February 17, 2014

Can You Mix Genres in Your Writing?


Image credit: Drew Coffman

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the differences between genres, but it’s rarely as clear as the check list makes it appear. A comment from a reader got me thinking. He asked what to do if you write in one genre and critics advise you switch to another. Tell me that hasn’t happened to all of us–especially in the early years. Here’s part of my answer:

You have two choices:

  1. Each genre has characteristics used to identify it to readers–overarching factors that help define a story as literary fiction or thriller or steam punk. Likely, you included characteristics from a different genre in your book. It may be a new sub-genre, say, instead of ‘thriller’ it is now ‘romantic thriller’–that is fine. Just be aware that you’ve mixed elements.
  2. You are writing in a different genre. If you like digging into the thought processes of your characters and pursuing big ideas like the difference between right and wrong, and do this while your hero is saving the world, you are mixing literary fiction and thrillers. Which is your purpose? Saving the world or one individual? Thriller readers are less interested in the psychological pros and cons of ethereal ideas, and literary fiction readers are less interested in characters that are bigger-than-life.

I thought I’d given a pretty good answer until last Monday. That’s when I joined eleven other future authors at a Writer’s Workshop with the famed Richard Bausch. At the end of the evening, he gave us a chance to ask questions. Mine: Does he think writers can effectively cross genres in their published writing? After a thorough discussion on literary fiction and ‘all the other genres’ (grouped into one), my take-away was simply that he didn’t say no. I was so sure he’d reject the idea out of hand, I almost didn’t hear him.

What do you think?

More articles on genres and writing:

Word Count by Genre

Who is Today’s Author?

How Do Authors Have Time to do All This?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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