When Writing, Cannibalize Everything

Photo credit: Jody Art on Flickr
It happened again! One of you fabulous readers (thank you, Robin) asked a question I haven’t yet answered that I thought most certainly merited a post (yay!). The question was this:
“I read your post about reading what you write, and coming to love your genre. So I was wondering, what if one incorporates other genres and mediums? One of my WIPs is a YA-fantasy adventure with a lot of fairytale elements, but I've taken what I learned reading horror (mostly of Poe) to create dread in my story, and I've paid attention to cinematic techniques seen in films by Studio Ghibli to create an endearing and living world. What is your perspective on cross-referencing genres and mediums?”
I’m sure most of you have heard that you should write what you know. While I partially agree with that (more on that topic some other time), I think it applies especially well when referencing incorporating what you have learned from creative mediums, whether writing, movies, music, etc. You see, I’ve written in the past about why it’s so important for writers to be well-read, and this question right here is one of the many reasons why.

While I tend to read a lot of YA and some MG novels, within those age groups I read from various genres: paranormal fantasy, straight fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc. And from every book that I’ve read, regardless of the genre, I’ve learned something—whether it’s the importance of voice, or including poetry in prose, or what a good opening and memorable characters look like. And when I write and revise, I make a point to look back on those lessons and continue to learn new ones from whatever books I read throughout the course of the year.

One of the most important tasks a writer has is to absorb everything possible—what rain feels like in November when you’ve forgotten an umbrella, how that movie gave you the chills, why that book was so gripping that you stayed up until three in the morning on a work night to finish it, how that song makes you pause every time it comes up on your playlist. Nothing is sacred to the writer—not that terrible cut that required stitches, or your first kiss, or the first time you laid eyes on your newborn. Writers make note of and store their experiences for writing reference later on.

In short, writers cannibalize everything. Or at least, they should. And when it comes to genre, I don’t believe it’s any different.

Let’s think for a moment: when is the last time you read a book or watched a movie that was 150% one genre? Nearly every non-romance genre has some sort of romantic subplot (even The Lord of the Rings which is as straight fantasy as it gets has romance) and many non-mystery novels have some sort of mysterious intrigue and so on. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a couple novels.

  • Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe is undoubtedly a YA Sci-Fi novel, but it certainly cross-references other genres as well, the most obvious of which include a romantic subplot and murder mystery. That doesn’t make it a mystery or romance novel, but it still has elements of those genres. To further draw a point, it’s listen on Amazon under “Teens > Mysteries” and at Barnes & Noble.com under “Teens- Romance & Friendship” and “Teens- Science Fiction.” 

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green—I would have thought that The Fault in Our Stars would be listed under YA Contemporary, but I’ve found that it is often listed under romance. Regardless, it has elements of romance, realistic fiction, humor and even tragedy. That doesn’t mean you’re going to find it in the Humor section at Barnes & Noble (if you do, it’s been terribly misplaced), but you can’t deny that elements of those genres exist within the novel. It’s listed on Amazon under “Teens > Love & Romance” and at Barnes & Noble.com under “Teens: Realistic.” 

Just two examples of many, but the point is this: genre is rarely cut and dry and you certainly shouldn’t be afraid of drawing from absolutely everything you’ve learned along the way. Your writing will be better for it.

How do you pull from other genres, mediums and experiences in your work? What multi-genre novels can you think of as examples?


Al Diaz said...

I feel relieved now. I was too worried about me probably crossing genres. Thank you for this wonderful post!

Ava Jae said...

Absolutely! Glad to hear the post helped! :)

J. A. Bennett said...

I agree, and I would also add that it's important to find that balance when you weave more than one genre into your story. I had an editor tell me my book lacked focus because of a romantic sub-plot (still working on that). Great post!

Robin Red said...

Thank you, Ms Jae ;)

Ava Jae said...

That's a great point about balance. It's an element that's not always easy to strike perfectly (especially in a first draft), but you're absolutely right about it being important. Thanks for the addition!

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome. Thanks for the great question. :)

Grace Robinson said...

Nothing wrong with mixing genres or pulling from multiple genres. My current WIP is fantasy, but the plot for about 3/4 of the book is the characters unraveling a mystery. Maybe it's a mystery story set in a fantasy world, but if I were to find in the mystery section of a book store, I'd consider it misplaced.

Since every good writer pulls from every aspect of life to put into a story, it's logical that sources of inspiration would come from multiple mediums and even art forms not in the same genre as one's WIP.

Good post, as always!

RoweMatthew said...

I always work to undermine genres and stereotypes. More often than not my initial idea for a story is 'why do they always do it like that? Lets do it like this!' And I'm not so widely read as I am widely.... watched. I've seen 10 times as many films as I've read books. I draw inspiration from them, I reference them, I take notes on style and pacing from them. I think it brings something free to the written form.

Irene said...

The genre-thing always scares me a bit (what if what I'm writing doesn't fit anywhere! Or everywhere! *Panic*), but this made my fear crawl back in the shadows :-) Thanks

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Grace! I'm relatively sure I've managed to mix at least one sub-genre nearly every one of my WIPs. I find that the added element adds an extra layer of complexity and to me at least, makes it more interesting to write. :)

As for pulling from life, I think our life experiences are one of the greatest sources of inspiration we have, if we look hard enough.

Ava Jae said...

I'm a big movie buff too, so I know exactly what you mean about taking tips from various movie and film styles. I've often thought back to movies when deciding how to handle a particular scene.

Ava Jae said...

Glad to hear it, Irene! I certainly wouldn't worry about your writing not fitting anywhere--there are loads of genres and sub-genres to choose from. :)

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