Tag Archives: Crime

Genre-Blending: 3 Keys to a Well-Mixed SFF/Crime Blend

Guest post by Jayne Barnard.

It isn’t easy to pull a balance of elements from two genres into a single story. Mysteries need crimes, suspects, red herrings, and character development for motivation. Science fiction and fantasy require questing characters, a reasonably adventurous plot, and a certain amount of world-building as well. Each of those elements absorbs words, and melding them all smoothly into a single narrative – often a short story with a tight word count – can be agonizing. Here are three keys to cutting down the word-wastage and blending the genre elements smoothly:

  1. Don’t describe anything about the story-world except the facets needed to understand the action. Concentrate on what’s different from the reader’s default Earth-based mental image. Integrate those world-building elements into the characters’ inner thoughts, actions, and dialogue. Even though you, the author, must know what political, social, technological and possibly tectonic elements shaped the physical surroundings, your readers don’t need to know it all. Your readers only need to feel confident that it does fit together in some rational pattern, and that if they asked you, you could tell them. So only describe the bits that they need to know to understand the current story.

In When the Tide Burns (appearing in BURNT, Analemma Press, August 2016), the setting is a barge moored in a garbage-packed cove as the wind is rising. This could be present time, familiar reality for coastal dwellers until the fifth sentence. The soapberry wax, all that protected their clothing and equipment from the acid spray, was down to its last sheen in the tin’s bottom corners. Not such a normal cove after all, but one holding a danger unfamiliar to the readers. The implied menace of the acid spray, combined with the rising wind, are not only effectively alien elements of world-building but introduce a sense of a rising menace against which our protagonist must pit her wits.

  1. When introducing characters, only describe what makes the alien, orc, or robot different from an ordinary human. Don’t bother with anything about their culture or planet of origin unless it’s vital to the plot of this story. You need to know it all; the reader doesn’t. Again, integrate. Don’t info-dump.

In Quest for Parts (Enigma Front, Analemma Press, 2015) we see what the protagonist sees: a scrawny, pasty, generally human-looking intruder. But… Ignoring the racket, the guy stared into the sky-blue mirror, adjusting a knob at his collar with one claw. His face shimmered, gaining warmer tones while losing the sharp tips to his nose, ears and chin. The lasers in the room shimmered, too, stopping when his face settled. This character has claws, not fingernails, and can adjust his appearance by turning a knob. He’ll need those assets later in the story, so best to slide them into our protagonist’s, and the reader’s, first impression. 

  1. Make some element of your mystery one that could only occur in that particular alternate reality. Stories that could have happened down the block but are set on a space station will not be as engaging as those that require, nay, demand the setting and culture you have created for them.

In MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND, the inciting incident sets this up immediately: The expeditionary airship of Baron Bodmin, ardent African explorer, has been found adrift and deserted. Its log-book is missing and no clue remains to its captain’s fate. A fortnight after its last sighting over the mouth of the Suez Canal, the airship appeared off the coast of Cornwall, floating low and rudderless above the waves. No escape canopy or life-vest remained on board.   The batty baron must have vanished from an airship because only airships can stay aloft indefinitely without fuel or a pilot. Exactly where he vanished, and whether by accident, on purpose, or someone else’s design, is the first of many questions for which our intrepid Steampunk reporter must seek answers.

Now to integrate them all. An example from Painted Jade (unpublished) opens with all of the above: Working security on the top side of a conglomerate-built drift makes you a traffic warden in any gated community anywhere. You spend your days petting the dogs and smiling at the nice ladies. Or, if you’re me, trying to reverse that process. Troubles happen way down the bottom, where the ore processors and overcrowded labor force are located. Not my turf. I’m up here with the shiny clean management and their families. Low crime? Try non-existent. So it was unusual, to say the least, to get a morning report about a body bobbing against a pricey porthole high up on C7. A human body, not a stray hunk of rock freed from the asteroid belt. The dome owner objected less to the body proper than to it blocking his view of ore-blasting among the asteroids.

This opening encompasses all three of the keys: world-building, character, and unique element to the crime. The space habitat, the mining industry and the rudiments of a class structure are set out immediately. The point-of-view character’s job and general attitude are on the table up front. No other setting but space allows for the body, and all the evidence the killer left on it, to be perfectly preserved from the moment of disposal. Additionally, the space station serves like one of Agatha Christie’s isolated manor houses: all the suspects and the next possible victims are trapped in one place. The story could not happen anywhere else.

Thus, the essence of a nice, smooth blend of genres: integrate world-building with the lead characters’ actions, which also reveal their attitudes and attributes. Make the crime specific to that world, and the solution unique to those characters.


Jayne from steamconJayne Barnard is a founding member of Madame Saffron’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies and a longtime crime writer. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Awards for short fiction range from the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for PRINCESS ALEX AND THE DRAGON DEAL to the 2011 Bony Pete for EACH CANADIAN SON. Her longer work has been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in the UK and won the Unhanged Arthur in Canada. You can visit her at her blog, on Facebook or @JayneBarnard1

Love and Murder: A Valentine’s Day Tale

Mercedes M Yardley A guest post by Mercedes M. Yardley.

What’s the draw to love and murder? Why does it add such spice to our favorite stories?

I sat down to write a tale. A love story. Not a romance, because that’s something completely different, but a story with love and heart and something a little special. Then I threw in a heavy dose of murder.

Well, “heavy” might be misleading. I based the story on it. Two broken people who find each other and fall madly, cosmically in love, and crisscross the country on a murder spree. Kissing. Dreaming. Whispering their secrets to each other. Wiping blood spatter from their faces and slipping in pools of it, leaving red footprints behind them.

Pretty much your typical love story, I suppose. With blood lust and, hopefully, sympathetic characters.

I’m not alone in this. In February, this month of love and hearts and cupids with arrows, I’ve been reflecting on the love-and-murder relationship, and the way it goes hand-in-hand.

Take Romeo and Juliet. Take, also, its unofficial sequel: West Side Story. What would these stories be without the murders or Tybalt and Mercutio, Riff and Tony? Think about Kind David and Bathsheba. And moving away from romantic love into the area of platonic love, what about Of Mice and Men? Can a greater love story really ever be told? And murder is right in the heart of it. Without murder, that story would be a charming little tale about two good buddies. Sweet and fairly wholesome, but certainly not intricate or memorable.

What makes it that makes the chaos compelling, I wonder? Love and death, romance and murder, they go together so beautifully. Why, even Valentine’s Day is somewhat loosely based on love and death. We’re told many versions of the story, but one of the most popular is that Saint Valentine dared marry young couple in secret at a time when marriages were illegal. As punishment, he was thrown into the dungeon. The story goes that he fell in love with the jailer’s beautiful daughter and smuggled her notes signed “From your Valentine.” Or that, while imprisoned, he received notes and thank you cards from the young couples he had married. Eventually, the most popular theory says, he was beheaded for his crimes.

Crimes of passion. You’ve heard the term. And perhaps that is why death and love are so tightly bound together. Nothing can end a love like death can. It’s the most brutal ending to the most intense and fiery of desires. Edgar Allan Poe famously write about his young bride who died tragically. In his poem “Annabel Lee” he even went so far as to claim that the angels of heaven, driven mad with jealousy, murdered his bride. Passion against passion. Love and the greatest anti-love there is. It’s like a volcano and the ocean coming together and destroying everything. A thing of terror. A thing of beauty.

The intensity demonstrated by linking together such polar opposites as adoration and murder is nearly unfathomable. Love is supposed to conquer all, but death does the same thing. All you need is love. Love makes the world go round. But the only thing you can depend on is death and taxes. Anais Nin tells us that love never dies a natural death, but death spares no one. Take the two biggest conflicting forces, set them at war in a story, and watch the sparks fly. You may love the sparks. They may be deadly. But they’ll be beautiful.

Guest Writer Bio: Mercedes M. Yardley wears stilettos, red lipstick, and poisonous flowers in her hair. She likes to do a little bit of everything, and writes dark fantasy, horror, nonfiction, and poetry. Mercedes minored in Creative Writing and worked for four years as a contributing editor for Shock Totem Magazine. She is the author of the short story collection Beautiful Sorrows, the novella Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love and her debut novel Nameless: The Darkness Comes. Nameless just released this month and is Book One in The Bone Angel Trilogy. Mercedes lives and works in Sin City, and you can reach her at her website, www.mercedesyardley.com.