6 Things To Consider Before You Cross Your Genres

Once upon a time we had genre. Genre dictated how we wrote, which setting we used, the length of the book and characters we created. It dictated which shelf the book would sell from. Genre made promises. Romance promised love, action promised excitement, horror promised sleepless nights. 

Then we crossed over. Paranormal romance allowed us fall in love with vampires for example. But these hybrids were tricky. They posed problems. Should they go on the paranormal shelf or should they go on the romance shelf? 

And now, not only are the genres crossing over, they’re having a party and everyone is invited. We have historical romance with enough humour to entice chick-lit readers. This used to be all serious sex scenes and no embarrassing blunders. Thank-you, Bridget Jones. We have Young Adult (YA) Paranormal with Historical and Contemporary Romance; those would be the yummy Salvatore brothers. Not to mention all the wonderful YA dystopian fiction with psychological twists and sci-fi flavours in The Hunger Games.

Why are we getting away with this? Simple.  Amazon has no shelving issues. Ok, maybe some Amazon employee will disagree, but online booksellers can have as many different shelves as they want. 

Why would we want to do this? Easy, more genres equal more readers. More readers equal more sales.  And it is fun. 

But ask yourself first:

  1. Why are you doing this? Have you read somewhere that dystopian fiction is the way to go and now you want to force your cute, young-love, farm story into a book about a city destroyed by robots?
  2. Does it advance the plot? Or does the story work just as well or better with one genre? 
  3. Does it affect your characters? Putting a medieval princess in a current day setting will force her to change? Is that what you want?
  4. Do you know both genres well enough? Don’t try to bluff your way into a genre. Readers like genre because it’s familiar. It’s like pretending to be a Star Wars fan at the annual convention. It won’t end well. 
  5. How does it affect your dialogue? Will your characters be able to understand each other or do you have to create a whole new language? This can either add to the conflict or take away from your plot. We can’t all have a Babel fish, but it was a great way to solve Arthur’s problem. How will you deal with it?
  6. If you choose genres that are opposites will you be able to entice the ‘other’ genre’s readers? Romance readers are generally not crazy about eviscerated corpses and horror readers don’t care about the butterflies in the heroine’s tummy. It is not impossible, but think about it. 

That said, go for it. Amazon freaks me out. I once read a crime thriller, then some dystopian fiction, followed by some historical romance and they recommend a crime thriller set 50 years after the earth has been partially obliterated and can only be saved a time-travelling crime-solving medieval princess, who falls in love with the leader of the new world. Not really, but wouldn’t it be cool?

I had so much fun writing that sentence I think you should leave a comment behind with your own genre combining plot. Thank-you, Amazon. I have so much more genre for my book.  

Mia Botha Writer by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Say it, without saying it...
  2. A Writer's Sketchbook
  3. What Watching Disney (and Pixar) Taught Me About Storytelling

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

24 responses
Writers Write upvoted this post.
A pair of prehistory primates fall passionately in love while their families battle each other for control of alien artifacts left behind by powerful transdimensional beings that will enable one group to become the dominant species of Earth but when their relationship is discovered their families separate them until they must be reunited in order to solve the riddle of the artifacts and save both families from complete annihilation.
Thank you for pointing out how ridiculous some of this stuff is. I once met a fellow at a writers conference who was writing Civil War paranormal baseball. When you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.
I've written an YA erotic comedy of which 2/3 of it have been published. (NATHAN'S COUGAR). I found it easy to combine all of those elements and think they fir nicely.
I am all in favor of genre hopping, but only if the story actually requires it. I do not write to genre, never have and never will. I write what my heart and mind conjure. Writing is art, and a genre is limiting our art for the sake of classification. An artist does not have to explain his work to anybody other than himself. It adds to the mystery, and to a degree writing is the same. I have written stories and novels that cross many different genres, if viewed in such an analytical way, but that is not how they read. I would agree however that for people who simply cross as many genres as they can, not for the sake of the story but on the off chance of appealing to a wider audience, they are being detrimental to themselves and their writing. Genre is not a singular thing, it is malleable, we can tweak and twist it into what is required in order to tell the story. The key is making the story good enough, strong enough to support the multiple pressures of the areas of interest you take it into.
I agree with Alex. I believe in writing a story only if it is an authentic vision from the mind. If you sit down with a blank mind to an empty piece of paper or Word Document and try to "construct" a story out of tropes belonging to different genres, you will end up with a hollow, soulless piece of writing with one-note characters that clash discordantly. Your story will be boring and lacking in vision. Genre is a useful classifying tool that should be applied to a story *after* it is written, I believe. No writer should feel limited by the conventions of genre while they are writing. If there are fantastical elements to a mystery story, or a romance between detectives on the trail of a Victorian vampire - if the story calls for it - then by all means put it in. Worry about "genre" after the story is done. All good stories have "integrity" as Woolf says in "A Room of One's Own". This internal consistency and believe-ability can only happen when the vision and message of the story is whole and authentic. Whether it is a fantasy, a science-fiction story, a piece of "realism" or a steampunk adventure - all great stories have a "truth" within them - about the nature of humanity; our struggles, aspirations, yearnings and journeys. These transcend "genre".
I have to say, you can tell when a writer is writing just for the sake of paying bills rather than for the love of it.
Must a writer only write as a labor of love to be a good writer? Isn't feasible that some who are writing to pay the bills are better than some that write for love alone? Someday I'd like to be able to do both. I love words, they are intoxicating, but ultimately I hope someday I will be paid for my efforts. Writing prose or poetry has to be the hardest of any of the self employeed careers one could choose to do. If someone is writing to get a check then they must be offering something that someone is willing to purchase or they certainly wouldn't continue doing it. Writing a novel is hard, very hard, even if you are a "hack". Don't be upset that someone is making a buck, dust off your old manuscript and self publish that sucker. If it's even close to as good as you hope it is then chances are you might make a little money instead of providing it free room and board in your filing cabinet.
Guilty as charged. I have created a book Universe involving vampires that can travel between quantum universes, allowing me to put them in virtually any setting, from high fantasy to hard SF, and tell a story in virtually any genre with them. Then I wrote a book that was about recovery from trauma, personal relationships, and it has vampires, shapeshifters, a touch of magic, it's about cops, and it has extreme violence, and there's also a little romance. So, there. lol
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An evil witch is banished from her world after denying a young king his wishes. She ends up in Utah where Mount Rushmore becomes a source of hatred and loathing as she believes the kings on the mountain represent the kings from her world. She sets up a den beneath the mountain and opens a portal from space to her world sending "demons" into it. A young farmer/new soldier, stumbles upon the witches scheme and must find a way to settle the matter between the witch and the king before his entire world ends.
Personally, I like doing epic fantasies--complete with the medieval feel--that have a sci-fi twist with an ounce of innocent romance. I play with that in various ways, such as my current series with princesses, mages, and dark lords next to coded elevators and volumetric displays--all things the rich are used to, while the poor only get to see in awe. Then the opposite--kids in a world that feels much like ours, inside a large city, traveling into a virtual medieval game with many twists and mysteries. Though, I also enjoy going more on the sci-fi side of things if it feels right--I have a planned space adventure with elves, dwarves, ninjas, and all sorts of magic. As long as it feels like how their 'verse has naturally formed, I'm not opposed to any sort of mixture and enjoy playing around with the possibilities. It's just another part of world building to me--and I couldn't see the characters living in any other world but their own.
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