When Genres Collide: Mixing Tropes and Styles

I’m shamelessly ripping off part of the title from an old SFRA conference name.

I’ve been working on two small, focused worldbuilds lately, taking a break from the massive multiverse builds and getting back to basics. In the process, I’ve been thinking more than a little about cross-genre writing and exploration. Obviously, this is something that’s been around for a while, at least the last thirty years, probably more. After all, Ray Bradbury preferred people to consider his writing fantasy (including The Martian Chronicles) rather than science fiction, despite the obvious sci-fi elements and lack of “traditionally” fantasy ones. And Fritz Leiber wrote in almost every genre imaginable, with a few crossovers in his Lankhmar stories (notably with Lovecraftian horror), roughly 80 years ago.

On one hand, I like genres. They certainly serve a purpose. They give readers a sense of what to expect from a story, they make marketing and advertising easier, and all that stuff. On the other hand, it’s also fun to see and think about cross-genre writing. C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Hammerfall books spring to mind alongside John De Chancie’s Castle Perilous and even Robert Asprin’s MYTH books.

And, really, virtually all fiction is cross-genre. Lord of the Rings mixes epic fantasy and fairy tale; Harry Potter combines urban fantasy, epic, and mystery; Artemis Fowl mingles urban YA fantasy with action/adventure/spy; the Southern Vampire series mixes urban fantasy, southern lit, chick lit, romance, mystery, and horror.

Right now, I’m at the point of considering a high/urban fantasy and space opera mix. In a way something like secondary world Harry Potter grown up meets Firefly or Stargate (once I figure a few things out) with a dash of MYTH (without the humor and punnage). I’m still letting the broad strokes stew, poring over some fine points, while wrapping up a straight urban fantasy setting.

Regardless, I find cross-genre work very interesting, when done well. As with anything, when it’s not thought through or just slapped together, it tends to fall flat. Mixing the tropes and styles gives birth to some fun, new things as the synthesis of genres creates something rather different from its ancestors.

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