a popular genre is hard. Well, writing in a certain subset of a popular genre is hard. When you write about something that everyone seems to know something about, there are a lot of expectations to overcome. What if you’re writing about, say, vampires, for instance?
The vampire genre (I’m not sure it’s really a “genre,” but they are a rather popular subject these days) has changed drastically from its beginnings. Bram Stoker’s Dracula did not paint the vampires in a sympathetic light. In ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King’s vampires were also not romantic, sexy heroes. But in most of today’s vampire novels, all that has changed.
When was the last time you saw all the vampires in a particular world portrayed as bad guys? They are much more commonly the romantic leads, the stars of the show. If you don’t want your vampires to be the good guys, you’re fighting a battle on two fronts: 1) a lot of readers of vampire fiction want their vampires to be the sexy leads. 2) You have to come up with something different.
If a reader absolutely refuses to read something where vampires are the villains, well, there’s not much you can do to change such a rigid mindset. But different? You can do that. Personally, I’ve never written anything with vampires in it. For one reason: I haven’t had an original idea. That is of foremost importance if you’re writing on such a popular subject.
Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series is based around the premise that a tiny town in Texas has been run by vampires for its entire history. That’s a novel idea, and gives her world a solid—and unique—foundation. Kim Harrison’s The Hollows books mixes vampires, weres, pixies, demons, elves—you can pretty much name it—in a world where magic is strictly regulated and tomatoes are still regarded with suspicion. Even Stephenie Meyer and her sparkling vampires—God forbid—introduce “vegetarian” vampires with one unique talent into a romantic triangle (…and I refuse to speak anymore on Twilight, other than to say Meyer did give her vamps a bit of novelty). So, find your unique angle, and twist away.
Zombies are another topic that has become wildly popular lately. With the success of The Walking Dead and Warm Bodies, this has become obvious of late. Warm Bodies’ uniqueness comes from the idea of having one of the zombies fall in love with a human—and having that love bring him back to life. Pretty singular idea there, especially when mixed with a dose of humor. Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland is a completely different take on zombies, and that idea in itself is enough to be intriguing.
As for The Walking Dead, well, it’s pretty much your straightforward, zombie apocalypse, end-of-the-world story. If you’re going to write about this scenario, you better have some well-written characters that readers care about. That’s the main appeal of this wildly popular show. And if you’re writing that end-of-the-world drama with compelling characters, please, for the love of everything that’s holy, make it believable. I’m almost through watching season two, and still I find myself completely thrown out of the story by their desire to save bullets. Are you kidding me? They’re in Georgia. I know there are gun stores everywhere. It’s the South, people! And why are they spending all this time washing dingy clothes? Go raid a Wal-Mart or something…and pick up a newer vehicle while you’re at it.
That’s the other thing about writing in a popular genre: don’t throw your reader out of the story. Find your angle, twist it, but don’t make it so completely unbelievable that your reader will scoff and throw the book down in disgust (Sparkling vampires…I’m just saying…). If it’s a far-fetched idea—vampires in space (Holly Lisle’s Cadence Drake novels)—have a realistic, valid explanation for it. Then work that angle for all you’re worth. Readers love something new.