Tag: genre

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.

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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

WWW: -punkgate

There’s a funny thing about Watergate. There was no water involved. Oh, I’m sure that someone along the way drank some water, and the hotel is right on the Potomac River, but it’s not like the break-in happened in government offices under the Potomac. There weren’t get away boats. No one tried to steal or buy a pond. No water. None. How “-gate” got pulled out of the word Watergate and turned into a suffix that meant “a scandal involving” escapes me. I suppose it’s a certain amount of laziness and momentum at this point. There’s a new political or sports controversy, so lets slap “-gate” at the end and everyone will know what we’re talking about.

Thus when the New Orleans Saints were accused of offering bounties to injure opposing players, it became bountygate. When the Patriots used camera angles to steal sideline signals from the Jets, it became spygate. This isn’t a recent mangling of the English language. The first “-gate” after Watergate, at least according to Wikipedia so it must be true, was the 1976 Koreagate scandal involving influence peddling to keep troops in South Korea and Democratic senators. The intention, at the time, was to use the “-gate” suffix to make it morally equal to Watergate, say that the Democrats were just as bad. It is recent that this invented suffix has exploded, even to the point of Gategate, an incident in Great Britain that involved an actual gate.

The other day on Twitter I used the term “Whalepunk.” I was using it to describe the game Dishonored, where most of the steampunk-like tech is actually powered by a form of whale oil. A cursory Google search says I’m far from the first person to use this term, whether to describe Dishonored or other works of fiction.

The suffix -punk has become a go to in genre fiction. It started with Cyberpunk and meant a very specific thing, bringing punk sensibilities to near future fiction. It spread to Steampunk. Now there’s Dieselpunk, Decopunk, Biopunk Nanopunk, yes I’m just listing these from the Wikipedia article “Cyberpunk derivatives” where I also see the terms Splatterpunk, Stonepunk, Clockpunk, Teslapunk, Atompunk, Nowpunk (aka contemporary non-genre fiction with at least one technically proficient character), Elfpunk, and Mythpunk. And that doesn’t even include Whalepunk, stories that focus on alternate high technology run almost exclusively on whale oil.

The suffix “-punk” in genre fiction has become almost as meaningless as “-gate” in the worlds of sports and politics. I suppose by way of definition, “-punk” now means “genre computer-based fiction involving” but it arguably meant so much more. It’s become largely a clever way of creating just a slightly different alternate history than someone else’s alternate history.

I love steampunk. Please don’t think this is some rant and rave against the -punk subgenres. I’d actually be intrigued to write something that might be considered “whalepunk” by someone who insisted upon that being a new sub-subgenre. Perhaps that’s even what Mermaids of the Moon is. These various -punks are fantastic for building anthologies around. However, I can’t help but wonder if we do a disservice to genre fiction as a whole by trying to further and further pigeon hole stories by creating a new subgenre every time someone puts a computer, robot, or airship in a slightly different decade. Using a slightly different power source.

In the past, fiction books fit into six broad categories: literature, romance, mystery, western, science fiction/fantasy, and horror. This was the split because this is how books were arranged into sections at bookstores and libraries. Perhaps not even with that much granularity. However, more people are going to Amazon to do their book shopping. Or are exploring books through Goodreads. Both of these provide ways of tying books together in a more dynamic sense. Amazon can put books onto multiple shelves, as they don’t have to worry about physically organizing a book store. Goodreads encourages folks to make shelves for their books and uses those to pinpoint suggested reading. Sure, Goodreads only lists 40 options in their genre fields, covering both fiction and non-fiction, but if I click into a book I can see how others have chosen to categorize it.

While this makes it easier for people to find books similar to what they like, does it make it harder to break out of comfort zones? If I’m given a list of hundreds of Steampunk novels, rather than digging through the science fiction/fantasy section to find them, sure I’m going to get more steampunk to read, but I’ll pass fewer books that might catch my eye even if I think I want corsets and gears in my stories.

This is the direction reading is going. I don’t feel comfortable prognosticating many things, but I feel I can prognosticate this. Databases replace shelves, and entries can be cross linked in more and more subtle and drilled-down ways. It’s fantastic and overwhelming, and I don’t know how it’s going to affect how we find and consume media in the future. The sub-subgenre is probably here to stay, and may spread outside of genre fiction. Perhaps it already has, and I just don’t have enough of an outsider’s view to see this. It means as new books come out there will be a push to pigeonhole, and we’ll end up more and more going back to the old classics and figuring out which new categories they fit into, assigning words to them that their authors never knew.

In the end this might be a great good, giving people more avenues to explore, branching off as a book occupies two sub-subgenres. At the worst we’re looking at the gradual downfall of the casual browser. In that case, there’s only one word for what we’re staring down.

It’s the punkgatemageddon.

WWW: Monsters and Horror

I am aware that this is posting on Thursday, but I swear it was written on Wednesday, and was delayed so as to give Day’s anthology announcement a full day as the top story, rather than just a few hours.

Monsters are scary.  I don’t think that’s going out on a limb.  We’re scared of the giant eating-machine shark prowling the coastline.  Of the huge lizard knocking over Tokyo.  Of the squid-headed creature from beyond the stars sleeping under the Pacific.  It’s natural to be scared of these things, as they were written to scare us.  To feed on base instincts and make us question our survival or our place within the natural order of things.

But, just because they scare us, does that make them horror?

Horror is perhaps one of the hardest of the literary genres to define, and part of that is entirely because it isn’t a genre.  Not really.  It’s a mood or a feeling put on another story, and it’s the only mood or feeling that often gets separated out on its own.  You don’t go to the book store and browse through the maudlin section right after the horror section.  Or the hopeful section.  Yes, there’s a humor section, but that’s not typically for humorous fiction.  But many book stores have a horror section.  Many video stores, when those were still a thing, had a horror section.

I’ve already made the argument of horror being a mood rather than a genre once this week, so I’m not going to get distracted from my main idea here, and that’s looking at monsters and “horror.”

So, back to where I started.  Monsters are scary.  Horror is scary.  So why, then, shouldn’t monsters necessarily be horror?  In large part because there’s a difference between the characters within a story being scared, and the audience/reader being scared.  And we’re not talking cheap black cat scares where the monster suddenly appears out of nowhere, we’re talking the slow dread that keeps your heart racing through the movie and leaves you on edge even after you’ve put the book down or left the theater.  For the most part, monsters tend towards the science fiction, being either coming from beyond science’s comprehension, or being created through the misuse or misapplication of science.

Does a monster story have to have horror elements?  Absolutely not.  That isn’t the point of this post at all.  The point is more about the way genres are created and lumped together, and that if you want your monster story to actually be a horror story, it needs something other than rampaging and crashing.  It needs something that I can relate to, which means it needs a much more personalized human element.  And even if the story doesn’t leave me with the idea that this could happen to me, I want the dread that it could happen to someone at some point.

So it’s fantastic if you want to write a monster story.  The world needs them, and they can be wonderfully entertaining.  But I don’t agree with the automatic classification of monsters as horror.

Genre Sales Statistics

Piechart from BillowycoatLast time, I spoke about the dominance of the romance genre in book sales accounting for 21% of the book market. Since that time, there have been some requests for statistics as to the sales figures for other genres. The total net revenue for books in the U.S. was around $6.31 billion. Of that, Science Fiction/Fantasy accounts for $495 million or 7.8 % of the market. Classic Literary Fiction is about $448 million or 7.1 % of the market. I was rather surprised to discover that Mystery, which is at $422 million, is only 6.7% of the market. And perhaps the newest and fastest growing genre – Graphic Novels make up a not insignificant 2% of overall book sales, bringing in $128 million and those figures are expected to increase in the years to come.

Respect for Romance and RWA National

RWA Rita AwardIn the writing world, and even occasionally, the reading world you will hear people making fun of romance writers and fans of the genre. Even I’ve fallen victim to the hype and find myself buying my romance novels online where no one can see me and reading them in secret. But to honor the fact that Romance Writers of America held their National Conference here in Washington DC in July, I thought it would be good to clear the air once and for all about romance novels.

According to Simba Information, which reports U.S. book sales (net revenue from retail sources) – in 2006 romance sales accounted for $1.37 billion in revenue. Okay, now considering that the total sales of in the U.S. are around $6.31 billion. If you do the math, that means that romance novel sales account for more than 21% of the market. Pretty impressive. And if that isn’t enough romance books actually dominate bestseller lists. There were 288 titles on the lists (some represented twice because of the different formats for a total of 304 books) and 161 romance authors.

Maybe it’s time to give the romance genre the respect it is due.

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