At this moment I’m planning out a series, with little idea of what I’m writing about. What I do know is that I’m mashing genres – fun but also a little worrying.
If you take Holly Lisle‘s “How to Write a Series” workshop you’ll know she’s currently creating a much larger expansion pack for the course – she’s creating it on-the-fly so the expansions are being drip-fed to students (which I find both frustrating or helpful, depending on where I sit in the work exercises for the course, day-to-day).
Like any “how to…” writing course, Holly’s Series starts off with some thinking along the lines of what genre we’re writing in. From there, course participants kick off further into the types of situations and characters to fill the series story world with.
I’ve been working on a novel I started writing several months ago, which could feasibly be taken out into a series, so decided to work semi-formally on that over the last month. Once Holly’s first expansion modules came in, however, I got a little stumpered (word?) on what should be an easy question. While the course talks about genres like romance, suspense, science fiction or even fantasy, I halted at the very first step.
I know mine is a superhero story (kind of). And YA (not a genre but a age-range or category in my thinking). My research into superhero stories (because writers read in the genres and keep abreast of the works we are writing in) tells me that many people consider superhero stories to be a genre unto themselves – while others consider them a sub-genre of speculative fiction.
Superhero genre assimilation
Superhero stories have enough tropes to support their own genre category, certainly: – secret identities, costumery, origin stories, super powers or at least super tools… And recently with the renaissance of superhero movies (thanks, Marvel!) and comic-cons, also have a lot of popularity out there.
But superhero stories have also gobbled up many other genres over the years:
- Supernatural horrors / gothic monsters / fantasy myths– typically the villains in superhero stories, but also can be the hero (Thing, Hulk), vampires, werewolves and demons – (Blade, Buffy)
- Pulp Detective – lots of super-powered or tooled up detectives in superhero fiction, especially when wearing large overcoats. (Blade Runner manages to create a super-hero out of a hardboiled film noir genre and science or speculative fiction).
- Power Armour – used to be a staple of Japanese animation (go Power Rangers) but we have Iron Man, and Cypercops / Robots and Cyborgs. Oh, and The Six Million Dollar Man (used to love that program).
- Space Hero – Buck Rogers to all the X-Men or Fantastic Four who went out to space and came back heroes (or villains) thanks to asteroids and aliens (or how about the Alien movies, which combine a super-hero type character with super soldiers and alien villains – in space).
- Science Hero – my favourite. Time Travel, science experiments, genetic manipulation, big brains. (Flash Gordan, The Hulk (Bruce Banner),Fantastic Four, Professor Xavier, maybe even most out of Jules Verne’s stories – which brings up another area of spec fiction – Steampunk and all the other Punks or alternative energy worlds – most of which have a hero).
- Jungle Warrior – yay, Sheenah and Zena, Warrior or Jungle princesses with your skimpy little fur things, knifery skills and even Spiderman borrowed from you in swinging across cities on vines.
- Mythic Gods – just about all of Greek or Nordic or Roman gods and goddesses have appeared in comic form, fighting for our world. (Thor and Hercules, and of course Amazonian Wonder Woman). Is Perry Jackson a superhero, or a fantasy hero? Is it because he has a very human sounding name that makes you ponder?
- Super Soldiers – where would Captain America or Wolverine be without first going out to war and picking up some incredible fighting skills? (or how about Alien or Predator, both featuring super soldiers and science fiction?). But super soldiers also brings up…
- Ninja Warriors – martial arts skilled warriors who wear enough costumery to really create a secret identity. (Bronze Tiger, the master out of Kung Fu (any of them), but was the Karate Kid a superhero?)
- Posthuman Mutants – the genes did it (or sometimes a nuclear accident) but really, where is humanity going if not granting us special powers? The most obvious of superheros lately, what with X-Men, Tomorrow People and all.
- Alien Invasions – Superman is an alien. Green Laturn was selected by aliens. Thor (despite also falling into the Mythic God category) is also an Alien. War of the Worlds features martians, but does that make Tom Cruise a superhero? (Please, no….)
As you can see from above, as I was working with a superhero storyline, I was already stepping into some big ol’ mashup possibilities as it was. Most of the above genres have their own tropes or expectations – that’s how a science hero or mythic god is identified, after-all. Combined with the superhero tropes, and I already had a large mix to mash with.
My story became even a little harder to define, because I also have a hero who falls out of the fantasy realm. Nevermind the political intrigue or suspense domain. Sigh.
When it came to defining the main genre to allow me to capture the series ideas through Holly Lisle’s workshop expansions, I just couldn’t decide. There appears two placemarker genres – fantasy and speculative (superhero) fiction with their own necessary characters and plotting devices (to be broken). I had to think what story world rules I was ready to create for each of those genres, and how to work them in together for a plausible story.
I started to overwork and overthink it all but then remembered that there’s no such thing as a story that hasn’t been done before, the difference is how each writer voices it.
No point being insecure about it. The story was the story.
Mashups aren’t new, either. They may make more work to define a general series plot out of it, but they’re not new. Here are some recent posts on mashups:
- IndieReCon: Not Playing by the Rules: Genre Mash-Ups in a New Age by Alicia Kat Vancil
- i09: What’s the secret of a good genre mashup?
- Mix ’n’ Match: Genre Mashups Lead to Fresh, Fun Stories by Lucy Dosch
Are you writing a mashup?
- Hasbro made mashup superheroes – Marvel superhero figures with completely interchangeable parts. Um…yeah.
- The other mashup images are via neatorama.
This blog post participated in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which runs the first Wednesday of the month. Go to the IWSG website to find many other writer’s sharing their posts, and for many regular tips and resources for writers.