When searching for a new book, game, or movie, genres help us to form expectations about what we’re going to experience. As a creative, this saddens me. I mean, on one hand, I love the marketing of it all; I can put my work where I know people may find it. But it’s boring. Really damn boring!
What if I want to write about a starship crew that protects pre-FTL worlds from pillaging by space pirates? What if they visit a medieval world that uses magic in the first book and a modern world with a murder mystery in the second? Is this sci-fi? Fantasy?
Unique Genres are Awesome
At the time of this writing, Jadepunk is by far the work I’m most known for. There are a lot of reasons people like Jadepunk, but the one I hear the most is the world building, specifically, how the genre mashup feels so natural.
Jadepunk was easy to make: it’s a Western/Wuxia mashup. But when I put it on digital marketplaces, I ran into trouble. Do I list it as Western? Wuxia? Something else? I ended up listing it in multiple places, but that doesn’t do it, or anyone who picks it up, justice.
You see, Jadepunk is not a Western. And it’s not Wuxia. It’s got elements of both, but it’s really its own thing.
Genres Limit Creativity
Have you ever played in a game of D&D and had your DM tell you that you can’t be a certain race or class “because of story reasons”? I get why that’s done, but as a player, it can be stifling. Why can’t I play a tiefling paladin? You know how awesome it is to play against tropes? One of the members of my current 5e party is playing a halfling barbarian, and he rocks!
Genres do the same for writers, game designers, filmmakers, etc. They tell us what we’re “allowed” to do because we can’t break genre. And we really do have to stick to it because our audience has been trained by these artificial walls to have a certain expectation.
There will never be a day that we are free of genres, and that’s a good thing. We need them to market our work to the appropriate audience. But that doesn’t mean they don’t (majorly) suck.
Creating Unique, Yet Relevant, Genres
The process of creating a unique genre is actually pretty easy: decide two genres to blend together. People will accept an easy mashup like that, and might even have fun with it. But here’s the kicker: that’s already been done with just about every genre out there.
The way to be unique on the level of Jadepunk is to mashup more than two genres, but you have to be careful, as mashing up more than two genres creates something that could be seen as too alien (like Shadowcraft ended up becoming). Now, I just said that Jadepunk is a Western/Wuxia, but it also has elements of Final Fantasy and more than a few tropes from Avatar: The Legend of Korra. The trick is to pick two primary genres (Western/Wuxia, in this case) and then cherry pick elements from other genres to give it some flavor.
Western and Wuxia is cool, but has been done to death, but add some jadetech, and a ‘punk metaplot of an evil empire controlling everything, and you have something unique and fun.
Isn’t that what makes us all unique––the mashup of all our experiences and personalities? Genres are the same. They just have to be carefully distributed.