Stories are defined by their genres—often more so than their characters or their plot. Whether you want to publish your story or simply pitch it to a friend for reading, it’s hard to describe a story without defining its genre. Most stories do fall strictly into one main genre, but it can be easy and tempting to write one that doesn’t. There are certainly ways to do so well, but the fine line between mixing genres well and mixing them poorly is incredibly easy to cross.
Selecting a Primary Genre
Even if you do intend on blending multiple genres, it’s essential to have a primary one to fall back on. Because each genre has its own plot structure, tropes, and length, your primary genre can help you make decisions about your story’s development.
Additionally, this genre is what you’ll use if and when you have to select one genre to classify your story under. If you plan on publishing your story traditionally, for instance, you’ll find that every literary agent, publisher, and LitMag asks for you to select one genre that describes your story. Having that in mind early on ensures your work reflects your response.
So, what do you do with the parts of your story that don’t fall neatly into these predetermined boxes? You let them add flesh to your story and become an aspect of your novel that makes it unique. Let the bits and pieces define your story’s subgenre.
Some of these subgenres already exist (romantic comedies are—go figure—mixtures of romance and comedy, magical realism is typically a combination of either contemporary or historical fiction and fantasy, etc.) and some are just waiting to become prominent enough to receive a name of their own.
Either way, you’re using these outside genres to establish which part of your primary genre’s spectrum your story falls in (even if that means expanding the spectrum).
Your goal should not be to mix genres or to increase your audience. Your goal should be, as always, to tell a story that needs to be told. If—and only if—that story must involve more than one genre should you interweave those additional genres.
And in that case, the story should develop as naturally as it would if it belonged strictly in one genre. When you mix genres, it is essential that you make sure they blend naturally. If not, your story may seem like two stories being forced together.
Identifying a Target Audience
A story that fits into two or more genres will not necessarily appeal to all readers of both genres. For example, a fantasy novel with elements of horror (dark fantasy) will likely not appeal to fantasy readers who prefer happy stories or horror readers who despise the paranormal. However, it will appeal to readers in the middle of this spectrum. Identifying your target audience can help you stay focused and ensure your story meets their interests.
All in all, it is possible to write amazing stories that blend multiple genres, but you have to be careful when doing so.
Which genres do you like to see together? Let me know in the comments!