Monday, August 17, 2015

Mixing Genres in Speculative Fiction: Another Look

Astronaut Wizard by Jordan Grimmer
jordangrimmer on Deviant Art. 
I am a huge fan of work that encompasses more than one genre.  Regardless of it is a game, a movie, a work of art, a novel, or whatever - I'm always pleased to find myself in a complex world, with many strange or scary or wonderful things afoot.  I've written before about crossing genres, first in an introductory post here, and then a follow up here.  Still, things have changed since that first post (back in 2010), and I felt it was time to once again sing the praises of mixed genre work.

The artwork at right "Astronaut Wizard" by Jordan Grimmer (jordangrimmer) is an evocative visual display of multiple genres.  The artwork does such a good job of focusing our attention on the juxtaposition - all the light is on the magic hand reflecting off of the helmet.  The rest of the suit and background are lost in shadow.  I enjoy how it jars the imagination - one does not expect magic from an astronaut.  Just the thought makes the mind race with possibilities and questions.  What would space exploration be like with magic at hand - in this case, literally?  What would our past have been like (historical fiction) or our future (science fiction)? 

As far as novels, I read Watership Down by Richard Adams when I was about nine years old and adored it.  On the surface it is a fantasy about rabbits seeking a new home, but it includes so much more - political maneuvering, adventure, mystery, and even a nod to the supernatural.  It's also a very literary book, as far as I see it.  Thinking of it as a fantasy seems limiting, even if basically correct.

Sometimes science fiction is even better with mystery, or romance, or a bit of something scary thrown into the mix.  Certainly the scariest movie I've ever seen was Alien and it was, again on the surface, straight up science fiction.  But wow.  Horror.  Really incredible suspenseful horror.  I'm getting creeped out just thinking about it.

And then how about video games … I'm thinking of the Steampunk groundbreaker "Arcanum" which included magic, robots, monsters and more.  It even felt a bit like a western in places.  My character was always suited to be an arbiter - someone who solved problems by negotiation, and tried to avoid conflict.  This led to navigating some interesting political situations.  There were mysteries to solve, as well as battles to be won.  A generally great, complex game. 

So back to writing.  Fortunately, the tide has turned as far as the acceptance of cross-genre work.  Although it might still be difficult to pitch and categorize such work (and therefore difficult to sell such work) readers seem to be quite keen to read it.  There are lots of posts and articles that will give you tips and hits on how to write and pitch something that includes multiple genres.  I've put a few here as examples you might want to peruse.

Alan Rinzler, Ask the Editor:  Is it OK to cross genres?
Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz, Mixing It Up:  Writing Across Genres
Brian Klems, How to Write and Sell a Cross-Genre Novel

And there are a lot of commonalities between the articles. Here are a few take-aways for writers.

1. Read any genre you want to write in. Make sure you actually like what you are reading, and are motivated and enthusiastic about the genre. Be sure to understand the conventions, and what it is that gives a particular genre its appeal.

2. Focus on story. That means as you are writing, worry less about genre and more about creating a really compelling story that people will clamor to read. As usual, the reader has to care what happens to the characters. And something interesting does need to happen, somehow …

3. Stay consistent. No matter how complex the world, stay consistent within that world.

4. Eventually, you will need to know the primary genre of your piece. No matter what, there is a dominant genre in your work somewhere. It might not be by much, but it is in there. This is important information when trying to pitch or advertise your piece, or when trying to figure out how to tag or select keywords for searches. After all, readers have to start somewhere when they are looking for a new read.

5. Be confident. Don't listen to people who say you can't or shouldn't mix genres. If the story calls for it, then write the story.

Image Credit:  Astronaut Wizard by Jordan Grimmer, jordangrimmer on Deviant Art. 

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