Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting Outside Your Range

Placido Domingo is singing as a baritone. Mind you, I only know he's a tenor, normally, because of that thing he did with the other two guys - only one of whom I can name off the top of my head. Not that I don't listen to opera, as I do, but I don't listen to it frequently enough to really know much about any of the stars or recognize them by voice. In part because my local radio doesn't carry that "Sunday at the Met" program, assuming it's still airing at all. Also in part because I just don't listen to that much opera.

None of which really relates to my point today. It turns out that Placido started as a baritone, and then early in his career moved up to a tenor. Where he proceeded to make his career. Now, in part because his voice is aging, and in part just because he wants to, he's come back down (musically speaking) to a baritone. By the sounds of it, he's just as comfortable as a baritone as he was as a tenor, but I am reasonably sure it took a bit of an adjustment. I'm also sure, because the guy on NPR said so, that having sung as a tenor Placido now brings a little extra something to being a baritone.

That's the part that got me thinking about how at least once in your life you ought to try something outside your normal range. Speaking as a writer, you could probably substitute "genre" for that last word without too much trouble, as that's really what I'm talking about here. However, it also applies to dabbling in poetry if you normally writer novels, or short stories if you write poetry, or something that requires you to follow a different set of guidelines than you normally do.

It does violate the old trope of "write what you know" but let's face it, in this day and age research is at the tip of your fingers anyway. There are limits on the usefulness of any rule like "write what you know" anyway, at least if you're going to be too much of a stickler about it.

This has a couple of advantages, not least of which is exercising some of your creative muscles that you might not normally use. If you spend most of your time thinking about spaceships, writing about a modern-day setting, or even getting historical, presents brand new challenges for you. Good writing is, of course, good writing, regardless of genre. And you don't necessarily need to come all the way out of your normal comfort zone to make it work. Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series contains elements of the Western and high fantasy that don't show up much at all in his other works, for example, and it remains I think some of his best writing. (Hated the ending, no matter how much it fit, but that's another entry altogether.) Robert Parker has also written some fine westerns that are far removed from the streets of Spencer's Boston.

The results aren't always good, of course, and sometimes writing exercises are just that and no more. But another advantage to when they do work is a fresh perspective. When you normally write in a particular genre, you can get too accustomed to the trappings of that genre. Switching can help shake you out of those trappings, and not just by getting you to work within a new set of guidelines. A different mode of writing can liven up some of the tropes - which every genre has - not only in the genre with which you are experimenting, but then when you return to your comfort zone. It's like taking a vacation, appreciating the change of scenery, and then coming home and appreciating what you have anew.

Then again, some people go on vacation and decided to stay.

1 comment:

Kathy said...


I believe writers should be versatile. I always have. I write poetry, children's picture books, young adult fiction, mainstream fiction, and erotica.