Stepping Out – Writing Across Genres


Some writers write in more than one genre, for example, a writer might dally in detective stories, romances, YA, and other types of fiction. Others, like me, seldom step outside our comfort zone. All my stories are set in the same world, with a science fiction feel. I don’t understand how writers can write stories across multiple genres. To help me understand, I asked some friends to share their thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what Diane Morrison told me: “You might not think that Western and sci-fi/fantasy blend well, but they really do. Both genres depend upon ancient mythological tropes of heroism; the Hero’s Journey, as it were; especially if you’re going to draw from spaghetti western movies, which I do. They were, in and of themselves, a blended genre; they exist because Italian directors wanted to make westernized samurai movies. To me, this only demonstrates how some themes, like courage, individualism, facing the unknown, the importance of family, the ethical conflicts of battle, and coming to terms with our mortality, are universal to the human experience. Is the Long Arm of the Law, the Sheriff of the mythical Old West, any different from the Knight Errant in Shining Armour? Not really; just the tools of the trade and the costuming differ, and even there we find parallels. It’s important to capture the feel, so sense of place is important. If you’re going to make a reader feel they’re in a Western, you have to spend a lot of time describing the smell of horses, the creak of old leather, and the beauty of enormous prairie sunsets. But in epic fantasy, the only real difference is you’re probably describing an epic trek over a vast mountain range instead. And in a western, your heroes fight with guns, not swords. For me, it was still important when I started my series to re-read a lot of classic Western novels and re-watch the old movies so that I could capture the language and the culture. and then I mess with it, because of course my heroes are from a post-apocalyptic future, and they might look and act a lot like people from the Old West, but their ancestors build satellites, so they’re not nearly as confused by the technology. S.A. Gibson would understand, I’m sure!”

I also asked Stephanie Barr. Here’s her response: “My characters determine the genre, ironically, not the other way around. I think up great characters (well, I think they’re great) and then figure out the best environment for them to show their stuff. Epic fantasy is the easiest to write because I make my own rules (but I have to abide by them), I can solve some things with magic I couldn’t solve otherwise, but there are always limitation with the magic and I run into things I wouldn’t run into as a result as well.”

Mixing fantasy and science fiction means I can take a limited subset of the magic, but I impose some limitations and augment it with addressing things in the real world. I like solving problems and that makes me find real scientific solutions many times, despite the occasional fantastic element.”

“Science fiction is cool, too. There’s a lot of flexibility there, especially for the further out fiction, but I get to use my particular know-how and have to stretch my brain to find solutions and believable scenarios to accomplish what I want. It’s the hardest to write but it can be quite appealing especially with quirky characters.”

Finally, I got Jesse Frankel’s take on the subject: “Writing in different genres takes time and a fair amount of research. I write YA Fantasy for the most part, but if the action takes place in, say, medieval England, as it did in Twisted, then research was in order. That meant checking on hairstyles, food, clothing, castles, patterns of speech, and more.”

“If you’re going to write in a genre not your own, then research is imperative, along with making your characters real. While the background and settings are important, they’re only the backdrop. The characters are what really drive the readers to identify with them. Make them real, do the proper research to lend depth, and you’ve got yourself a winner.”

Their responses inspires me to try writing a story in a new genre. I think I’ll try a detective story, maybe with a little romance in it.


Stephanie Barr: and

Diane Morrison:

J. S. Frankel:

S. A. Gibson:

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