Pick-N-Mix Plots: Genre-bending as a source of inspiration

by limebirddennis

Stuck? Not sure what should be the subject of your next story? Try the Pick-N-Mix approach! No, I’m not talking about going to whatever shop took the place of your local Woolworths and stocking up on sugar, to get you past 3am in your own dark night of the soul. What I’m talking about is a bit of genre-bending.

A genre-bending story melds together two or more distinct genres and comes up with something new; and there’s no limit to the combinations that one could try. How about historical fiction/paranormal thriller: Leif Ericson travels to Vinland and aids the indigenous Beothuk people to fight off an invasion of werewolves from the mainland. Or why not police procedural/dick lit: A slacker detective confronts his fear of death and finds love among the blood, through writing lists and drinking heavily with his colleagues.

Another species of genre-bending is the mashup, which shambled moaning for brains onto mainstream consciousness with 2009’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, and has been followed by such notable examples as “Android Karenina” by Ben H. Winters and “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter” by A.E. Moorat.


Last year there was a call for stories that coupled Shakespeare and Steampunk. I had a go, and the experience was definitely a fun one! I went one better than the brief called for, and came up with Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Steampunk, and Sherlock Holmes (at least it was Sherlockian, as its main characters were Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle and, the template for Holmes, Joseph Bell FRCS). It is amazing not only how liberating it can be to write within established genres and mix them up, but how many ideas seem to spring fully formed into the mind!

What genre-bending fiction can you recommend?

Have you tried the Pick-N-Mix approach?

How about some suggestions? What would you like to see someone write?

24 Comments to “Pick-N-Mix Plots: Genre-bending as a source of inspiration”

  1. Monty Python did a nice role-reversal on a theme of D.H. Lawrence – where the rough manly father was an angst-ridden writer and the toast of Literati Luvvies, while the sensitive son was a happy miner – Not sure now if that’s what you meant.

    A popular theme in sketch shows now seems to be Austen-Porn, but then Tom Jones and Moll Flanders have aready done it.

    • Monty Python were masters at mixing things up; although I’m not sure it was really genre-bending, more parody (as was “Ripping Yarns” by Michael Palin and Terry Jones). However, if they were producing similar works today I could definitely see them doing a mashup.

  2. I love Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

    I’ve never tried this myself, but it sounds like a lot of fun.

  3. Sounds like fun. I would like to try it!

  4. Hi Dennis,

    I have heard of this. For me, I think I would use it more as an exercise to flesh out characters or worlds or gutsy conflicts. I bet it would be great for writer’s block actually.

    I have always been a mainstream fiction writer and have never tried some of the more traditional genres such as mystery or fantasy. Forget about steampunk–don’t even have a clue what that’s all about! 🙂

    I think I’d have to try my hand first at a brand-new genre before I start thinking about mixing two genres together in terms of writing a full-blown story. But I’d be willing to try it for a challenge to get my imagination sparked.

    Thanks for an intriguing post!

    • Thanks Kate.

      On genre-bending, it is obviously best if you are well versed in the genres that you pick (as it gives so many opportunities to play).

      Your idea of trying a brand new genre instead, is another way of revitalising those parts that inspiration isn’t reaching. I have done the same myself (writing my first horror last year) and, again, it is interesting to head off in a new direction.

  5. How about a documentary/zombie story? That would have to be hard to do. Hmmm, sounds like a pretty interesting idea, genre-bending. I may have to give this a try myself 🙂

    • Hi Neeks. Great idea! The novel “Feed” by Mira Grant (the first of the Newsflesh Trilogy) was nominated for a Hugo in 2011. It has been described as a zombie/political thriller, which is true, but the story follows a blogging team who are travelling with a US Presidential candidate and does come across as quite documentary-like.

      I can’t recommend “Feed” highly enough, go out and read it!

      “Deadline”, the second in the series, came out last year and is near the top of my ‘to read’ list.

  6. Dennis, as you may know, my “Termite Queen” is a mixture of science fiction and love story, written in a literary fiction style, with believable, realistic characters (be they human or extraterrestrial). No zombies, vampires, werewolves, steampunk (like Limebirdkate I haven’t a clue what that’s all about), or parody. This novel is finally going to be published soon! In the meantime, you can get an example on my termitewriter blog, where I’m publishing sample chapters (Chapter 7 to come on Monday).

    • Lorinda: science fiction love stories have a long and illustrious history. The Dora section of Heinlein’s “Time Enough For Love” is a wonderful love story. Now I think about it, it is almost a mashup too; as it is really a western novella set on an alien world.

  7. This is my favorite sort of fiction, mixing up several genre until you get something unique. It is how the whole steampunk craze got started in the first place! 🙂

  8. This made me laugh. I love mash ups! Hmmm..
    I want to write a steampunk science fantasy with romantic underpinnings! Someone other than me go write this so I know what it would look like 😀

  9. I have a paranormal lovestory thriller and a time travel murder mystery. I love crossing genres and combining them. 🙂

  10. Okay. This is seriously awesome idea and makes me want to quit being an artist and be a writer instead. I want to see Sense and Steampunk Sensibility. LOL.

    (if you’re wondering why I am ending every comment with LOL, it’s an homage to art critic Tyler Green, who taught me today on my blog that you can win any argument just by typing LOL at the end of your comment.)

    • It wouldn’t take much to steampunkify a lot of the literature from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

      One famous mashup, that came decades before the term was in use, was the movie Return to the Forbidden Planet, combining SF, horror (for the 50s!) and Shakespeare.

      Also, you don’t have to quit painting, just write while you’re waiting for sections to dry!

  11. I love this post Dennis, what a great idea! I’ve seen the zombie Pride and Predjudice floating around actually and I’m tempted now to actually pick it up and give it a go. I’ve write a lot of romance and fantasy/sci fi mixes, so I love crossing genres.

    Think I might have to push the boat out and do something a bit more radical now. Awesome.

    • Sometimes taking a radical turn can be inspiring. Let us know what weird and wonderful combination you decide upon.

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