Something Extra

I recently read a women’s fiction novel by an author I’ve enjoyed before, Lisa Jewell. It had the usual things she does well: interesting characters, complex relationships, an appealing and well-developed setting. But it had something else, a suspense plot. This “something extra” made it an even more compelling book. The book worked as women’s fiction already. The suspense plot took it to another level.

I’ve noticed this kind of “genre crossbreeding” is happening more and more. It started in romance years ago when authors began adding suspense to create the romantic suspense sub-genre, and paranormal elements to create paranormal romance. Then historical mysteries took off, followed by mysteries with fantasy or sci-fi elements. And what is urban fantasy, other than an action/adventure novel set in a fantasy world?

Even literary fiction has gotten in on the trend, with authors adding strong genre elements to books written in a literary style. An example is one of my favorite mystery authors: Benjamin Black, which is the pseudonym of John Banville, an acclaimed literary writer. There's a mystery at the core of his Quirk series, but the writing is also beautiful and evocative, providing a thrilling and enriched reading experience.

In the very crowded publishing world of today, there are so many well-written genre books that you have to find some way to set your novel apart. Adding elements from another genre is a good way to do this. A friend of mine, Amanda Cabot, writes inspirational romance. In her most recent novel, she added a mystery subplot. From the reviews she’s gotten, readers loved it. The mystery was “something extra” that made the book even more satisfying.

In some ways, the trend can be a disheartening. You’ve reached the place where you’re very good at writing books in your genre. Now you realize you have to up your game and work even harder. But another way to think of it is an exciting opportunity to stretch and expand your skills.

Without my really planning it, there ended up being a mystery subplot in the historical romance I recently finished. In addition to the love story and the other usual plot elements, someone attempts to murder a secondary character. I’m not a plotter, so after I finished the first draft, I had a lot more revision to do than usual. I had to make sure the timeline made sense, the clues were there and the mystery—in addition to everything else—got wrapped up satisfactorily.

The book was more work than any I’ve written in years. But it was also challenging and gratifying. Knowing that I’d enriched the story by adding a mystery made me more hopeful my publisher might be interested in the book, despite the fact that medieval romances aren’t exactly a hot commodity these days.

I don’t know if the mystery subplot is why my publisher offered me a contract. (Yay!) But I don’t think it hurt. What about you? Are there cross-genre elements you could add to your next project?