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Thursday, August 16, 2012

GREAT(ER) EXPECTATIONS: Writing Cross-Genre Romance by Linnea Sinclair

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re an RWA member. And if you’re an RWA member, chances are good that you understand the connection between reader expectations in romance and the HEA (Happily Ever After) or the HFN (Happy For Now). The HEA/HFN are a trope as well as a result that romance readers expect (oh, okay, we demand) in our romance fiction. A story isn’t deemed to be in the romance genre unless it contains that HEA/HFN. And we, as writers, craft and shape and guide our characters and our plots toward HEA-ness in order to satisfy our readers (and before that, our agent and our editor). And we do so (or try to do so) in the allotted word count, be that fifteen thousand words for a novella or seventy-thousand words to one hundred ten thousand words for a novel. Given or take a few thousand.

Trouble arrives, however, when we write cross-genre stories. We now have two (or more) reader expectations to be met—and we have to do so in the same word count allotment.  To make matters more complicated, we might not be as conversant with the reader expectations and tropes of the non-romance genre… and hence we find ourselves floundering, juggling, drinking copious amounts of caffeine (or chowing down chocolate), and in general driving our critique partners and editors slightly crazy. Because we’re trying to fit twice the punch in half the size.

As someone who routinely melds two genres for a living, I’ve come up with three ways to make your life slightly easier (and less fattening ):

1. Know Thy Genres:  This means you need to be suitable well-read in all the genres in which you write. If you’re writing SFR and you go gangbusters on the hyperspace drive technical aspects and wimp out on the romance, you’ll lose readers (and reviewers). If you drown the book in romance and do paper thin world building, you’ll lose your speculative fiction readers. Those of us who love cross-genre come to those books wanting, yes, both our chocolate and our peanut butter (if you’re a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy fan). You have to know what readers expect…what must they absolutely have to be happy?

2. Determine What Expectations/Tropes Your Genres Have in Common:  Both space opera and romance trend (these days) for the take-charge, gutsy heroine. So in crafting your character for that kind of cross-genre book, you can meet both reader expectations but having a female protagonist that fits that kind of role. But in cozy mysteries, for example, the protagonist is often an amateur, perhaps even a bit bumbling. If you’re mixing cozy and space opera, you might want to forgo the take-charge technical wizard lead character and consider the ship’s cook as your protagonist…or perhaps a third-shift medical tech.

How about historical romance and fantasy alternate-Earth? Historical romance and fantasy both lend themselves to more lavish settings and descriptions. You can make readers from both sides of the bookstore happy if you address that expectation in your story. And if you know that’s an expectation you must address, it will cut down on your research time and your word count: You’re doing double-duty when you research and design the wizard’s castle with an eye to what both the historical and fantasy reader want to know (and experience). And,

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: Seek out beta readers, critique partners, and other authors who write in all the genres you’re currently exploring. Take classes—online and in-person—from authors and experts in those genres. Don’t expect your romance critique partner to fully understand the tropes and reader expectations in police procedurals if that’s not a genre he usually reads.  Don’t expect the manager of the science fiction and fantasy bookshop you frequent to be conversant with the HEA. Use these sources but know what each source brings to the literary table.  

Writing cross-genre romance means you’re always going to be doing double-duty, serving two masters, demanding chocolate with your peanut butter. It’s a balancing act but it’s one that allows you—and your readers—to explore worlds and characters and plots and conflicts that are deeper, richer, and—when it’s done right—definitely more memorable. 

A good resource for tropes and viewer (reader) expectations:


Winner of the prestigious national book award, the RITA®, author Linnea Sinclair is a name synonymous for high-action, emotionally intense, character-driven novels. Starlog magazine calls Sinclair “one of the reigning queens of science fiction romance.”  The Down Home Zombie Blues, her 2007 Bantam release, will hit the movie theatres as The Down Home Alien Blues in late 2012.

Sinclair, a former news reporter and retired private detective, resides in Naples, Florida (winters) and Columbus, Ohio (summers). Readers can find her at her WEBSITE

I hope you will join my class
For Your Plots
Hosted by
Fantasy-Futuristic& Paranormal
Romance Writers
This 4 WEEK class starts Sept. 3rd
For more information click HERE


Samantha MacDouglas said...


What great food for thought! Thank you for the resource of trope lists. I am writing a cross genre novel and really appreciate it. I've already signed up for the PI class and am looking forward to it.

Pauline said...

You always write interesting and useful blog posts. Many thanks for the tips and link. :-)

Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Linnea,

Great post. I was very interested when you started mentioning SFR. I'm working on a series now and thought you hit the nail on the head with your post.