Well, I’m up not sleeping so thought I’d get an early post up for Saturday. Guess, what, it would seem that the underlying reasons for my own insomnia are not too unusual. Though rather than ideas for a screenplay, I also have ideas for novels running through my brain. Usually naked. What? I’m sure you’re just the same 😉
“For the nights when counting sheep doesn’t help.” Cartoon by Roz Chast of the New Yorker.
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.
I 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.
Consider 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.
I love this TED Talk! The opening solo bit from Liberty City is a powerful message about telling your own story and not letting others limits, limit you. Something that isn’t easy. The world is filled with “Boundaries, shoulds, woulds, and supposed tos…” The only real boundary is the breadth and scope of your imagination. Now THAT is something to remember. Check it out and let us know what you think.
The only real limitation is the breadth and scope of your imagination.
Yes, this weekend we are at Balticon in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and it is their 50th anniversary which means there are a LOT of people here and a lot of great authors. So…from the title, you can guess who one of them was. Over the weekend there are several Q&As and for those of us who didn’t quite make it in to the very crowded rooms, Hamfast42, took some great notes. You can find them here and here but I put a few of the Q&A stories down below to whet your appetite.
From his Introductory Remarks:
- In the 70s, GRRM had “six hippy roomates” in Chicago
- The first time he came to a Baltimore Convention was to “chase women”. Specifically he went to meet up with his now wife Parris.
- So in 1983, George had a bit more change in his pocket, so he decided to splurge. The harbor in Baltimore has normal padleboats but he poneyed up and rented electric paddleboats. “Something about being out in that harbor made us feel like we were pirates. So we started talking like pirates.” Then he got other boats to talk like pirates. Then he went to a succession of parties where he got everyone to talk like pirates. He even got one of the keynote speakers, Norman Spinrad to talk like a pirate. Soon the whole con was talking like pirates. (Note from Day: There was quite a bit of talking like a pirate THIS YEAR too!)
- He ended his speech quite nicely with something to the effect of “I want to be remembered not just for my professional work. But also for the time I got a whole con to talk like a pirate.”
From his more informal Q&A:
- When asked why he doesn’t write “easy black and white villains” he had a lot of good stuff to say. “as a kid i was fed this narrative of good and evil. From all entertainment. Cowboys, comic books, even Tolkien.” But in all these he had a problem with the “externality of evil. Like ugly villains that wore all black.” Like in Vietnam, there are layers and layers of complexity. Not just bad guys and good guys but all these historical groups and complicated factors like colonialism. He didn’t like how some of the blue collar people were taking a very black and white approach of “getting those commies” without thinking critically. But he also didn’t like how the anti war movement was so black and white as well and thought everyone over there were baby killers. The soldiers made the best of the situation they had. “anytime you have more than two people in a group, it becomes very dangerous to generalize.” And in researching Vietnam, some people were “heroic on Tuesday and horrible on Wednesday.” Even in Henry the fifth, a normally great king also kills a bunch of unarmed prisoners. GRRM said that he really wanted to show the complexity of the human condition.
Yup, I’m having a bout of writing anxiety. I even took 3 naps this weekend to avoid working on my writing. How is THAT for anxious? But I had a great video conference call with a couple of other writers. Not specifically for this but more as a way for us to motivate each other generally, share our knowledge, skills, and push us towards our goals. The discussion reminded me of a time a few years ago where I was “sprinting” (doing 15 minute writing jaunts) every day. That year I had almost 30 short stories completed. The following year was my “most published.” Since then, I think the not-writing has lead to anxiety that EVERY WORD must be worth something, must mean something, and that is just too much pressure so my productivity has plummeted as my stress has skyrocketed. Thus, today’s quote.