Cross-Genre Writing: Inspiration and Tips


What does it mean to write across genres? Depending on your reading taste, you may or may not have come across cross-genre novels already: a murder mystery that includes a love story, a Victorian novel with magical elements, or a space travel story written as a western (Firefly, anyone?). Writing a cross-genre story simply means mixing elements from two or more genres within the same story, and depending on who you talk to, some writers discourage the practice. Stories that are clearly one genre can be more “marketable” because they’re easier to categorize and therefore easier for readers of that genre to come across. But cross-genre stories can be incredibly deep and interesting works, and many cross-genre combinations have become categories of their own: think comedy-horror or romance-fantasy.

So if you have a cross-genre story floating around in your head, what do you need to keep in mind when writing?

Don’t add in other genres just to be “original”

The elements of other genres shouldn’t be added in just to give your story more colour; try not to have fairies flying by once in a while just to add a touch of magic or have advanced technology in a prehistoric world just to give it an edge. The elements of a genre need to be part and parcel of the world that you’re creating without overtaking the story itself. And speaking of world-building: Electric Lit did a great piece against it that gives some perspective to the obsession, particularly in science fiction and fantasy. The important thing to remember is balance: details about the world should flesh out the story rather than overtake it.

Tell more than one story at once

Our lives don’t tend to be linear, and we usually have multiple things going on at once. Make the same thing true of your story; this will help with ensuring the genre elements don’t overtake the characters themselves. If your main character is battling for the crown of dark faerie against her evil cousin, maybe she needs to protect her friends at the same time and also figure out who’s spying for her aunt (thanks, Laurell K. Hamilton). Or, if your main character has been captured and put in a slave camp thanks to her psychic talents, she also has to deal with her feelings for one of her captors (that’s Samantha Shannon, and if you haven’t read The Bone Season, definitely get on that).

Write what you want to read

Don’t worry about what cross-genre categories already exist or where your book will be shelved once it’s published. Instead, write what you would enjoy reading; chances are, you’re not the only one looking for that book in that style. Writing what you want to read will help you stay motivated through multiple drafts and revisions and your love for the characters and the story will come through on the page. So forge ahead, brave writer!

Want more examples of cross-genre stories? Try the following:

  • The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

“I’ve seen it (and the rest of the series) sold—with evident success—as <deep breath> Literature,Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical NON-fiction (really. Well, they are very accurate), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Military History (no, honest), Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and…Horror.” (Diana Gabaldon)

  • Charles de Lint novels

The author of more than two dozen novels and collections ranging from high fantasy to horror to science fiction, Charles de Lint is best-known for his pioneering work in the sub-genre of urban fantasy. Unusual among novelists in that he continues to put out a strong body of short fiction, de Lint’s work often examines social issues and the disenfranchised in the mythical North American city of Newford.”

  • The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

Sandman transcended so-called industry limitations because it didn’t pigeonhole itself into one genre. Sandman was epic fantasy at its finest, grand in scope and ideas, it was a metaphysical examination on the nature of fiction, and it was, at its heart a horror story.”

What’s your favourite cross-genre novel? Let me know in the comments!Happy writing (and reading)!

Happy writing (and reading)!

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