Genre tips / writing

Can You Mix Genres in Your Writing?

writing

Image credit: Drew Coffman

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the differences between genres, but it’s rarely as clear as the check list makes it appear.  A comment from a reader got me thinking. He asked what to do if you write in one genre and critics advise you switch to another. Tell me that hasn’t happened to all of us–especially in the early years. Here’s part of my answer:

You have two choices:

  1. Each genre has characteristics used to identify it to readers–overarching factors that help define a story as literary fiction or thriller or steam punk. Likely, you included characteristics from a different genre in your book. It may be a new sub-genre, say, instead of ‘thriller’ it is now ‘romantic thriller’–that is fine. Just be aware that you’ve mixed elements.
  2. You are writing in a different genre. If you like digging into the thought processes of your characters and pursuing big ideas like the difference between right and wrong, and do this while your hero is saving the world, you are mixing literary fiction and thrillers. Which is your purpose?  Saving the world or one individual? Thriller readers are less interested in the psychological pros and cons of ethereal ideas, and literary fiction readers are less interested in characters that are bigger-than-life.

I thought I’d given a pretty good answer until last Monday. That’s when I joined eleven other future authors at a Writer’s Workshop with the famed Richard Bausch. At the end of the evening, he gave us a chance to ask questions. Mine: Does he think writers can effectively cross genres in their published writing? After a thorough discussion on literary fiction and ‘all the other genres’ (grouped into one), my take-away was simply that he didn’t say no. I was so sure he’d reject the idea out of hand, I almost didn’t hear him.

What do you think?

More articles on genres and writing:

Word Count by Genre

Who is Today’s Author?

How Do Authors Have Time to do All This?




Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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28 thoughts on “Can You Mix Genres in Your Writing?

    • The approach between genres is so different. I can’t imagine honing my ability to present a thriller and then jumping into a romance (with that entirely different approach to characters). Seeing these comments, I think that’s just me!

  1. What you write from one book to another I don’t think matters to most people. You may lose a few readers who want something very specific, but I’d venture a guess that most of your loyal readers will take the trip with you, which could be a very good thing for them.

    The only danger I see in crossing genres within one book is that you might introduce some elements that readers aren’t just surprised by but offended or whatever. If you write in a genre that doesn’t have explicit sex scenes, for example, throwing one in could put a hamper on some of your reviews.

    In any case, going indie is the best place to try new things. You can always find a readership.

    • Don’t you think readers follow an author because they writer in the genre they like–say, fantasy? I rarely enjoy fantasy, so when Carsten Stroud switched from what he usually wrote (what I considered military fiction) to fantasy (more of fantasy thrillers), I was underwhelmed. I doubt I’ll read that series any more.

  2. I think you can. For example, I write comedic fantasy. In movies, you see multi-genre films such as action/adventure and sci-fi/action, etc. Most action films are multi-genre technically. Interesting thoughts.

  3. I think crossing genres is the direction books are taking. Not only that, with E readers, I think books are going to cross into performance and sensory experiences, something akin to what’s happening with the tag books for very young “readers.” Read about a train and the tot hears the whistle blow, the conductor call, “All aboard.” Not something I like, especially for adults, as I still prefer reader investment with a book, and that can’t happen if everything is provided for you.
    Still, story attracts readers, writers who produce good stories attract followings, and romance is in nearly everything – even yours!

    • Also, other writers have published in different genres successfully, so it can be done. I mean, Elizabeth Bear has written fantasy and science fiction and urban fantasy. But she might have taken a hit in the size of her readership.

      • Kissing cousins, maybe, which is they are usually shelved together. But there are still people who read fantasy, who won’t science fiction and vice versa.

        And than you have people who write under a different name even when they switch to a different subgenre. Like Nora Roberts became J.D. Robb when she wrote a futuristic romantic suspense (the in death series).

        And Jayne Ann Krentz who has three different pen-names for writing under three different romance sub-genre.

  4. I don’t really like putting things into boxes. Unfortunately we have to do it as writers because the first thing you are asked when you publish a book is – ‘what genre?’ not ‘what is the story about?’ It can get confusing for writers because so many books these days are cross-genre.

  5. What I can’t stand is being limited. If it’s my book, story, etc, shouldn’t I be able to write how I feel. If I wanted someone else’s story, they should write it, but it’s mine, so I will write it how I like it.

    • You absolutely should! That is the biggest reason so many write–to share, to figure stuff out, a catharsis sometimes. One caveat: If iyour goal is to sell the story, breaking new ground in writing may or may not make that go better. You just want to be aware of that, make your choice, and be happy with it.

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