Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guest Post: Adding Genre Without Switching Genre

Today's guest blogpost comes from Eli Ashpence, author and fellow Speculative Fiction Group Member. She is the author of Genocide to Genesis:
"Eighty years after World War Three, the immortal Val is one of the few who lives long enough to see the modern world of science crumble into a medieval world of magic."

"The world can change in a matter of minutes. No one knows this better than Val, a life-sucking immortal who wanders the world in search of amusements. The latest, in a city twisted by fallout, is the role of "Vampire Val, Private Detective." But no diversion is lasting enough when the Earth itself incites a massive apocalypse - one that Val has to live through and, possibly, learn from."

Without further ado:

"Adding Genre without Switching Genre" might sound simple on the surface.  It's a little romance in your fantasy or a little erotica in your horror.  It's a little mystery in your sci-fi and a little crime in your paranormal.  But where does an author draw the line?  How can you stop your Alternate-History/Dystopia from turning into a mess of A.History/ Dystopia/ Inspirational/ LGBT?
I'll try to answer this with the experience I've gained from crossing that line.  First, and foremost, you must decide on a primary and secondary genre.  Planners usually decide this during their outline phase.  Pantsters (those that write by the seat of their pants) should have some idea by chapter 3. 
You'd be surprised—or maybe not—at how many writers don't decide their genre until they're ready to query an agent or publisher.  I know I didn't think of it until after I wrote my first novel.  I just wanted to see what would happen next with Character X in Setting Y. However, it makes everything easier when this “little detail” is written in stone. 
Mostly, knowing your primary and secondary genres ahead of time will allow you to better recognize when you're deviating.  And THAT allows you to pick and choose which genres will benefit the story rather than distracting from it.
(This is also why you only list your primary and secondary in your query letter.  You don't want agents and publishers to think your writing lacks focus.)
This is where you say, “Get to the point!  How do you add genre without switching your genre?”
I'm assuming you already know what genre you want to add.  And, for that, there are two *main* methods to consider.  Those are:
1.  Ommission:  I'm not trying to punk you.  This IS an option.  Try to explain the story (to yourself) with the extra genre thrown in.  If it's overload when you try to explain it, then it'll be overload when you write it.  So, don't write it.  Pick two genres (primary and secondary) and stick with them.  This method is usually suited for planners that can stick to an outline. 
2.  Side Stories:  Whatever tertiary genres you pick to add to your story should be relegated to side stories.  This will keep your main genre clear by keeping your main plot-line clear.  I believe this method is suited for pansters that don't bother writing outlines.  As an added bonus, side stories are easier to edit out than trying to remove details integrated into the core plot.
Of course, no one method is 'one size fits all'.  If it were, this would be a rather short post and Clipper would hide my cookies. 
Other options to add genre:
3.      Contrivances:  Every story has minor items/things that don't quite fit, but aren't genre-breaking.  For example, a magic mirror in a sci-fi/horror, or a jet pack in an erotica/romance, or buying a magic charm in a mystery/western.  These are good for adding the flavor of a different genre without adding the entire genre.  Sometimes, this is all an author needs to soothe the craving for 'more'.
4.      Settings:  Dream settings are the most commonly used to add another genre.  However, there are also paintings, books within the world, and distant lands/planets/amusement parks that can be mentioned in passing.  Again, sometimes the mention is enough.

And that's it!  Did you expect something else?  Maybe you thought I was  going to come in here and list fifty ways for you to salvage your horror/crime/urban fantasy/romance?  How about just one?
5.      Simplifying Fractions:  (Horror/Crime*urban fantasy/romance = Crime/Urban Fantasy) Make sense?  It's important to know the expectations within genres.  No matter how horrific crime becomes, it's still crime.  And most fantasies (of any type) include some kind of romance.  The important part is to identify what genre is most inclusive to all aspects of your novel. Everything else is just gravy. 
Although.... too much gravy can make you sick.  ^_^

Further Reading:


  1. Yep. Well said. Most genres include a little bit of another area. You have to keep from crossing that line into too much.