Saturday, April 29, 2006

Crossing Genres

(Sin City ~ A perfect example of a Romantic Horror)

When it's MORE than Just a Fantasy
Every genre has core elements that make that genre that genre. In order to Cross Genres properly, you need to know each of your genre’s distinctive elements and make them Equally Important in the story.

Simple, no? However...

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in every genre of fiction: IGNORANCE.

“Most of the common mistakes come with any writing that isn't so good—bad characters, bad plots, bad writing. The ones which are peculiar to alternate histories (fantasy and sci-fi) are bad research and bad extrapolation.”
-- An Interview with Harry Turtledove

How do you expect to cross genres properly if you don't even know the genres you're working with?

Contrary to popular belief, even if you're writing pure Heroic Fantasy, just making it up as you go is NOT good enough!

On writing Heroic Fantasy:
“…The consequence of making that assumption [research is not necessary for a completely made-up world] is, inevitably, a sleazy product. It may be bought by an editor hard up for material, but it will carry none of the conviction, the illusion of reality, which helps make the work … memorable. At best, it will drop into oblivion; at worst, it will stand as an awful example. If our field becomes swamped with this kind of garbage, readers are going to go elsewhere for entertainment and there will be no more…”
-- On Thud and Blunder by Poul Anderson

Genre Ignorance
Genre ignorance is where the author writes a story in a genre they know nothing about.

Someone writes a Historical Romance, when they’ve never read any Romances.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Historical with barely a drop of real Emotional Passion. They would have been better off writing a Historical Adventure.

CLUE: It’s all about the Relationship. Really.

Someone writes an Erotica story, when they’ve never read any real Erotica.
This shows up as a sloppily detailed journal entry written in first person POV, and present tense, with lousy grammar, and no emotional content beyond amazement. Even worse, the descriptions involve actual numbers and letters. "She was 5'6" and a DD." They would have been better off writing a Xenthouse Letter.

CLUE: It's not: "The characters had SEX." It's: "What happened BECAUSE the Characters had sex."

Someone writes a Sci-Fi, when they’ve never read any Sci-Fi’s.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Adventure, with hardly a drop of real Science anywhere. These stories are normally labeled Futuristics, as the only Sci-Fi they have going for them is the Setting. They would have been better off writing a Western, or a High Seas adventure, a historical War story, or just about any other kind of Adventure you can think of.

CLUE: “If you can take the Science out of the Fiction and still have a viable story in another genre, you did it WRONG.” -- Isaac Azimov

Someone writes a Gothic, when they’ve never read any Gothics.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Romance, with hardly a drop of deep dark Emotional Issues anywhere. They would have been better off writing a Historical Romance.

CLUE: It’s all about the Angst. Really.

Someone writes a Mystery, when they’ve never read any Mysteries.
This shows up as a beautifully detailed Adventure, with a barely real criminal and hardly a drop of a real Investigation anywhere. Or worse, the readers KNOWS “whodunit” by the end of the fourth chapter because the author was foolish enough to give “whodunit”, a Point of View.

CLUE: It's all about NOT being able to figure out "whodunnit" until the bitter end. Seriously.

Mystery readers read Mysteries to match their wits against the Author’s. If they guess the answer too quickly, the author has done the worst thing they could possibly do to their reader – DISAPPOINTED Them. They would have been better off writing a Suspense adventure.

Planning to write a Vampire Romance or Vampire Erotica?

WARNING! ~ Most hard-core vampire readers won’t touch a Vampire Romance or a Paranormal Romance, or a Gothic Romance for that matter, with a 10-foot pole and they're damned choosy with their Vampire Erotica too.

Why not?
~ The Vampire reader is a Purist, and more often than not, Goth. To the hard-core Goth crowd, Vampires are more than mere entertainment they’re an Icon, and very often, represent a personal obsession with Death.

To put it bluntly, these readers have already read just about everything there is to read about vampires; fiction and non-fiction, in addition to classic Gothic literature. These folks have VERY intimate knowledge about anything and everything to do with vampires and Gothics, so it’s blatantly obvious to them, when an author hasn’t done their research on Vampires, or has no clue on what Gothics and Horrors are really about.

CLUE: To a vampire obsessed Goth, a vampire has meaning, and ANGST. They want their vampires to be VAMPIRES brooding over the nature of Life and Death, not just a hot guy with pointy teeth.

On the other hand, the die-hard Romance reader is perfectly happy with a romantically inclined hot guy with pointy teeth – but you better get the Romance right! Erotica readers are also cool with hot guys (or girls) with pointy teeth, but they're reading to Get-Off, so the characters had not only better be attractive, the sex had better be explicit.

And that’s just Vampires. Fantasy and Science-fiction have their share of fanatical purists too.

The easiest way to FIX the Ignorance problem?

There’s no excuse for Lack of Research.

If you think the readers won't notice when you get something Wrong, you are sadly mistaken. I can't tell you how many readers have come to me because they looked up an obscure little fact I tossed into a story and were astonished that I was Accurate.

Avoid hate-mail, do your damned research, and do it BEFORE you write.

The advent of the Internet has made looking anything up a freaking breeze. Anything you could possibly want to know is up on somebody’s website somewhere. is your friend, seriously. USE IT.

"What has all this to do with Crossing Genres?"

Well, before you can combine two genres, you need to KNOW the two genres you're working with because BOTH of them must be equally important in the story to BE a Cross-Genre.

The Rule of Cross Genre Fiction:
When you Cross Genres, if you can take either genres’ identifying elements out of the Fiction and still have a viable story in the genre that’s left – you did it WRONG.”

The Genres
(Broken down to their simplest common denominators)

Character driven = Drama
Gothic – mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues
Romance – intimate circumstances caused by love issues
Horror – life and death circumstances caused by despair/madness/hate issues

Premise driven = Consequence
Science Fiction – scientific elements and human values
Fantasy – fantasy elements and mythic values
Paranormal – supernatural elements and Karmic values
Erotica – sexual elements and emotional values

Setting driven = Exploration
Contemporary – set in the present-day
Historical - set in the past
Futuristic – set in the future
High Fantasy – set in the Mythic past

Plot driven = Action
Mystery – a crime and investigation quest
Suspense - a contemporary heroic quest
Adventure – a heroic quest
Sci-Fi - a futuristic heroic quest (space opera)

Okay, there you go. You now know what makes each genre tick. What’s next?

Let’s play: Mix and Match!
Take any genre from one of the four drives, and another genre from any of the Other three drives, and put them together.


“What if I wanna use two genres from the SAME drive?”
Go ahead, be my guest. The three DRAMA drives work fine paired up with any of the other DRAMA drives, however you’re going to find it a little tough to pair up the rest of them.

All right, once you’ve picked your two genres, simply use ALL the elements of BOTH and you’ve got a perfect cross genre.

Premise driven = Consequence - Science Fiction: scientific elements and human values
Character driven = Drama - Gothic: mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues

= The Matrix - A Gothic Sci-Fi

Let’s define The Matrix:
Scientific elements = Computer Generated Reality and Villains
Human values = Knowledge verses Ignorance < -- Premise
Mysterious circumstances = Strange coincidences that couldn’t possibly be Natural
Repressed/hidden issues = The True nature of Reality

Get it? Wanna do it again?

Premise driven = Consequence - Paranormal: supernatural elements and Karmic values
Character driven = Drama - Gothic: mysterious circumstances caused by repressed/hidden issues
Setting driven = Exploration - Contemporary: set in the present-day

= Constantine - A Paranormal Gothic

Let’s define Constantine:
Supernatural elements = Demons and Angels
Karmic values = Actions verses Motive/Intent < -- Premise
Mysterious circumstances = A sudden increase in demonic activity.
Repressed/hidden issues = Faith
Set in the present-day = New York City

One more time!

Premise driven = Consequence - Romance: intimate circumstances caused by love issues
Premise driven = Consequence - Horror – life and death circumstances caused by despair/madness/hate issues

= Sin City - A Romantic Horror

Let’s define Sin City:
Because we used Two Premise driven genres, we ADD the premises together, and ADD the Circumstances together.

Intimate circumstances + Life and death circumstances = Sex and Murder
Love issues + despair/madness/hate issues = The insane lengths one will go to when in Love. < -- Premise

Got it now?

Ruling Elements
Many cross genres are ruled by one genre or the other. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it frequently is. For example, Romance tends to outweigh any other genre its paired with. Why? Publishers' insistence, or rather, their Marketing Department's insistence. Romance readers outnumber all other readers. In other words: specifically to generate Profit.

By the way, the genre Romantic Suspense was originally an attempt to grab some of the Mystery readers. (Increased Readers = Increased Profits) Unfortunately, Mystery readers tend to be Purists. They read Mysteries for the Puzzle the story represents and for no other reason. While they don’t seem to mind a bit of hanky-panky in their stories, they will NOT put up with a story they can guess in a few chapters, or a story that isn’t actually focused on the Mystery to be solved.

Romantic Suspense failed at grabbing the Mystery readers completely BECAUSE their stories weren’t actually Mysteries. They were mystery-flavored action-adventure romances. See what I mean about Genre Ignorance?

However, adding a PLOT to a Romance made the genre a hit with the Romance readers, who had gotten very, very bored with only Historicals or Contemporaries to read.

Oddly enough, this discovery of adding a fully functional plot to a Romance, plus the rise in interest in Women's Erotica via the "Black Lace" novels and the Red Sage's "Secrets" anthologies, led to the birth of another whole genre:

Erotic Romance
The big secret behind the overwhelming popularity of Erotic Romance is neither the Romance nor the Erotic elements, but the fact that there’s a THIRD genre in the mix. This third genre is the PLOT that ties the Romance and the Sex together.

Which genre? Any of them, each of them, ALL of them. Erotic Romance is a genre of Cross-genres.

Romance + Erotica + Genre = Erotic Romance
  • Romance + Erotica + Sci-Fi = Erotic Sci-fi
  • Romance + Erotica + Fantasy = Erotic Fantasy
  • Romance + Erotica + Mystery = Erotic Suspense
  • Romance + Erotica + Pulp Fiction = Erotic Romance
  • Romance + Erotica + Horror = Erotic Horror
What made this Genre of Cross-Genres so hot a sale?

Contrary to popular (Publisher) belief, Romance readers are NOT purists. As long as there’s a sexually-explicit Romance and a vaguely Happy Ending they’ll take any genre it comes in.

At this point in time, the only deciding factor between one cross-genre of Erotic Romance and the next is the author’s Skill, seriously. A skilled Erotic Romance author can make ANY cross-genre of Erotic Romance profit.

In Conclusion...
To create a true Cross-Genre, ALL the genres involved must be equally important in the story to BE a Cross-Genre. However, doing it Wrong doesn’t mean it won’t get published. It just means you “missed the point” of crossing your genres.

Even so, I’m firmly of the opinion that if you’re going to do something, do it RIGHT.

Why? Because if you do it Wrong, and someone else does it Right, guess who’s gonna grab all the readers?


DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Morgan Hawke


  1. Thanks so much for this! I'll be referring back to it alot, hopefully it'll get into my thick skull.

  2. Hey Jenna,
    -- You're welcome! I hope this proves helpful.

  3. Yet another great addition to my reference shelf, Morgan.


  4. Another brilliant post, as always. Thank you, Morgan!

  5. Thanks Maura & Adrienne!
    - Just trying to be helpful.

  6. Thanks Morgan! Another brilliant article - I'll be referring to this again and again.


  7. Morgan, you seriously have the most helpful blog in the blogiverse. You are going on my permanent links list. Thanks for taking the time to educate as well as entertain! :-)

  8. I have to say, this really got me thinking. LOL, maybe that's why I love erotica so much, HAHAHA! I can write whatever mess of genre's I like and they work.

    It also got me thinking about my full mss. that have been sitting. Gods know I spent a long time melding the main genres, but I wonder now if some of the other 'elements' in the story will kill it.


  9. Michelle,
    - Thank you so much! I like being useful. Seriously.

    When I first started surfing the 'net looking for tricks and tips to improve my writing, so many things I really needed to know just weren't covered. Or they were covered, but in such a complicated manner that you had to already know what the author was talking about to make heads or tails of what they were saying, or worse - huge hunks of what made their suggestions actually work were missing.

    It freaking drove me nuts.

    Only a small handful of sites offered decent advice that was completely understandable and immediately useful. Holly Lisle’s and Alicia Raisley’s sites come to mind right away. Those were the sites I returned to, again and again.

    I decided that once I knew what I was doing, I would offer my advice in the simplest most direct manner too.

    At this point in time, I may not know much, but I try to make what I do know as easy to understand and as immediately useful as I can. It’s a calling, I suppose. (And it makes a really good distraction when I really ought to be finishing my manuscript.)

    Thank you again!
    - Morgan

  10. Hey Emma Ray,
    - I love writing erotic romance for exactly the same reason - versatility! It adapts and embraces just about any other genre you care to put it with.

  11. Damn, darling, what a post. I'm just back from meeting your lovely self at RT and it's going to take a day or two to absorb it. Love your blog and you! =)


  12. Oh, this is a great one - I love crossed genres - When it's done right!

  13. Morgan,
    I spent over 2 hours trying to find your website. I only remembered Hawke. I have it bookmarked at home and I wasn't there. I am not a follower of your style of writing or personal ideals. However, I love what you have to say about writing in general, as an author you are great and have a great insite to the struggles those of us aspiring writers have. I like your blogspot with all its references and articles. Keep them there. I have been back a number of times to reread them when I get stuck. Thanks again