Tag Archives: genre writing

Mixing Horror With Other Genres

Guest Post by Petra Klarbrunn

Horror is more than just a genre on a tiny shelf at your local bookstore. Horror is an emotion, a revulsion, a reaction to something that triggers the baser instincts. After you read something that got under your skin, you have physical reactions. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, and you might even get some goosebumps. Every sense is heightened, to the point where you hear things such as the house settling, where you see little shadows out of the corner of your eye, where your mouth gets dry, and when your skin feels oddly chilled. They’re caused by your natural instincts ramping up to a possible threat.

It’s this reaction that separates horror from other genres. Romance, with its chocolate-like endorphin rushes, comes in at a distant second place. Some even say horror and romance are the flip sides of the same coin, but I’m not that cynical to declare it true, perhaps because I’m a hopeless romantic.

Horror and romance also have something in common — they can be used within any other genre. There are arguments that the movie Alien is a horror movie first and foremost. It certainly has all the hallmarks — life and death struggles with an unknown monster that just won’t die, people who disappear, shocking events and revelations caused by man’s inhumanity towards mankind. Many folks liked the sequel, Aliens. More of the same, plus add in a kid in trouble and wave after wave of monsters attacking. The folks who saw the movies in the theatre probably left exhausted from having their bodies in a two hour fight-or-flight state, plus the ultimate shock at seeing how much a popcorn and soda would cost for each member of the family.

One can mix in horror or romance to shift the tone of the book. Romance can be used sparingly to build tension, such as the creepy love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. Be careful not to let it derail the plot. If you’re writing a western, make sure westerny things go on while the characters woo each other. The same goes for horror. One can mix horrific things into the plot to build tension, to raise the stakes for the protagonist, or to even show how desperate some of the characters are.

“I don’t think we should unleash the world-devouring creature because your rival king made a remark about your nose, Sire.”

Releasing the Kracken should be reserved when all seems lost, and you want to add in one straw to your camel’s overburdened back at the end of the novel. Of course, make sure your heroine also has a way to defeat it, even if it means they fall in love…but that drifts off into hentai territory, which you should think long and hard about before venturing there.

No matter what genre you write, horror is something that can change the dynamic of your story. If your protagonist’s opposing army general too blah? Have the leader send in some assassins equipped with poisoned arrows — to kill the heroines love interest. Have the general unleash a paranormal entity that can’t be stopped. Those will push the general up the “evil villain” scale and certainly ramp up the tension for the heroine we’ve all come to love over the last 200 pages.

And if you really want to cause panic, add in a romance to the middle of your seven-volume military hard sci-fi epic. That should scare most of your readers to death.


What’s In A Genre?

Guest Post by Sarah A. Hoyt

Sarah 2So you’ve written a novel – but do you know in what genre?

According to Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, whom I have no reason to doubt, you probably don’t.  The reason for this is simple.  We writers tend to work from the idea out.  If we have – say – this neat idea where you use a machine to perform magic, we go ahead and write it that way.  And then we send it out to agents or editors who are likely to run in circles, screaming.  (Well, mine did, when I did just that.)

Genre is largely a marketing category.  This means that no story fits it exactly.  Take the story idea above, and throw in a hot magical engineer and the girl who loves him.  Then have her father murdered for trying to market the machine.

Is that novel science fiction, fantasy, mystery or romance?

The answer is “yes.”

In general all novels, no matter how much they are science fiction have a hint of mystery and some romance.  (Okay, some novels from the pulp era didn’t.)  There is something that must be solved, and someone the character is attracted to.

What used to happen – in the bad old days when your only choice for publication was traditional houses mostly via agents – is that you’d take the book to your agent, and after she ran in circles, screaming, she might tell you “Look, you’re known as a fantasy writer.  Knock off with the machine stuff, and emphasize the magic more.”  Or “You’re a romance writer, just pump up the romance and wooing scenes and we’ll sell it as a quirky futuristic romance.”

Of course, sometimes they told you they just didn’t know what to do with it.  Or they’d tell you what you thought was military SF was actually YA SF, because at the time it was easier to sell as YA and your character was seventeen.

What about now?  Well, now it’s all about the tags.  One of the things I’ve noticed, when I put up my back list short stories, sarah 1is that those I can possibly tag romance (not all shorts have a romance element strong enough to mention!) sell better.  But the idea is to tag them or list them with all the genres you think you can get away with.  Oh, by all means, tag it for the main idea.  For instance, the one above I’d class as fantasy, but then in the description and the tags include the other genres.

As for writing…  Well, I tend to write stories as I read them, and I started reading long before I was aware of genres or the idea of genre.  I gravitated, mostly, to science fiction and fantasy – but I also read a good bit of mystery because my dad belonged to a mystery book club and it was my sworn duty (I thought) to read every book that came in the house.

I didn’t read Romance until I was in my thirties.  Not unless you consider my cousin’s collection of romances, which was in the house and therefore must be read.  But those were Portuguese Romances (I was born in Portugal and lived there till 22.  My family still lives there.  English is my third language, and if you heard me speak you’d believe it.  Or maybe not.  You’d probably think I was Russian.  No I don’t know why.  Stop being nosy.)  Portuguese Romances all seem to be based on Romeo and Juliet.  In the perfect Romance, both die for love, but if you’re very lucky, the girl survives and mourns her boyfriend forever.

Anyway, so by the time I read Romance, I was aware of genre conventions, and how they work, so the book didn’t go against the wall the first time.

See, the thing you have to be aware of, when writing any genre, or tagging the story as a genre, is “genre conventions.”

These are normally invisible to the fan of any given genre, but you do know when they’re violated.  They’re simply “the way things are done.”  What they do in most cases is get around the awkwardness of telling the story.  You know that new machine, in your sf story?  You might know how everything works, but you don’t describe it in detail over 40 pages.  That’s not the story.  You tell us about things it does/is that are relevant to the story.  In a Romance, you don’t spend half the book making sure the characters REALLY know one another, before they fall in love.  You show instant attraction (usually.  Or its polar opposite) and then hints that there’s more in it.  In a Mystery, you don’t have the character go “yeah, okay, he’s dead.  Big deal.  Now, this machine-“ not your main character, at least.

So before you write cross-genre, you need to be aware of what readers of each genre expect.  This is best achieved by reading both (all three?) genres you’re crossing, so you’re aware of what the readers expect from each.  And hey, once you’re aware of it, you can give the readers special “genre cookies” which will make each of them very happy.  For instance, my Darkship Thieves, winner of the Prometheus Award for 2011, has science fiction, romance, and definitely a mystery element.  It also happens to be told in the style of Urban Fantasy.  The fans of each of these will swear it belongs solely to them.  While the Urban Fantasy elements are somewhat mitigated in Darkship Renegades and A Few Good Men, the sequel and not-so-sequel (it’s complicated) it’s still there.

In fact, at this point, I have so many fans from different genres, I have to make sure to put in cookies for all genres every single time.


Sarah A. Hoyt has sold over 23 novels and 100 short stories in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror and romance. She not only couldn’t confine herself to a single genre, but trying might break her permanently. Her science fiction — the Darkship series and the Earth Revolution sister series — and her Shifter series are published by Baen books. Her mystery, historic mystery, romance, historical fantasy, or whatever she might take in her head to write tomorrow, will be available from Goldport Press or Naked Reader Press (mostly and for now).

Choosing A Genre or Mashing-Up Genres ““ What’s it All About?

 I read three well written novels novels recently and wasn’t sure what genre they belonged in. They were set in the future – one was set in a dystopian Calgary with some really cool cyborg people, another was set on Mars where people had the option of having their consciousness transferred into android bodies, and the third was set in another solar system with interstellar travel and neat technologies and alien beings. Science fiction seemed logical as they were all in the future, but their telling and basic elements were much more traditional.
defining diana
If mystery had a future-crime sub-genre, all would fit that category beautifully. Rob Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues has a delightful, laid back gum shoe detective. Defining Diana by Hayden Trenholm (see his blog on writing science fiction later this month) is a solid crime novel that’s gritty, hard and gruesome when it needs to be. K.A. Bedford’s Hydrogen Steel has a retired homicide inspector struggling to save humanity while she struggles to accept her own physical reality. These are three well-executed detective stories  marketed as science fiction.

The fact is, when we write, we use elements from several genres in our stories. Mystery in science fiction. Thriller in fantasy.  Romance in steampunk. The mash ups are as varied as the imagination! And yet, some work better than others. Why? The magic happens when the author understands the elements that make each genre unique. For example, a cozy mystery like Rex Stout’s adventures with Nero Wolfe, could have easily fallen into the annals of “literature’ as Stout deftly captures the voice of the time by using strong characters and a well-defined milieu. Yet, his stories are, first and foremost, mysteries and his novels are marketed as such.

ShanghaiSteam-110px-150dpi-C8In all four examples, it is each author’s ability to understand the genres they are mashing that gives their work depth and memorable voice. Most importantly, their writing is a joy to read as it pleases the intellect on many levels. Making it fun for the reader, transporting him to worlds he never dreamed of – that’s the true test of knowing your genre well and choosing mash-ups wisely. I recently had the privilege to edit Shanghai Steam , an anthology with a unique mash-up of steampunk and wuxia. Reading the submissions and editing the selected stories was fun because authors who understood the subtleties of both genres created distinct worlds, plots and characters. Fun, gripping, mind-blowing – that’s what it’s all about for writers and readers.

Do you choose to write in one specific genre or do you use a mash-up? Every novel has elements of several genres and the question is one of degree and desired market placement. Is it science fiction or mystery? That’s determined when you decide the character of your novel – what its unique voice will be. It’s no different than creating well-rounded, deep characters as was discussed in many of February’s posts. Frank Morin, in his post Complex Characters reminded us of Shrek thinking he is like an onion – layered. In his post Platonic Male-Female Relationships in Fiction (a.k.a. “The Glue”), Evan Braun compared the complexities of romance against friendship as he discussed how each creates a different dynamic in character interaction. What is your story’s dynamic? How will the  genres you choose relate to one another? Is your story more mystery or science fiction? Which genre will have the stronger voice? Like Shrek’s onion, how many layers deep will you go into each genre? What blend provides the best milieu for telling your story? How will your characters and your readers react? What will you choose?

March’s posts will help you better understand how each genre can give your story its unique voice and character. We’ll also have posts comparing genre writing to literature, choosing which genres to mash and how to market them, and there’ll also be a case for not worrying about any of it. There will be posts on specific genres including horror,  steampunk, fantasy, romance, science fiction and many others. What makes each genre unique? What makes it work?

Choose your story’s voice and character and have fun writing as you peel back the layers!

Let’s see now … Miss Marple in dystopian 2081? A western horror? Steampunk space opera? Romantic military SF? Historical fantasy thriller? Urban fantasy folktale? So many to choose from…