Cross-Genre Writing

This post, from novelist Karen Chance, originally appeared on Penguin{Blog} usa on 4/4/08.

I suppose my last blog post is a good time to talk about endings: specifically genre crossover endings. A lot of books these days are hybrids of several genres. The Cassie Palmer series, for example, appeals mainly to fantasy, mystery and romance fans, with a sprinkling of horror and thriller readers mixed in there for good measure. The question I get asked most frequently is, does trying to please the readers of so many genres, each of which has its own rules and expectations, cause any problems?

Short answer: Oh, yeah.

Long answer: Since one of the biggest bones of contention is how a story ends, let’s use that as an example. And there are no two genres more disparate in that regard than romance and fantasy. In romance, the genre expectation is still the happily-ever-after ending (which is so common that it even has a widely understood abbreviation: HEA). Not that all romance stories conform to this anymore-romance, like most genres, has become more flexible in recent years-but a great many romances do follow the old formula because a great many romance fans still prefer it. In fantasy, happy endings are also the norm and have been for generations. It’s one of the main things that separates fantasy, even dark fantasy, from horror. The problem is that fans of the two genres often have a very different take on how they define the term "happy."

For romance fans, HEA means a Cinderella ending, in which the heroine gets her man and they go on to have many happy years of wedded (or these days, often unwedded) bliss together. Many times, friends of the main protagonist, vague acquaintances and, well, pretty much everybody except the villain of the piece, also live happily ever after. In fantasy . . . not so much.

Take Lord of the Rings for example. In the end, evil is defeated, good triumphs, and Aragorn becomes king. Seems pretty happy, right? Until you look a little more closely. Because Aragorn wasn’t the main protagonist, Frodo was. And what happened to Frodo? A fantasy fan would tell you, probably quite enthusiastically, "he fulfilled his quest! He grew as a person! He became more than he ever thought he could be, and did things that no one else in the story could have done!" HEA, in other words. But a romance fan, if you could tear them away from sighing over a poster of Viggo/Orlando/ assorted pretty, pretty elves long enough to answer, would likely tell you that Frodo got shafted.

I think I can explain this best by showing you, so look into your palantír and witness the following dialogue between a romance fan and a fantasy fan…

Read the rest of the post on Penguin{Blog} usa.

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