Mixing It Up: Writing Across Genres
by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz

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Many writers and readers are familiar with romances written with a touch of fantasy, futurism, or a paranormal theme. Writing across genres is becoming more and more popular as writers are branching out into new and exciting genres, and mixing it up is no longer limited to romance. Authors are writing multi-genre works in many categories. Jamieson Wolf, for example, mixes thriller paranormal stories with a dash of romance. Karina Fabian shakes up her Christian-theme stories with a combination of fantasy, mystery, and satire. My own short stories tend to be fantasy with just a sprinkling of romance, and my middle grade novel, Ghost for Rent, is a paranormal mystery. Is writing across genres something you should try?

Fantasy most often involves magic, mythical creatures, a hero's quest, and an invented world. Paranormal stories have nightmare creatures such as vampires, werewolves and ghosts. Mystery plots involve solving a puzzle, usually a crime, while building suspense, and dropping clues to help the reader figure out the solution to the puzzle. Thrillers blend action with believable characters in tense situations, often with political overtones. Science fiction can be either technological or social and involves conjecture about future science or technology. It can include alternate history, time travel, space exploration and settlement, aliens, and/or robotics. Historical fiction portrays fictional stories of real people or events with attention paid to the details, manners, language, dress, moral and social conditions of the specific time period. Christian literature deals with Christian themes and world views.

Mixing one or more of these types of fiction together creates stories which cross-genre author Jamieson Wolf states have "more bang for their buck." Writer Dianne G. Sagan likens "combining some elements of other genres" in a story to "adding seasoning when you're cooking." Karina Fabian believes "We are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in our thinking process... (this) make(s) us able to handle complex storylines that transcend a single genre."

Ms. Schizas -- author, editor, and organizer of the MuseOnLine Conference -- published her paranormal suspense young adult thriller, Doorman's Creek, in 2007. Most of Lea's books include mystery and the paranormal because she loves "cliff-hanging chapter endings." When asked why, Lea stated, "...in my Young Adult novel, Doorman's Creek, the main focus is mystery, but I added paranormal to heighten the read and surrounding make-believe world of my characters. A bit of spookiness added with mystery rounds off each page for the reader."

Dianne G. Sagan focuses on combining Women's Christian Literature with Historical Fiction. Her novel, Rebekah Redeemed, is scheduled to be released in February 2009. She enjoys writing "cross-over with genre because I believe it gives my writing more depth." She describes Rebekah Redeemed as "a suspenseful story. I put the story in historical, first-century Israel, but it is basically a woman's story."

Karina Fabian is an author who really likes to mix up her genres. Her "Dragon Eye PI" novels and stories (Infinite Space, Infinite God, and Leaps of Faith anthology) are "fantasy/ mystery/ noir satires with a dash of Christianity that cross genres, shatter cliches and tell great stories as only a cynical dragon can." Karina chose this genre mix because these "far-flung adventures with a lot of excitement and an element of the fantastic where the hero is pitted against an outside threat and must become a better person/creature in order to emerge victorious" interest her.

What's important to keep in mind, should you choose to follow these authors into cross genre writing, is to remember what type of story you plan to write. Dianne looks at it this way, "I focus more on Christian fiction in Rebekah Redeemed because I have a strong faith and feel that others can learn from how someone grows personally through hardships and can be a better person for it." Jamieson most often "focus(es) on the paranormal... and romance. Mostly because the two of them go so well together and they compliment each other. Where there is excitement and the unknown, there is romance."

Carole Ann Moleti is relatively new to fiction writing, with a solid background in creative nonfiction, reviews and features. She is now working on romantic fantasy, urban and science fantasy. Carole says "I don't think I could have written cross genre when I was beginning. There are too many conventions to learn for each. After I got the basics down, I started to experiment with fantasy romance, then urban fantasy and erotic fantasy. I took specialized courses to help me figure out the right way to do it."

There are many reasons to incorporate more than one genre in your story. Multi-talented writer and publisher Vivian Zabel (The Base Stealers Club, Midnight Hours, Case of the Missing Coach) writes across genres because "Life isn't one dimensional, so books shouldn't be either. A bit of humor, mystery, romance all add to the fabric of the story... Life isn't all one thing or another. It blends sorrow and joy, hate and love, compassion and selfishness. Stories should do the same thing, give a rounded picture of the characters lives." By blending genres, this allows a writer to do just that. Ms. Moleti states, "Very rarely will I stay in one genre, such as mainstream romance or pure fantasy... Paranormal and erotic romance seems more interesting to me, and as a writer gives me more options for plot twists."

If you enjoy reading genre stories, writing across genres may be for you. However, as Lea Schizas says, "master what goes into writing any particular genre before (you) mix another in the bag. Each genre has specific elements to be included to fully round out the read." This sentiment is mirrored by author Barbara Ehrentreu, "mastering any genre means writing a great many stories in that genre. One good way to master a genre is to read as much as you can in that genre. Seeing what other authors write helps you to write that genre... Also, it is better if you concentrate on honing your ability to write using one genre."

Karina offers this advice: "Don't worry about genres. Write the story. Make it the best story you can, with compelling characters, fun twists, great plot progression and an ending that makes the reader smile with satisfaction yet long for the next book." Dianne believes that "when we first start writing, it is a good idea to focus on one genre at a time, but be willing to experiment with others... Many writing techniques are the same no matter what genre you choose so learning the basics is a foundation for whatever appeals to you." Jamieson agrees: "Start with one genre and become familiar with it before incorporating another. When I started writing, I started with fantasy... I became comfortable... then I wanted to try something new... So, I tried gay romance... but never thought of combining the two until reading a Silhouette Nocturne novel... I thought: Hey, I'm writing this already. But I was comfortable enough in both genres separately to find out what happened when I combined the two."

Mr. Wolf, who has a long line of cross genre books including Valentine, Valentine's Labyrinth, Witches, The Written Word, Book One, and others, tries to make "sure that one genre doesn't overpower the other. For instance, if I'm writing a paranormal with romantic elements, I want to make sure not to focus solely on the romance and ignore the story."

What does it mean to make sure one genre doesn't "overpower" the other? You must remember, as you're writing, which genre is your main theme. Are you writing a romance that just happens to be set in a haunted house? Then you're not writing a paranormal, you are writing a romance. The subgenres shouldn't be what drive your book. However, if you're writing a fantasy and your hero falls in love with an elf, don't let the romance take over. The fantasy, not the romance, should be the driving force of your story. As Carole states, "I don't always write romance, but I almost always write speculative fiction. Since I don't write traditional romance, my plots rarely conform to romance formulas. The paranormal comes first."

Lea offers this advice: "The writer (should state) the overpowering genre first. As a reviewer, there have been books I've read that stated mystery/romance. Having read the book, I realized the whole book contained romance, and the mystery was to imply who the heroine was going to choose as a mate. That's not right. Choosing the main genre and then adding the subgenre that comes in second is the best way to go for your reader. This way they don't feel cheated."

Overpowering the main genre when you're attempting to write across genres is perhaps the most difficult aspect of this type of genre writing. Carole, Lea and Jamieson all testify to this hardship. Carole further states that "the hardest part of writing in two genres at the same time is fulfilling the formula criteria for both."

Karina finds the hardest part of writing in more than one genre at once is "making sure I handle the less familiar genre well." For example, she is "strong on fantasy and humor, but need(s) to concentrate to ensure (her) mysteries have the right balance of clues and deduction." Barbara believes the way to overcome the problem of "needing to think in more than one genre... would be to put (yourself) into the story."

Yet for Vivian "limiting myself completely to one genre would be the hardest part of writing. So, I write what my imagination and characters give me to write." Lea has also found that it's no longer hard for her to combine genres since "each genre has specific elements that need to be included in order to 'authenticate' that genre."

Learn about the different genres. Read as much as you can of each, before you decide what you want to write. Your writing will read true if you write what you enjoy. If you don't like reading paranormal or suspense, don't attempt to write a story combining these two genres. Once you find your niche, your writing won't be forced. As Vivian Zabel states, "learn (your) craft and master writing good stories and books. The rest will follow."

Copyright © 2009 Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published more than 80 articles, 60 stories, two e-books and a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. She writes for adults and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre and children's publications and her nonfiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and online publications. Her writing blog is available at http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com/.

 

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