Horror as Subgenre in Epic Fantasy – Elan Samuel

Elan is back this month with another meandering post about feelings. This time, about how horror makes an excellent subgenre for epic fantasy, using a specific example from the Wheel of Time. If you like Elan’s words, read more of them here.

One of the greatest things about writing fiction—and genre fiction in particular—is the opportunity we get as writers to smash tropes and archetypes together, like a particle collider, and examine what happens with precision. We’ve been conditioned by bookstores, however, to categorize books by more superficial story elements (literally superficial, not figuratively). So when we think of “fantasy” or “epic fantasy,” our minds typically think of adventure stories.

As you’ll no doubt notice if you read my words here and elsewhere, I reference the Writing Excuses podcast with almost-obsessive regularity. This year, they’ve dedicated themselves to the discussion of what they’re calling Elemental Genre: the style of story you’re telling, rather than the setting in which it takes place. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy—these are the dressings that go around your story. A story isn’t “fantasy,” but it can be a fantasy adventure, a fantasy horror, a fantasy romance, a fantasy ensemble story, etcetera.

When the scale of a fantasy is epic, however, you have the freedom to include as many plots and genres as you want. Caveat emptor: you probably shouldn’t do that. Too many intricate plots might confuse your readers, and makes contradictions and logical leaps a likely piece of your world. There’s a limit to how much story can feasibly told and keep your readers engaged. A good example of a series that hovers close to that limit is the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

Wheel of Time (WoT) is a polarizing series, but I’m not here to defend the fourteen-book megalith’s merits. Rather, I’m here to discuss what I believe to be an exquisite example of horror within epic fantasy: the town of Hinderstap.

Book twelve of the series, The Gathering Storm, marks the beginning of the end of the series. The final battle approaches, and an incredible amount of stuff has already taken place. Our characters have fought, died, loved, lost, conquered, betrayed, trusted—a cavalcade of feels. The books are complex, multi-genre beasts, with adventure, horror, relationship, ensemble, drama, mystery, humor, wonder… all of the genres playing a part. But The Gathering Storm features a horror subplot that really stands out.

Mat Cauthon, one of the prime movers in WoT, arrives in a town called Hinderstap with a small cadre of followers, and finds a town populace that is standoffish and exhausted. Being a stubborn and occasionally loutish fellow, Mat tries to interrogate several townsfolk about their odd behavior. They tell him, simply, that he’s welcome to pass through, but he and his group must be gone before sundown. Mat, rather than hearing this as a warning, continues digging.

The sun begins to set.

And the townspeople go wild. Feral. Inhuman, tearing at each other’s throats, brutalizing each other and trying desperately to kill Mat and his crew as well. It becomes a long kill-or-be-killed kind of night for the heroes, who are, understandably, freaking out. Most of the group survives the night and, drowning in guilt and disgust at what they were forced to do the night before, leave. They head back into town the next day.

Then the townspeople show up again. Unharmed.

I won’t go much further into the details, because the whole subplot is excellent, and you should read it. And if you don’t want to read it, you can always read the summary.

The point of this is to bring to light the idea that epic, non-urban or lovecraftian fantasy is fertile ground for horror stories. Not only that, but the moment of horror does not need to alter the trajectory of your novel. It can serve to throw your readers for a loop, to put your characters through a wringer that becomes a defining moment for them.

It can be an exciting and fresh take on epic fantasy. The thrill of a character being chased through a forest isn’t the same as true horror. I don’t mean to knock a good chase scene, of course. I would just love to see the thing chasing the protagonist shrouded in a bit of mystery, maybe fog, and a blood moon. A distant howling is heard, shifts to a gurgling, then cuts off abruptly. The torch’s flame flickers in the wind, but in the thick fog, it’s making things harder to see. The crunch of decaying leaves and the squish of rotting vegetation beneath her feet seem to grow louder as the fog thickens, diffusing the reddish moonlight so that all around her, the skeleton of a forest can be seen. A gust of frigid wind tears her cloak from her stiff fingers, whipping it about her head. She flails, grabbing at the folds of cloth, and her torch falls to the forest floor, instantly snuffing out in the damp rot beneath her feet. Silhouettes of trees, wearing the nudity of autumn, surround her. She reaches out with her senses, but the forest creatures lie in the beginnings of wintersleep.

Another howl. Another gurgle. Another silence.

She reaches into her wellspring, pulling at the warm, sweet magics that flow within. Her eyes glow and she sees. Trees crashing in the distance. Blood soaking into the rotting leaves. Offal calling in carrion birds from the west. The scents of fungus and earth wafting into the air.

It turns one of its heads toward her. It opens its mouths, roaring, gurgling.

It’s coming. She runs.

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Crazy for Cthulhu – Kant stand Kreuger

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back a regular contributor to the EFW gang, Sean F. Gallagher. Sean is going to pick up the topic of adding horror elements to your fantasy story that Rayne Hall kicked off at the end of the last month. His debut novel Mysts of Mythos, in its final draft stage, spent some time with Inkshares but is now being developed independently. Check out his other contributions to EFW by clicking on his name above.



(images borrowed and not my own)

Horror has always been a mixed bag for me. I never liked any of the 80’s slasher flicks growing up. The horror trio of Jason, Freddy, and Michael never really scared me and I always saw them as gratuitous blood and boobs for no apparent reason. You would think that boobs would have been enough to drag me along considering I was a teenager at the time, but even then I wanted more out of a story than mere titillation. I didn’t mind being scared, I was just not impressed, or scared, by pop-outs and gore. I know, people always tell me that the Nightmare movies were also funny, but I never got the humor in the first one so I never checked out any of the rest.

Interestingly enough I read quite a bit of horror at that age. Of course I was introduced to the classics while in school. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was absurdly different from the movies but fun even though the prose was very sophisticated. Bram Stoker’s Dracula by contrast seemed very close to the movies.From there I went a different direction. My father had introduced me to Conan when I was around twelve or thirteen. Robert E. Howard (Bibliography), the creator of Conan, was an avid writer of letters. One of the  men he regularly corresponded with was H.P. Lovecraft, the author of The Call of Cthulhu. After discovering Lovecraft (Bibliography) I devoured anything of his that I could find, alongside the wonderful Conan stories. I loved the creepy descriptions, the unearthly creatures, the way he wrote many of the stories as if they were correspondence or diary of a real person. That realness lent his tales an extra level of scariness for me which made them that much more attractive. What scared me was getting into my head and making me imagine terrifying things.


(image cribbed from the Measureless Eons blog)

I stayed away from Stephen King for a long time. Because I didn’t see myself as a ‘Horror’ guy I wasn’t initially attracted to his work. Then when his stories started getting adapted to the screen I was really uninterested. The trailer for ‘Carrie’ alone made me think it was nothing but blood and gore. I will admit to being a bit of a snap-judger when I was that age. Later on I found some friends I trusted who insisted that I give him a chance. It was his short stories that grabbed me. Stories like “The Mangler” and “The Lawnmower Man” got my attention. They were creepy and weird but not gross for no cause. The movie ‘adaptation’, if you can call it that, of “The Lawnmower Man” really confused me. Possibly the largest divergence from original material from any source material that has ever been adapted.


One Horror novel I really liked was Robert McCammon’s Swan Song (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Song_(McCammon_novel)). I don’t even remember why I got my hands on it at the time, but I read it way back in 1988, not long after it was first published. It was a post-apocalyptic story about evolution of humanity after a nuclear war. I was a huge comic book nerd so when people developed super powers in the story I really got interested. If you haven’t read it, and are looking for something new, I would say it’s worth your time and should be easy to find cheap.

Interview With a Vampire was huge of course. Rice had a very interesting and original take on vampires. The setting was cool. I liked the historical aspects of it quite a bit. Claudia’s story was so tragic and terrible. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed to love Lestat and hated Louis. It was the beginning of the vampire craze of the late 80’s early 90’s, especially amplified by the wonderful Role Playing Game by White Wolf, Vampire: The Masquerade. It was when the game came out that I started to make a mental connection between horror and fantasy since I already played Dungeons and Dragons and other RPG’s like it. It caused me to reflect back on some of the Conan stories that I had read years before, and how Howard had written a number of stories with Horror elements in them.


Once I began to travel that mental pathway I saw other RPG campaigns I had played in with a new perspective. At least a couple of the campaigns I had played in had strong elements of horror in them, and they had been some of the most fun games I’d been involved in. That fear, that tension, had added so much to the game. It heightened the stakes.

That is what adding elements of horror to your fantasy novel can do for you. The fear heightens the stakes. Making your reader worried about whether their favorite character might be eaten, or worse, gives them a reason to keep turning the pages. I wrote the following pieces last year as part of my initial campaign on Inkshares. Both have definite elements of horror, but I didn’t even plan it in that way initially, this was just the stories that came from images I created using some figurines and Photoshop effects.


“Go! Go now!” Cyneric pleaded with his wife. “They will be here soon. You must go now!”

“Come with us,” Mildgyd begged. She clutched their son, Eadric, in her arms. The little boy remained silent but his face was wrought with confusion. “Just run with us.”

“They are too fast,” he replied. “They would catch us all. I must hold them back, and my brother with me.”

He reached out to place a hand on Cyneweard’s shoulder who stood nearby.

“We will give you the time to get to the burh, but you must go, now.”

He took her by the chin, leaned in, and kissed her roughly upon the lips. His cheeks trembled and his eyes glittered when he stood back. Finally he turned and walked away from her, Cyneweard following close behind. He did not let himself hear her sob, or watch as she hurried off into the misty night. The cries of the red hatted marauders could be heard getting closer, louder.

“I always knew you would be the death of me,” Cyneweard muttered. He gave a heavy sigh then raised his voice “Come brother, let us meet them.”

“Who’s out there?” Leofketil shouted into the mists. “Show yourself or leave my land!”

He still held his spear with his shield hand, but he felt more comfortable facing whatever had made those noises in this strange mist with his axe. The heavy weight of it allayed his fears better.

His eyes twitched side to side, nostrils flared wide as he sniffed the air. Heart hammered in his chest, but he would not show his fear.

“Waaaaaggh!” he shouted into the night, raising his axe and shield.



Sean Gallagher is the author of the upcoming novel, Mysts of Mythos, first book in a new series of historical fantasy. Raised in Syracuse, NY he moved to Oregon while still in high school and currently resides in Portland with his wife, Monica, and son, Rune. The Gallaghers are also the proud human friends of Blanca the dog and Thor the cat.

Check out his website or join his mailing list for further updates:


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Twitter: @Faolan

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Horror Writing Tools for Authors of Epic Fantasy — with guest Rayne Hall

To wrap up our great discussion on crossing genres with fantasy this month, and prepare the way for next month’s topic, I’m pleased to welcome special guest, Rayne Hall, an author of dark epic fantasy with strong roots in horror. Rayne is also the author of numerous great books about writing techniques, many of which I’ve read and highly recommend (particularly, Writing Fight Scenes and Writing About Magic).



Horror is the fiction of fear, and horror authors are skilled at giving their readers a good scare.

In epic fantasy, many moments are meant to be frightening, whether you want the subtle forms of fear such as apprehension, unease or dread, or the intense variants like horror, panic and terror. This is when you can learn from horror authors. Borrow some tools from their tool-kit.

Do you want to make a scene scarier, add creepy effects or ratchet up the suspense? Here are some techniques.

  • Place the entire scene in darkness. Everything is scarier in the dark. Perhaps the event could play out at night or in an underground cavern. Perhaps a power cut dips everything into darkness. You can build the scare factor gradually by reducing the light bit by bit: perhaps the sunk sinks below the horizon, candles burn down, the battery runs out, clouds block the moon, or the camp fire is reduced to embers.
  • For a creepy effect, choose limited light rather than complete darkness, and describe the movement of light and shadows: a flickering candle, a lantern swaying in the wind, wisps of cloud flitting across the moon, the shadow of the executioner in the torch-lit dungeon, the horizon bruising purple as the sun sinks.
  • Use lots of sounds. Describe the clanking of the torturer’s instruments, the creaking floor boards, the thudding of boots on the pavement. Descriptions of noises don’t slow the pace as much as descriptions based on other senses do. Sound effects work especially well for increasing suspense, excitement and creepiness.
  • In moments of low action and high suspense – for example, when the point-of-view character has to hold still, waiting for something, or while he is tied up and helplessly watching the danger approach – insert a sentence about an unconnected background sound. This increases the tension several notches.
  • Intensify the temperature. Let it grow colder and colder, so the protagonist shivers. Perhaps the heating has failed, the camp fire has burnt down, the character is entering a cellar or climbing down a mine shaft, or whatever cold location suits your plot. The physical and emotional chills work together in the reader’s mind. The opposite also works: turn up the heat to make the character and the reader sweat. The scene might take place in a room with an over-heated engine, in a kitchen, burning building, a sauna or other location where it’s hot. For the strongest effect, intensify the temperature gradually, making it first uncomfortable, then unbearable.
  • Describe the physical effects of fear on the point-of-view character: sweat trickles down her spine, her stomach chills, her palms grow clammy and wet, her heart thuds, her chest tightens, her throat constricts so much she can’t swallow, her scalp itches or her bladder feels full to bursting. This makes the PoV’s fear so real that the reader feels it herself.
  • Let the character take off some clothes or lose a garment. Psychologically, this has the effect of stripping him off his armour, and the reader will perceive added vulnerability. Perhaps he takes off his coat when he enters the room, or maybe she divests herself of her dress to wash in the river.
  • Before a scary event, arrange it so the character has to open a door and walk through. This can be any kind of door – the door to a room, a trapdoor, the gatehouse of a castle, or whatever suits the location. Describe what the door looks like, how it moves, and how it sounds when it opens. (“The door whined open on its hinges.”)This will heighten the suspense, because the reader’s subconscious will think ‘don’t open the door, don’t go in’. If you want the reader to be frightened on the character’s behalf, describe the sound the door makes as it clicks shut behind her. (“Behind her, the door slammed with a thud.”) The reader will subconsciously feel that a trap has snapped shut.
  • When the main character is helpless facing a villain – whether that’s the evil overlord or one of his minions – describe what the villain’s voice sounds like, perhaps with a simile. (“His voice sounded like a knife grinding on whetstone.” “His voice sounded like an executioner’s blade: cold, sharp and merciless.”)
  • Insert a sentence describing the villain’s hands, whether they’re callused and dirty or manicured and perfumed. If the antagonist is an animal, describe it’s paws and claws.
  • Give your main character a phobia, an intense personal fear. Maybe she’s scared of heights, of spiders or of fire. Describe her experience and reaction whenever she is forced to see those. Describe the spider’s hairy legs and the flickering flames of the fire. Then, during the novel’s crucial scenes, force her to endure that horror. For example, if she fears rats the villain throws her into a rat-infested dungeon. At the novel’s climax, you can create a powerful scary situation when the main character voluntarily chooses to face his worst fear. For example, if he has a phobia of snakes, he enters the snake pit in order to rescue the princess.
  • If you the Hero’s Journey plot model, let the ‘Descent to the Innermost Cave’ take place in a real underground location. This allows you to use darkness and the chill factor, and you can add interesting sound effects (spooky echoes, water dripping from the ceiling) as well as claustrophobic effects.
  • During your novel’s ‘Ordeal’ and ‘Black Moment’ scenes, intensify the horror effects, using as many tools from the horror author’s tool-kit as you can.
  • For the novel’s ‘Climax’ section, when the main character confronts the villain in a final showdown, choose a scary location. Could they fight it out on a rope bridge across an abyss, on the edge of a volcano, or on a sinking ship? Make the most of the location to increase the danger.

Consider your favourite epic fantasy novel, and remember the scariest scene. What made it frightening? Leave a comment to tell us about it.

writingscaryscenes-raynehall-cover-2014-01-27Thanks for sharing these great tips, Rayne! If you enjoyed these prompts and want to go deeper, then be sure to check out Rayne’s book, Writing Scary Scenes for more inspiration from the horror genre.



writing-scary-scenes-sulu-rayne-halldsc02021Rayne Hall has published more than sixty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly horror, fantasy and non-fiction. Her bestselling horror book is Thirty Scary Tales, a collection of creepy disturbing stories. She also writes quirky fantasy stories and epic fantasy novels, most of them with a dark slant.



She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (with 21 titles so far, including Writing Scary Scenes, Writing Dark Stories, Writing About Villains,  Writing Vivid Settings, Writing About Magic, Writing Vivid Characters, Writing Vivid Plots Writing Vivid Dialogue), and the editor of the Ten Tales fantasy and horror anthologies (including Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Fiends: Ten Tales of Demons, Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts and Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies).

After living in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, Rayne has settled on the south coast of England in dilapidated seaside town of former Victorian grandeur.

Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, belly dancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.

Her black cat Sulu – adopted from the rescue shelter – likes to snuggle between her arms while she writes, purring happily. He adores books, especially of the horror genre, and can often be found ‘reading’ one or sitting in the bookcase between horror classics.

You can find Rayne’s books on Amazon: viewAuthor.at/RayneHall

Her website with information and tips for writers is here: raynehall.com.

To find out about new releases, special offers and writing contests, subscribe to her Writer’s Craft newsletter here: eepurl.com/boqJzD Subscribers receive a free pdf workbook Grow Your Unique Author Voice.

For writing and publishing tips, as well as cute photos of Sulu the book-loving cat, follow Rayne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RayneHall

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MYRIAD WORLDS, MYRIAD POSSIBILITIES: The Blending of Genres Within Fiction — Byron Gillan

Our tour of mixing genres in fantasy comes to a close today as author Byron Gillan add his perspectives to this rich topic. You can read previous posts by Byron HERE

“I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read.”

~ Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass


The art of writing is (like most things) a skill learned and improved upon with the passage of time. Every great author, alive or dead, or those aspiring to be named as such belong to this commonality. We are all influenced by what we consume, what we see or hear. The way we write, the way we tell our stories, and the individual pieces of that comprise the various parts that make up our worlds are derived from in turn what we take or “borrow” from others. Our works are golems, constructed from the fragments of a hundred different pieces of stories that preceded our own.

Star Wars is arguably one of the most famous examples of this concept. Its creation was directly born out of George Lucas’ desire to merge a dozen different films together, and in addition several different genres. While many like to see Star Wars as purely Science Fiction, it in fact is closer to typical High Fantasy (the Force is magic, midichlorians or not) and what science is in Stars Wars…is less than threadbare at best. But that isn’t the focus. George Lucas never intended for his creation to belong to one singular genre. Despite whatever flaws he might possess as a writer, he has always been a talented storyteller and his mind has proven itself to be a wellspring of both fantastic and wonderful ideas. He saw the advantage of cobbling together multiple genres to create something new, and that foresight allowed him to launch one of the most successful IP’s of all time.


H. P. Lovecraft was another genius well ahead of his time; a man renowned for his development of existential cosmic horror, or else weird fiction, if you will, though many of his stories contained elements belonging to Science-Fiction (aliens whom hail from inter-dimensional or galactic civilizations, then-modern science run amok)  along with other elements normally reserved for Gothic or traditional Fantasy (black magic, monsters of magical creation, curses, daemons and spirits). Lovecraft’s universe was inspired by a hodgepodge of different authors, ranging from Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Chambers, to his contemporary friend and pen-pal, Robert E. Howard (an author primarily remembered for his work in the Dark Fantasy genre, such as Conan the Barbarian and Kull of Atlantis, both themselves works that combined several sub-genres together to form the basis of something altogether new).


For Lovecraft, his stories were not concerned with adhering to the concepts of any singular genre or setting. Instead, he sought to combine a myriad of worlds together, to form an overarching series of narratives where literally anything could happen. Within his imagined universe, he could tell any sort of tale he wished – be it one with paranormal spirits reaching out to claim the sanity of a lost member of their kin, or else something involving extraterrestrial contact with an unsuspecting family somewhere deep within the heartlands of Massachusetts’ countryside. Likewise, Lovecraft’s inspirations were all authors who themselves ignored many of the conventions of their respective genres.

The beauty of not simply relying upon the format-established rules of a singular archetype or genre is quite obvious; it allows for us as an audience to be surprised. There is a special sort of otherness that comes from reading something that cross-pollinates from a variety of different fields. It leaves us unprepared, and better yet, unsuspecting, of what is to come. As was the case with Lovecraft, you never were quiet sure what would be lurking at the end of his tales, be it monster, daemon…or something else entirely. All too often when reading a story firmly established within the pre-defined rules of a particular genre (Epic Fantasy for instance) I’ll find an author who appears almost afraid to stray even slightly from the expected conventions such literature. Experiencing the repetition and redundancy of these kinds of works becomes akin to going through a rudimentary check-list. I already know by the first fifty pages exactly what to expect, and thus there quickly becomes very little reason to continue. My interest inevitably wanes, and finally I set the book down, never to return.


Phillip Pullman, the celebrated young adult author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, was another writer who understood the joy of combining unusual concepts together. His novels are focused on the exploration of other worlds through dimensional rifts in space and time. In addition to performing admirably as Science Fiction, the Dark Materials series also utilizes several familiar elements of popular Fantasy, such as the “chosen one” trope, and in addition, spirits and other fantastical creatures. Not content to stop there, Phillip Pullman further merged these two with a third focus, that of religion. Drawing heavily from the writings of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Pullman successfully crafted an undercurrent of religious criticism and exploration, creating a series of stories that are unlike almost books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Whether I was following Lyra and her daemon companion Pantalaimon through the frozen tundra of the far North, as they attempted to outrun armored polar bears and bounty hunters alike; or else watching Will cut a hole through time and space with his magical dagger – the Dark Materials series never failed to amaze or surprise me, and that is directly because I never quite knew what to expect.

The application of combining varying elements (such as Fantasy and Horror, or Science Fiction and Mystery) can allow for a wonderful explosion of vast new landscapes for the reader explore. As Pullman, Lovecraft, and many others have come to understand, the blending of different works and ideas and genres opens the door a myriad number of different worlds – and an equal number of endless possibilities.


Byron Gillan is an avid reader, and freelance writer, with multiple publications in various newspapers, magazines, and online publications, including work for the Buffalo News. His first novel, The Children of the Forest, is currently available for preorder through Inkshares.

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Mixing Fantasy and Other Genres – K.E. Madsen

Today I’d like to welcome another new addition to our contributor crew for EFW. K.E. Madsen, author of Silver Eyes. While I’m on that topic, Silver Eyes actually just  launched on Inkshares — check it out HERE and while you’re there, why not pre-order a copy to help Kate hit her funding goal!

As September wraps up, Kate continues the discussion on genre mixing from Melissa’s post earlier this week (catch that one HERE in case you missed it). 

There has never been clear separation of genres. From the beginning, writers have mixed genres to make their novels more complex and appeal to more of the audience. Comedies are never only comedies, romantic novels are never always romantic novels; and so forth. Despite this long time mixing of genres, there are still categories books are placed in. Now, of course there can be novels that have larger leanings towards a specific genre, but that doesn’t mean that the novel should only go in one category.

Movies have helped create a wider range of mixing of genres. Even Disney has blended fantasy with other genres. Treasure Planet is a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and revival of an older novel (Treasure Island in case anyone didn’t know). Another example is the upcoming movie Moana. The movie brings a fantasy element alongside traditional Polynesian mythology and beliefs. It also helps that it’s a kid’s movie as well.

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As a reader and a writer myself looking at the base genre of fantasy, I’ve read novels that have other genres blended in. Anne McCaffrey is a clear mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Her world of Pern is both magical and space travel. Of course who could forget Terry Pratchett, who blends fantasy, humor, and the wonderful world of his DiscWorld books.

6558152Hawksmaid: The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, was a book I found. This novel is a blending of historical fiction and fantasy. Written from Marian’s point of view, she is raised to take care of falcons by her Father and in turn can see through their eyes. The elements of history and fantasy work well together.

147843The Green Rider mixes a bit of paranormal magic with fantasy. The novel starts off with Karigan G’ladheon stumbling upon a dying Green Rider, who are messengers to the King. This novel takes the reader on a wild ride with Karigan who is now a Green Rider herself, appointed by the dying Green Rider who made her promise to deliver the message he kept. The paranormal elements are when Karigan uses magic to delve into the past and see past events.

wrinkle4A Wrinkle in Time is a classic for fantasy and science fiction. It’s extremely well known as a novel and a series. The movie isn’t as well known, but it helps clarify the science fiction elements in the novel.

Writers should continue to blend genres and make new and interesting novels. This can help bring fresh ideas out and create more novels. Fantasy is a great genre and can be brought into other genres, such as horror, adventure, science fiction, and even modern themes.



13267810_2800512810319_5534884262946542508_n   K.E. Madsen grew up as an avid reader and lover of fantasy. She’s written stories for most of her life and is the author of Silver Eyes, currently funding on Inkshares. K.E. is almost finished with a two year degree from Kirkwood Community College and plans to transfer to a four year institution for a B.A. She lives with three cats, two lizards, and two betta fish in Iowa.

Connect with Kate on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/writer.K.E.Madsen/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Follow her on Twitter: @K_E_Madsen

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Mixing Genres: An Important Writer’s Tool — Melissa Berg

Author Melissa Berg is back with a look at how mixing genres can be an invaluable tool that every writer should have. She will look at three ways different stories have used this technique. If you like Melissa’s article, you can read more by her —> HERE

mixinggenresMixing genres is nothing new. It’s not a newfangled tactic or gimmick to garner or fool readers, or even the writer’s attempt to ford a new path through untried waters. Merging genres has been around since at least the later 20th century, maybe even longer. It has definitely become common in our modern and more story-savvy times. Thanks to film, the exploration of storytelling and finding new ways to create worlds and weave richer and more emotionally satisfying plots has become the real challenge.

Merging genres is the best way to add depth and emotion and even surprise to any story. Sometimes it’s more subtle, a dipping of the story paintbrush into another color now and then; other times it’s bold and stark and is enough to make booksellers/publishers pull out their collective hairs trying to designate what shelf a given story should be categorized onto. With online stores, space is not as big of an issue, but traditionally, publishers still want to have an obvious pigeonhole to fill. And, even if they don’t realize it, so do readers. They look in places that are familiar, so as a rule (and yes, I know rules in writing are meant to be broken) it’s still good practice that you choose a proper genre label, preferably the category that the highest percentage of your story fits. Even if you don’t like having to label it one thing or the other, it still makes the publisher’s job easier, thereby making it easier for your audience to find you. And that, in the end, is the eventual goal.

aliensposterLet’s look at some popular stories. Since film is where I draw my biggest inspiration, I’m going to talk about stories in movies and television. And because we love to organize everything into neat little piles, I’ll break them down into three categories: Stories that could swing either way; Stories that are more subtle in their mixing, along with how and why their genre usage was successful while for others it might have been their biggest downfall; And those that could have easily pulled in another genre but chose not to.




Stories that could easily fit into more than one genre category

strangerthingsposterStranger Things – Is it Horror or Science Fiction? And by the way, if you haven’t seen this show by now, then it’s either because you live under a rock or you don’t have a Netflix account. If you do have access, then… Watch it!! Any self-respecting lover of genre fiction can’t afford not to see this show! Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled article.


It could easily be either, and here’s why:

The science fiction aspect—This is clear and some of it is even based on fact: Government agency (CIA) secretly experimenting on subjects using LSD, with the goal of creating super soldiers in the 60s—as crazy as it sounds, this is actually the part that is fact. The fiction here is that one of the patients gave birth to a girl who has the ability to control objects with her brain through ESP and telekinesis. (Talk about expanding your mind, man…) They fake the baby’s death and steal her away to use her for their still secretly ongoing experiments. While trying to find ways to use her abilities to spy on Russia (this takes place during the Cold War era of the 80s), she inadvertently opens a rift into another dimension and frees a monster into ours.


strangerthings2The horror aspect—The monster has escaped into our dimension, and is now actively hunting people to be used as hosts for its offspring. A boy is the first to go missing. His friends decide to go looking for him, and instead of finding him they find Eleven, the girl who had set the demon loose. While in a parallel story arc, his brother goes searching for him, with the help of a girl who is trying to find out what happened to her best friend. (Poor Barb, no one else seems to care about her… I wonder what the Duffer Brothers have against Barb anyway?) They end up finding their way into the Upside Down—the dimension the monster is from—while the monster continues to hunt anyone who gets close (or might be bleeding heavily from a cut on their hand). The Upside Down is dark and creepy and dead, and they even find Xenomorph-like eggs that have already hatched. The monster can show up anywhere at any time as he jumps between worlds, and the lights are continuously blinking on and off, while everyone’s flashlights are characteristically dim. If that doesn’t spell horror…

outlanderposterOutlander – Is a show that, as a book series, gave the publisher some problems in trying to categorize it. Depending on the store, it could have been in one of three areas: Historical Romance, Fantasy, or Paranormal Fiction. Where do you think it belongs?


Historical Romance is probably the most prevalent aspect of this plot. Claire, a 1940s combat nurse during WWII, is content and in love with her husband, Frank Randall. When the war ends they decide to take a second honeymoon to Scotland to reconnect. Frank is a professor of history, and also interested in tracing his own genealogical roots to find out more about a prominent ancestor of his. While visiting historical sites they ‘reconnect’ quite often, proving that theirs is still a blissful marriage. On one afternoon, while Frank decides to visit with his long time friend for more discussion and research, Claire, bored and wanting to get some fresh air, tells him that she’s going to go back to one of their locations to find a certain type of flower she had seen there(she has an interest in botany and medicinal herbs—which proves to be quite a convenient hobby). The location is a circle of stones called Craigh na Dun.

craighnadunWhile there—and here’s the paranormal or fantasy aspect—she hears a strange humming sound coming from the center stone. Wondering what it is, she goes to investigate and touches the stone. After a strange sensation of spinning and falling, she wakes up on the ground. Thinking it odd, she decides to head back to the car, only to find that it’s not there. She starts wandering, trying to find her way back to the road, and hears gunfire. She hasn’t realized it yet, but she has gone back in time two-hundred years to the year 1743. She is in the middle of a small skirmish between English soldiers and a band of Highland warriors. She runs into a ‘redcoat’ that looks exactly like her husband, who introduces himself none too gently, as Jack Randall. One of the Highlanders comes upon the scene and rescues her. Eventually, circumstances become such that to save her from Jack—he thinks she is a spy and his sadistic nature compels him to continue his aforementioned sexual harassment—she must marry one of the Highlanders, Jamie Fraser (really, it could be worse, I don’t know what she is complaining about here…). They fall in love, and as the battle of Culloden approaches—the real historical battle where the end to the Highland culture began—they try to hinder the Jacobite rebellion in order to avoid the battle altogether, where so many people they know and love will be killed.

As the series goes on, it jumps back and forth through history. So would this make it fantasy, paranormal, or strictly historical romance with elements of fantasy? You can see how this would trouble the occasional OCD nature of publishers who want ultimate control by putting everything into what they deem is one perfect category. As readers, we have expectations when we are shopping in a specific genre, if it falls out of that category’s tropes then we feel misled. Unfortunately, this is a problem that was created by the publishers themselves, by training us to need such strict labels in the first place.

Genre crossing that is invisible to the naked eye

Next are two stories that are clearly one genre over the other, but one was extremely successful in its use of crossing genres while the other, in no fault of its own, became its biggest downfall.

starwarsposterStar Wars – (I sure hope I don’t have to explain this plot to you) Is a huge example of crossing genres, yet it was done in a brilliantly subtle way. It is actually both Science Fiction and Fantasy. The science fiction is obvious: Space battles, robots, space ships, far away galaxies, etc. The more subtle aspect is fantasy. The religion of the Jedi and the use of the force as a power they can control—an energy within all living things—is truly the stuff of fantasy. It is magic, whether or not it can or should be explained by science. It also employs one of the most popular of plot structures in fantasy, the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey. By using this model Star Wars speaks to our hearts and our nature as human beings. Both ancient and modern stories alike have proven this model to be successful, as it nurtures our fears, struggles, and dreams at an emotional and even subconscious level.



fireflyposterFirefly – This one used two different genres, even three, to tell its (yes, I’ll say it) ‘unfinished’ story. The Western, which is a great way to include new and uncharted frontiers to explore, along with pointing out the huge gap in social classes that a greedy government system could create. You have ‘common man’ settlers, given only a patch of land and a few animals to start with, on a planet or moon that is still barely survivable, juxtaposed with the rich, technologically advanced civilized planets, where their every need and whim is catered to. The science fiction is as obvious as the Western here, but the less obvious is the third genre that is more subtly mixed in—Horror. Look at the Reavers, mere scary monster tales along the fringes of space, according to those who live in the safe environments of the Alliance. They were created by not only the greed, but by the god-like entitlement a gap in social and power classes evolve toward, thanks to human nature. It is a non-sustainable world that has crumbled, and will crumble again, over and over from the fall of Rome to the Battle of Serenity. (Humans will never learn, it seems…) And just like the Alliance, the higher powers-that-be of the executives of the FOX network, couldn’t relate to or understand the lowly wants of the viewers. Just like publishers, they needed a pigeonhole to fill, an easy three word tagline that could draw viewers in, and ‘cowboys in space’ just wasn’t enough for them, because really it was so much more, but they weren’t willing to put in the effort and stoop to the level of the common man to fulfill their needs adequately. Even though mixing these two genres was amazing and innovative, it actually was a logical progression that answered the question: What would newly terraformed planets really be like?

Staying close to the genre base

Some don’t mix genres at all even when they could. They follow the same rules as their forebears, whether it be the horror classics by Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly, or Edgar Allen Poe (Check out Penny Dreadful—on Showtime or Netflix—for a fun twist on these classic horror tales); the science fiction of H.G. Wells; or the epic fantasy that has birthed endless orcs and elves, made famous by J.R.R. Tolkien.

lofr dracula


walkingdeadposterThe Walking Dead – Is a modern take on what is clearly a post-apocalyptic horror. With the exception of one episode, they have never gone into the science of ‘why’ or ‘how’ the outbreak was started. The only time the writers explained the science of it was more to answer the question: How much of the walkers are still human, if any? And to point out that everyone is already infected. There is no other explanation than this because there doesn’t need to be. At this point, these facts have become irrelevant, and it has evolved into a story about the survival of life itself, along with the survival of the characters’ own humanity in a philosophical sense. The real question is: What makes a human, human?



Game of Thrones – Is strict epic fantasy, it’s old school all the way, though it could easily jump into horror because of the White Walkers and the Wights—Zombie-like creatures created by the White Walkers from the corpses of the fallen. As creepy as they are, they do not scare us in the traditional sense of the horror genre. Sure monsters are in horror, monsters are in fantasy, but it is how they are written that pushes them into one category or another. Maybe this will change as we approach their impending take-over of Westeros, where the creepy tropes of monster hunting with dimly lit torches in dark, abandoned castles or caves becomes the norm. If the camera angle switches to a close-up of an unnamed, idiot character as he slowly backs up toward a darkened corner just before the obvious jump-scare… Then yes, they have gone the way of horror.

There are no rules for crossing genres, it is a fun and refreshing way to surprise your readers. If you want to stick to strict fantasy, yet want a deeper more fulfilling moment of suspense, then add that element of horror. Look at what scares you most in both horror movies and literature. Lots of blood and slashing knives and/or chainsaws is not really frightening, it’s the psychological thrillers that are more chilling, along with the slow build up to… nothing, before the actual build up to a really good reveal. In my epic fantasy story I like to add small scenes that use horror elements because the pay off is even more satisfying. Also, and because I’m a sucker for a good love story, I use romance to build up another kind of tension between two, or even three, characters. It’s a human need and part of everyone’s existence (unless you’re Sherlock Holmes, apparently) If this part of their persona is missing, then your characters might feel a little flat. It doesn’t have to be trashy romance, just a real and natural evolution of any good relationship. Yet by paying attention to romance stories that have worked and are popular today, you are tapping into a side of human nature that is relatable and even wish fulfillment in some way. One other genre I jump into briefly, is science fiction. How dare I? It’s epic fantasy! Remember, you are writing for a genre-savvy, modern audience. If a moment comes up and it can be explained by science, even if your characters don’t understand, your readers will. Maybe it’s the actual world your characters live in that’s the scientific part, maybe it’s the magic… maybe it’s even how they came to have magic in the first place. It’s not surprising our own culture is riddled with the belief that ancient aliens came down from the stars and either made us or gave us our ability to think beyond the rest of the creatures on our planet. The same can be true for the world you create. No one said there can’t be a why or how to that world. By answering those questions, you only give it a richer and more intriguing history, with questions and plot lines that could be explored later.

Above all, have fun, and don’t follow the rules of any one genre. In the end, it’s your world, your vision, and you can make it whatever you want it to be.


Berg_BioMelissa Berg is the author of the Shifting Balance Series, which has been her passion for the past ten years. She also works as an illustrator and studied art and design at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. When she isn’t writing or painting or entertaining her son, she is pursuing the art of 3D computer illustration/animation, as a side project and to feed her fascination in the ever-expanding medium used for storytelling. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, young son, and a crazy Border Collie.

Check out my website or join my mailing list for further updates: http://theshiftingbalance.com

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Follow me on Twitter: @WhimzicalMusing

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Sean F. Gallagher — Mixed Genre: Mixed Metaphor, Mixed MetaGenre?

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back a regular contributor to the EFW gang, Sean F. Gallagher. Sean is going to pick up the topic of genre cross-currents I kicked off last week. His debut novel Mysts of Mythos, in its final draft stage, spent some time with Inkshares but is now being developed independently. Check out his other contributions to EFW by clicking on his name above.

Bridge on the River Styx. A group of Greek soldiers, captured by the Persian army during the Battle of Thermopylae are brought to the shores of the famed river of death. The Persian general, grieving for his lost King wishes to cross the river with an army to force Hades to return his glorious ruler. Plucky hoplites use guile and wit to survive while plotting to destroy the bridge. Eventually they succeed and bring the bridge down, casting the remainder of the Persian army into the famed river in doing so.

Black Dragon Down. Members of the Imperial Sky Navy watch in horror as one of their airships is shot down behind rebel lines. They try to mount rescue efforts for the captain and crew who survived the crash only to have the rebels deploy potent anti-aircraft magics that bring down yet another airship. The situation for the surviving crew grows more desperate, but the Imperial Commander refuses to give up on them. He sends in crack teams of Paladins and Rangers, escorting a pair of Armored Personnel Oliphants, to hack their way through the rebel forces and bring their men to safety.

When Huzborg Met Sairahiniel. A young elf must travel across the empire for a promising career, but her parents insist she travel with someone rather than go it alone. Well meaning friends help them locate a young orc who is heading to the same city state for deployment in the imperial forces. At first things do not go well. Her elf sensibilities do not mesh well with the crass behavior and opinions of the orc. The trip though, is a long one, and fraught with difficulties. Both use their own particular skills and resources to get each other out of a few jams along the way. Disgruntled respect grows into friendship by the time the trip is done. Over a number of years they meet again a few times, rekindling their fragile friendship that eventually grows into much more.

The Maltese Griffin. Half-Elf detective Samwell Sparhelm and his partner Millard Bowman are hired by a mysterious woman, Lady Wimbly, to investigate a dwarf named Florin Thurheim. They think something is off about her story but accept because she offers a lot of gold. The next morning Sparhelm is called on by the city guard, who tell him that his partner has been found dead, along with a dwarf named Thurheim. The mystery deepens as Samwell receives a visit from a deformed halfling named Joe Chubb, who wants Sparhelm to track down a statue that has been shipped into town recently. Samwell suspects a connection between Chubb and “Lady Wimbly”. The plot thickens as the devious mastermind Lord “G” is brought into the mix. Eventually the plots are tied up, but Sparhelm is left without a partner, though a bit more wealthy, and a budding relationship with his partner’s widow.

I want to write one of these stories right now. Do you think I might run into some copyright issues? Ah well. They do sound kind of fun though, right? Anyone who wants to throw together a cover for one of those stories for me is highly encouraged to do so. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body when it comes to illustration. Sigh.

Growing up, my reading material was pretty much either pure Science Fiction or pure Fantasy. Stories like Foundation, Ringworld, and Dune matched others like Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, and Conan. As I grew older I got into a wider range of things, such as Horror like Cthulhu, and Historical Fiction like Clan of the Cave Bear.

It can be argued that my first exposure to cross genre work was Star Wars. Because of The Force there is a strong argument to be made that it is Space Fantasy, but I saw it when I was seven years old and always thought of it as sci-fi. The Force is magic I suppose but it’s presented in such a sci-fi setting that I don’t really see it as fantasy. Either way. Star Wars is movies and we’re talking about writing.

Princess Bride was probably the first truly cross genre novel that I ever read. I was captivated by the sword play but also the humor that Goldman represented the book with by lampooning the fictional author whose work he was supposedly editing. Neuromancer introduced me to another cross genre milieu. The mixture of Gibson’s eclectic prose with the technobabble of science fiction and the gritty feel of a punk society was electrifying.

Of course mixed genre writing has been around much longer than either of those books. One particular cross genre grouping, called Space Fantasy, has been around since the nineteen-forties with Heinlein’s Magic Inc., Hubbard’s Slaves of Sleep, and DeCamp’s Harold Shea stories.

Once I was introduced to this concept of mixed genre I looked for more like it. My searches led me to many fun discoveries, such as Weird Westerns. Here I found familiar authors such as Robert E Howard, and new ones like William S Burroughs with The Place of Dead Roads. Reading Burroughs led me to one of the weirdest books I ever read, The Naked Lunch. A pretty famous, and very very strange movie, starring Peter Weller, was made from it. Probably the most famous of this cross genre is Steven King’s Dark Tower saga.

Almost certainly though, my favorite cross genre is Comic Fantasy. Stories like Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels, Robert Asperin’s Myth Adventures series, and Terry Pratchett’s epic Discworld stories, tickle me pink. I love to laugh along with these. They are so easy to read and shine a bright light upon their source material skewering them with insightful points of view. In particular the Myth books bring the “Road To…” movies by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby to literary fantasy in hilarious fashion. Interestingly, even though this is my favorite cross-genre, you will not find much to laugh about in my own work. Sadly I don’t seem to have the silly side necessary to produce good humor even though I appreciate it quite a lot. Perhaps it can be something I develop along the way.

Inspired by my exposure to all of these works, along with another stand alone genre, Alternate History, I came up with my own cross genre story. Mysts of Mythos is an Alternate Historical Science Fantasy. The science in that is fairly silent, but it’s there.

What is an Alternate History Science Fantasy? The alternate history part is pretty straightforward. I’m writing a story that diverts from what we perceive to be our true history at a certain point, on a certain day. Up until that day history is as we know it. That day an event occurs which irrevocably alters the path of history. The science part comes in from the quantum mechanical concept of Many-worlds. The quick breakdown is that every possible alternate history and future is real and represents another “world/universe”, including worlds in which the laws of reality work differently. Therein lies the connection to fantasy.

“All of Myth and Legend are but visions through a mysty veil. One day those visions step through.”

My concept for Mysts of Mythos is that throughout history some humans have had the ability to see past the veil of worlds to see into other universes. They told stories of what they saw and those tales grew into the myths and legends of our world. On The Day of Mysts our world is connected to other worlds and the beings and creatures, that were the source of those myths, come through, bringing with them new laws of reality. This is the source of the fantasy and magic for the World of Mysts.



Sean Gallagher is the author of the upcoming novel, Mysts of Mythos, first book in a new series of historical fantasy. Raised in Syracuse, NY he moved to Oregon while still in high school and currently resides in Portland with his wife, Monica, and son, Rune. The Gallaghers are also the proud human friends of Blanca the dog and Thor the cat.

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Twitter: @Faolan

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