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What Makes Cross-Genre Fiction Work?

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The Alchemist - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, via Google Images

We’ve all read a little cross-genre fiction, whether we called it that or not.  Cross-genre fiction, if you haven’t heard that term before, is fiction that mixes two different genres, or types, of writing, such as historical fiction and fantasy, or romance and supernatural fiction, or aliens and cowboys — well, you get the idea.

Lots of cross-genre fiction is pretty horrifically bad (if you’ve ever read online fanfiction or perhaps visited or Authonomy, you’ve certainly come across some of this; if not, count yourself lucky).  It’s also a lot harder to market, so it can be much harder to publish.  Consequently, less of it gets published by the big publishers, and less of it enters the public imagination than other genres.

However, cross-genre fiction has the potential to accomplish some phenomenal things by approaching the same archetypal stories in a new way.  And I would posit that, when cross-genre fiction succeeds, it does so for 2 reasons:

  1. We care about the characters.
  2. The story is tightly plotted.

Although these two things are important in all types of fiction, they are ever so much more important in cross-genre fiction because readers judge it much more closely than plain old contemporary fiction.

A beautiful example of cross-genre fiction is Paulo Coelho’s allegorical The Alchemist (<– affiliate link that helps keep this blog awesome).  Whether you like his writing or not, you have to admit that Coelho writes in a way that is gorgeous and simple at the same time — not an easy task.  This book reads like historical fiction with brief supernatural elements, and it manages to still be clean and smooth.

Not only do we as readers care about what happens to main character Santiago, every moment in this book has a purpose.  Coelho either did an amazing job editing this book many times over, or he had outlined everything scene-by-scene before putting pen to paper.

What cross-genre books do you love?  What do you think makes them succeed?

P.S. Check out a cross-genre novel written by a fellow blogger here, called The Seneca Scourge.  It’s on my to-be-read list for 2013. 🙂

About Christi

Writing in SoCal.

22 responses

  1. Thanks so much for the mention, Christi! What a nice surprise. I hope you enjoy “The Seneca Scourge.”

    And you are correct about cross-genre being a hard sell. I encountered several agents who liked the medical thriller part of my book, but weren’t keen on the science fiction element, even though I consider it science-fiction ‘lite.’ But it was fun to write, and most readers appear to be pleased with the combination. But I think I’ll stick to single genre in the future. 🙂

    Thanks again!

    • I’m super curious about what happens in The Seneca Scourge! I’m glad you’ve come out with a hard copy version of the book — I’m definitely partial to “real” books vs. e-books. 🙂

  2. I find multi genre stories, if written well to be much more interesting than single genre. We need to educate our readers that stories can be multi faceted. I saw a face book post a few weeks back showing a book shelf with YA crossed out and Vampire replacing it. This is the trouble with writing what’s popular instead of writing what’s good…!

    • It’s a little bit hilarious how frequently the YA sub-categories get changed with the trends. I was looking for Beautiful Creatures at the bookstore recently, and I had to check 3 different sub-categories in YA…

  3. LOVED the Alchemist! It gave me the courage to be a writer (or, at least, to quit hiding it like a hobby and stand up and own it –we have to follow our dreams, after all, right?)

    I’m a huge fan of mixing genres, which is why I love young adult so much right now. It’s one of the few “genres” that really allows you to mix and match whatever you want.

  4. Christi, I guess some of those genre lines are blurred, too. One of my favorite books is The Time Traveler’s Wife, and although you could call it women’s fiction or sci fi or commercial fiction, it was just a really good book. You’re right–I think the writers have to work much harder to get their books published… but the good ones are often REALLY good.

    (I just finished Seneca Scourge and loved it.)

    • I love The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger (sp?) knows how to pull you in. I never thought about which genre it might be in, which probably speaks to what a fantastic novel it is.

      • Time Travel is usually considered Science Fiction, but The Time Travelor’s Wife was not marketed that way. (Isn’t that interesting?) It was a big hit in the literary/romance crowd. I had a friend who looked at me in astonishment when I told her The Hunger Games was dystopian science-fiction. She had never read sci-fi and it didn’t occur to her she would like it! Ray Bradbury wrote a mixture of fantasy/science-fiction, though many call him a poet. 🙂

  5. What a great blog you have! You bring up good points about cross-genre. I guess I’ve never gotten too analytical with what I read. Most recent stuff doesn’t interest me. I have, however, read “The Alchemist.” I enjoyed it, though not as much as some other older stuff… I need to read more… Thanks for stopping by and following my blog, by the way. It means a lot to me. Happy New Year!

    • The interesting thing about blogging is that it has made me more analytical about what I read since I’m actually writing the ideas down, rather than just thinking about them or chatting about them. I suppose it’s good for us!

  6. I love Coelho and was highly flattered recently when a reviewer said they loved my latest novel and it reminded them of ‘The Alchemist’. I never stick to a genre, but this isn’t something I strive to do, it’s just the way I write and I guess I’ll never change 😉

    • It’s fun to move from genre to genre. One of the reasons I like YA fiction so much is the way authors have a bit more freedom of genre than with mainstream popular fiction.

  7. Timely blog for me. I couldn’t figure out what to call my novel which was a mixture of myth, archeological findings, Biblical “history,” and imagination. It was literary/historical fiction with romance elements. Now I’m writing what I guess you would call a science fiction/mystery. Have no idea if it is going to “fly” and hate to spend a lot of time on something (else) that is going to be hard to market, but when the Muse descends one doesn’t have a lot of choice.

    • You’re right about the muse — it always seems to work out the best when we follow the muse instead of trying to force inspiration in one direction or another.

  8. I don’t believe I’ve had the privilege of reading any cross-genre fiction…maybe some short stories from back in the day, but I’m not sure if maybe Ray Bradbury fits that? I can’t remember.

    I am, though, writing a cross-genre fiction novel right now, and I totally agree with you about characters and tight plots. Because I do believe everything in my novel has a purpose, and all of the characters are closely related to one another in some form or another. My novel is like T.K. Thorne’s–science fiction and mystery. My story most definitely pulls me in; I had my cousin read a draft version of my novel just for kicks, and she was really pulled in by it because of the characters and the setting.

    Thank you for this post though; it give me a little bit more insight into how I should write my story.

    • Character-driven science fiction and mystery sounds like fun!

      I haven’t read Ray Bradbury in years — I don’t remember his work well enough to say whether it was strongly cross-genre or not.

      • Definitely one of the best kinds!

        It’s okay. I can’t recall most of his works either–just vague glimpses of plot here and there.

  9. I am finding it almost impossible to market my novel. It DOES have romance, and it DOES have elements of psychological fiction, chick lit, commercial women’s fiction and others. The problem is that I don’t have a specific audience to target! The book is written from the female’s perspective, then later in the book, from the male’s perspective. The end is then written from the narrator’s. I have absolutely no idea where to start. I just published to Kindle and so far my fans are friends and family. Which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful, but it’s not exactly what I had hoped for. I don’t have big dreams for this novel, however, I had hoped for a better turn out. Any suggestions on where to start?

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