What’s a Hybrid Genre? Learn the Art of the Literary Mash-Up

Abi Wurdeman
June 14, 2024

“Know your genre.”

“Focus on fulfilling reader expectations.”

“Let them pigeonhole you. You’ll sell more if people associate your name with the genre.”

If you aspire to be a full-time writer and you haven’t heard this advice yet, don’t worry. You will.

And if you’re the type who loves the experience of creative discovery, you’ll likely find these tips suffocating. 

For literary free spirits, committing to genre and all its conventions feels like voluntarily churning out formulaic literature, virtually indistinguishable from all other books in the category.

The truth, though? Genre is not a template. It’s not a cookie cutter or a stamp. It’s an invitation to blend beloved storytelling techniques—some of which are centuries old—with your own unique style and themes.

In fact, some of the most successful novels and films of all time began with a writer choosing to explore the creative possibilities within the loose boundaries of a specific genre. Some even blended multiple genres so effectively that they created an entirely new category of storytelling.

That’s what we call a hybrid genre. And that’s what we’re here to talk about.

You’re going to learn a lot about this genre-blending approach to writing, from how to do it successfully to why some hybrids have become as popular as their parent genres.

So grab your sewing scissors and your best needle. We’re about to stitch up a new kind of story.

What is a Hybrid Genre?

A white cat with one yellow eye and one blue eye tilts its head to look up.

A hybrid genre is a category of writing that blends the conventions of two or more genres. You might also hear this referred to as cross-genre, multi-genre, fusion genre, or mixed genre.

Whatever you call them, the authors of hybrid genres are basically the Dr. Frankensteins of literature… except instead of unleashing death, destruction, and social isolation, they bring us robot cowboys and human/werewolf love stories.

Keep in mind that in order for it to truly be a hybrid genre, it must contain the key elements of both or all genres involved. You can put a love story in your historical fiction novel, but if the love story isn’t the central plot line and doesn’t end with an HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy for Now), it’s not a historical romance.

Examples of Popular Hybrid Genres

New hybrids emerge all the time in the literary world, but some are so old and familiar we think of them as straightforward genres. Like romantic comedy (romance and comedy). Or science fantasy (science fiction and fantasy).

Here are a few others you’ve likely heard of:

Sci-fi western - Examples of this include Upright Women Wanted, the Dark Tower series, Firefly, and Cowboy Bebop.

Horror comedy - Works in this genre tend to be true horror with a lot of dark comedy (My Best Friend’s Exorcism), horror spoofs (Sean of the Dead), or a somewhat playful style of horror (Ghostbusters).

Alternate history - This tasty blend of historical and speculative fiction has given us such works as The Man in the High Castle and Watchman.

Fantasy romance - All its best friends call it “romantasy.” Books in this genre are essentially romances set in fantasy worlds, like the Artefacts of Ouranos series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and The Princess Bride.

Benefits of Hybrid Genres

So what’s the point of all this genre-mashing? Why aren’t the previously established genres enough for us? 

Turns out, writers get a lot out of dabbling in hybrid genres, including things like…

A wider audience - Some readers want their mysteries to be mysteries and their romances to be romances. But plenty of others will gladly read a hybrid, which means your dark fantasy (that’s horror plus fantasy) could attract audiences from two different pools.

Creative innovation - Hybrid genres invite you to experiment with different forms of storytelling and even invent new categories altogether.

The option to both have and eat cake - Do thrillers and romances both get your heart racing? You don’t have to pick! Mash ‘em up!

As for readers, they enjoy hybrid genres for stuff like…

Unpredictability - Sure, most of the genre elements they’re used to are still there. But blending categories means introducing new elements, too, or tackling familiar conventions in a fresh and engaging way.

Exposure to other genres - Hybrid genres give readers an opportunity to experience categories of storytelling that they’d never have explored otherwise.

Challenges of Writing in Hybrid Genres

A writer wearing blue pajamas sits on the living room floor with a laptop, staring at crumpled papers.

If you plan to write in a hybrid genre, there are some potential challenges you’ll want to keep an eye out for.

Let’s go over a couple of those sticky situations and discuss potential fixes so you can reap all the benefits of cross-genre fiction while avoiding the pitfalls.

Balancing Genre Expectations

Your sci-fi romance novel will catch the attention of both science fiction readers and romance readers. How do you fulfill all your readers’ expectations?

First, accept that you can’t satisfy everyone. Not even all sci-fi readers are looking for the same thing in science fiction novels. That’s why we have subgenres like steampunk and space opera.

Once you’ve prepared yourself for the likelihood that your book will disappoint someone, make it the best it can be for everybody else by getting super cozy with both genres. Learn the tropes, find out if there’s a typical structure, notice if there are common themes and standard tones, and, most importantly, find out why fans of the genre can’t get enough of it.

When you know which elements are most essential to each category, you’ll know which conventions to include and which can be sacrificed for the sake of the mash-up.

Marketing Your Work

It’s easy enough to put the phrase “romantic suspense” in the book description on your Amazon listing. But how do you go about promoting your novel? Who do you target and which elements of the story do you draw attention to?

First of all, there’s a good chance that your hybrid category has already become an established subgenre. That means there’s a built-in audience and plenty of successful authors to learn from. 

In other words, you don’t have to choose between marketing your book as a romance or a thriller. Just market it as romantic suspense.

Now, if you’ve managed to mix in a few different genres, ask yourself which genre or subgenre best captures the spirit of the book. 

Maybe your romantic historical sci-fi suspense novel is more science fiction than anything else. Or even historical sci-fi. Categorize it that way. Design your book cover with that subgenre in mind and market to those readers. 

Then use your book description to gently touch on the romance and suspense elements, too.  

Examples of Successful Hybrid Works

We’ve already covered several examples of hybrid works. In fact, the world of literature is jam-packed with them.

But just to demonstrate that hybrid genres aren’t gimmicks but creative innovations that stand the test of time, here are a few more you’ve likely heard of:

Frankenstein - This absolute classic has endured for over 200 years and inspired countless other works. It’s a hybrid of science fiction and Gothic fiction.  

The Sympathizer - On paper, this historical thriller dark comedy war novel appears to be having an identity crisis. In practice, it’s perfect, Pulitzer Prize-winning genre-blending. 

The Southern Vampire Mystery series - Not only was this romantic fantasy mystery series a bestseller, it also spawned the television show True Blood.

Your Story Your Way

It’s true what they say. Most authors find success by mastering a genre. If you want to write for a living, you’ll need to prioritize genre, too.

But that doesn’t mean squashing your creative spirit. If anything, the more you understand your chosen genre(s), the more tools you have to explore potential hybrids and deviate from the norm while still writing a book your readers will love.

The joy of writing lies in telling your story your way. So indulge that joy.

And maybe use Dabble to do it. If you’re not familiar with Dabble, it’s a super awesome writing tool that comes with handy features to streamline every part of the writing process from brainstorming and plotting to drafting and revising.

In fact, features like Story Notes and the famous Plot Grid are designed to help you discover more structure in your process while enjoying all the flexibility you need to create on your terms.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can snag a 14-day free trial right here, no credit card required.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.