Start with some simple advice: If you don’t read fantasy, don’t try to write fantasy, and if you don’t read science fiction, don’t try to write science fiction. And that extends out to mixing genres. If you don’t read romance, don’t try to write a fantasy-romance.

That having been said, are people really mixing genres? Should they?

Yes, and yes. But as always, be careful . . .


With the recent growth in sales of fantasy romances there are real fantasy-romance fans now, who will sniff out an imposter from a mile away. Romance crossovers tend to be the trickiest in terms of merchandising, as easily showing up in the romance section as in the fantasy section. But where your book ends up in any given bookstore largely depends on how the publisher wants to sell/package it—everything from the style of the cover art to whether or not they decide to actually print the words FANTASY or ROMANCE on the spine of the book.

Still, every fantasy novel should have some romance to it. People have romantic ties. They fall in and out of love. If your characters don’t do that, too, they’re less likely to read like real people. That being said, what makes a true fantasy-romance is the relative mix. It might help to think of it, as I’m find of using when breaking down the sub-genres of science:fiction, as a ratio, fantasy:romance. If your story is ten parts fantasy to one part romance, it won’t make much sense to call it “fantasy-romance.” Flip that equation and write a romance novel in which there is only some slight fantasy element and you’re certain to end up in the romance section, and you might never hear the word “fantasy” used to describe your book. Six parts romance to four parts fantasy is fantasy-romance—another of those rules that isn’t really so much a rule as a suggestion.

Science fiction-fantasy

Science fiction-fantasy and horror-fantasy crossovers are probably the easiest for readers and even the book trade to accept, as they tend to end up in the same section of the bookstore whether they “read” predominantly as fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Science fiction and fantasy freely mix. It’s easy enough to argue that Star Wars is as much fantasy as science fiction. Though they’re flying around in starships and making friends with robots (science fiction) they’re also using “the Force,” which is magic by any other name. Anne McCaffrey began her tales of her dragon-inhabited world of Pern with her feet firmly in the fantasy genre and only later revealed that Pern is actually an alien planet colonized by humans who went there from Earth in starships, so that it developed from fantasy to science fiction. What makes any novel “fantasy” is that there’s something that the characters, the world, and the story depends on that can’t be explained away by anything but one simple word: magic. Unless that magic is only there to scare you . . .


Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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3 Responses to CROSS & MIX GENRES

  1. Sevvy says:

    Neat post, and you’re right, people do need to have some background in the genre before having a go at writing it seriously. I wouldn’t ever tell someone not to try to write a mystery or a sci-fi if they’ve never done it before, but would suggest they do some research while they write it.

    Margaret Atwood isn’t in the fantasy/sci-fi section because she says she isn’t a fantasy/sci-fi author, but a literary writer. She doesn’t like her books to be classified as genre because of the lack of respect for it in many fields. And magical realism isn’t a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy, but of literary fiction, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people are going around calling their stuff magical realism without knowing that label is already taken.

  2. Pingback: CHAPTER 1 ERRATA & ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  3. Pingback: FANTASY AND/OR SCIENCE FICTION AND/OR HORROR | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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