Guest (Re)Post: Anthony Dobranski – #Writing Hybrid Genres

What’s a hybrid genre? You won’t often find hybrid works marketed as such, since there are only so many aisles in the bookstore. Look in — and across — the larger genres’ shelves, however, and they appear more and more. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels rank as Amazon best sellers in historical fiction and time travel romance. Charlene Harris fused mystery and horror fantasy in the Sookie Sackhouse series, and won top mystery awards for it. Tor.com now has a column for hybrids.

A hybrid genre story uses essential elements of two or more genres, in a single story that honors the audience’s expectations for its parent genres, but also questions them — or at least plays rough with them.

My forthcoming novel The Demon in Business Class is a hybrid fantasy, a modern-day story of magic and the supernatural, in the international setting of a corporate thriller, with a romance that changes the story but also completes it.

Genres Mixed TogetherI wanted to write a fantasy about my own place and time, the way Wilde set The Picture of Dorian Gray in Victorian England. I live in an amazing era, the dawn of the networked age, a far happier adult world than the Cold War nuclear winter feared in my childhood, and a world more open to many kinds of people. It is also a time of cultures clashing violently, of heartlands that feel abandoned by elites, on all sides. Lately we’re hearing from globalization’s discontents, and I don’t discount their grievances or suspicions. I worked in international business, however. I saw its good side, its optimism, the way it helped humanity shift from Cold War us-vs-them absolutism to complex morally-unsatisfying alliances that feed and clothe more than war did.

I had the sudden bold idea for a novel, a difficult romance between supernatural corporate rivals representing moral opposites, a fantasy for a time of change and ferment, both chaotic and intoxicating.

The problem is, that’s a mess of a story, a weird assemblage that invites yet leaves unsatisfied the expectations of three different genre audiences. Here are just a few:

  • Magic — the directed use of supernatural power to achieve a goal — changes any society where it is public.
  • In fantasy, a heroic and vigorous culture overcomes a decadent if powerful one.
  • What would a business with magical powers advocating a moral polar attitude… sell?
  • Corporate thrillers require a big corporate conspiracy, whose goal is either money or power.
  • Romance is about individuals.
  • Romance disallows villains. Anti-heroes, yes, but even they must be morally improved by love.
  • If the opposition is truly polarized, each has to find something repugnant in the other — which makes romance hard.
  • Romance ends a romance; exposure ends a corporate thriller; in a clash of good vs. evil, evil has to lose.

You’ll have to wait until this fall to see how I got all those narrative questions and more all resolved, but it took witches, playboys, gangsters, cultists, a prophet, two angry angels, and a very modern Tarot deck – along with several rewrites and the help of committed beta-readers!

Along the way, though, I discovered some principles that can help you develop your hybrid genre story:

Know what you want. A story speaks to humanity through genre norms, but if you’re so flagrantly violating the norms of a genre, you’re doing it for a reason. If you don’t know what that is, it’s hard to work it into your story. It doesn’t have to be an easy reason to explain. Mine was so hard to explain that I had to write a novel to do it. It’s what binds all your other ideas together, however, so be clear about it.

All plates keep spinning. A hybrid tale gives your characters multiple arcs, and none stop, though some can slow. Think through where the character needs to go on each arc to see how to weave them together.

Genres themselves are as diverse as insects. Even a seemingly niche category like “sci-fi with aliens” encompasses 2001, Pacific Rim, and Aliens — each of which also belongs to a wholly separate sub-genre (hard-SF, kaiju, and bug hunt) with different ways to show heroism. Even if you want to apply a genre “norm,” there’s more than one way to go about it.

Don’t forget the writing. You are writing one book, but as your genre elements shift, your writing can shift with them. This is a chance to play, to satisfy yourself and your audience with the style to go with your story. Be terser in the thriller elements, festive in the social moments, vulnerable in romance, quick and cutting in anger.

Don’t fight a genre — use it. Genre demands and tropes can enliven your story, if you use them creatively. To have a romance that worked out, I couldn’t make my fated opponents the primary actors for or against a worldwide conspiracy, its James Bonds or its Blofelds — but I could make them a small part of such plans, maybe even a bigger part than they knew, while still giving them believable loyalties and higher stakes.

DemonInBusinessClassConsider the genre’s own influences. Noir and cozy mystery differ in setting and tone, but also in the social class and status from which their stories view their societies. Looking past the symbols to their hidden meanings gives you new perspective on how to refit elements to your story. Because —

It’s still all your story. We’ve been talking about genre norms and conventions as if you’ll get issued a citation from the genre department. You won’t. You have incredible creative freedom – if you stick your landings.

Are you writing a hybrid genre story? Talk about it in the comments below!

Reposted with permission from author from: http://www.fictorians.com/2016/07/28/hybrid-genres/

Anthony Dobranski is an author from Washington DC. His first novel, The Demon in Business Class, comes out this fall from WordFire Press.


Genres and Subgenres in a Handy Little Map

I don’t want to make this an overly complicated or deep post. Mostly this is just set-up for this week’s discussion on “Hybrid Genres.” Below is an interesting and thought-provoking “map” of genre fiction and all of its attendant subgenres. You may be aware of more subgroups or disagree with the categorization but it does make you consider exactly what is it you are writing/reading.

Genre Map


Local Inspiration – Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910 at the Smithsonian

Opening last month (July), this exhibit on Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910 at the American History Museum
(12th and Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC) explores the intersecting influences of science, innovation, industry, and the Victorian creative imagination through books from the Smithsonian Libraries and selected historical objects.

The industrial revolution and its attendant advances in science and art paved the way for a period of dramatic change in America and Europe. The public was enthralled by the rapid invention and scientific discoveries that characterized the age. Science became spectacle, and such literary luminaries as Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe responded, crafting fiction that explored the farthest reaches of the new scientific landscape and the startling possibilities this new knowledge uncovered.

Frank Reade Magazine Cover with Flying ShipsFor those of you who cannot partake of this in person here in Washington, DC, they have a fascinating online exhibit broken into 7 separate areas:

  1. Terra Incognita – Adventure and Exploration: To the Far Reaches of the World
  2. The Age of Aeronaut – The Dawn of Flight
  3. Infinite Worlds – Exploring the Universe and Seeking Extraterrestrial Life
  4. The Body Electric – Inspiring Frankenstein
  5. Rise of the Machines – Technology Comes to Life
  6. Sea Change – Underwater Worlds: Fathoming the Deep
  7. Underworld – Fossils and Geology: What Lies Beneath?

Also, their blog has a great collection of posts relevant to “Fantastic Worlds,” history, science, technology, fiction, and adventure.


Video Saturday: Advice from Authors – Craftwork with Peter Straub

Award-winning horror novelist Peter Straub talks about writing tools and “tricks” of the trade.  He talks about the process by which individuals can improve their own individual craft and how their life is actually “on the page.”

In a series of four videos over an hour, he talks about “5 Rules that Keep you from Looking like an Imbecile.”  :) It is a light fun talk. As an example, #1 is: Never begin two sentences in a row with the same word. Never begin two paragraphs in a row with the same word. #2 is Rhymes are not allowed. I think you see the trend. 😉

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Fantasy Tropes and Cliches – Beginning with the World

When someone says “epic fantasy” there is a general idea of what it will entail: woods and forests, elves and dwarves, adventurers and magicians and fighting and quests. All in a medieval-style setting. Possibly with dragons. :) Tolkien is much to blame for this. But he isn’t alone.  Book after book after book falls into these same cliche’d storylines. Often, it is the plot that we blame.  We say it is poor storytelling.  But beyond plot, another way that we promote fantasy tropes and cliches is in our very worldbuilding.  Medieval setting? Elf land, dwarven mountains, major port city, a desert land occupied by nomads…all are things we have seen over and over. So perhaps, the best place to start when addressing cliches isn’t in the story, but the world itself.

:) Sarithus on Deviant Art says this all in a very simple, very amusing, and very true map. We give you the “Map of Clichea.”

Map of Clichea by Sarithus


Saturday Video: Advice for #Writers – Via Extra Credits’ Places of #Horror

Usually our Videos are from authors talking about their own writing tips and tricks. The writing has varied from science fiction and fantasy, to romance, to comics, but today, I thought it would be fantastic to hear from people whose interest is in writing related to games. This episode of Extra Credits does a wonderful job of exploring settings in horror. While their focus is on horror in gaming, the setting of tone and an understanding of our own fears is discussed and important information regardless of the medium in which you work.

Horror settings fall into two basic categories: places of disempowerment and places of isolation. Places of disempowerment – such as alien worlds and the bottom of the sea – force us into situations where we don’t understand the rules of our environment, and can never tell when our expectations will be suddenly reversed. Places of isolation, like remote cabins and arctic research stations, make sure we know that no one will help us: if we can’t find a way to survive, we will simply die. The inherent terror in these settings can be amplified by giving them a haunted past, such an ancient graveyard or an abandoned asylum, or by making the place itself possessed of malice and willpower that’s directed against those inside it. Finally, these settings can provide psychological landscapes that reflect someone’s inner struggles and fears directly back onto them.


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