We have a special guest today. With permission from Larry Brooks (StoryFix.com) and Art Holcomb, I am posting Art’s blog from yesterday. Both men have generously allowed Mysteries and Margaritas to share this with our readership. Please check out StoryFix.Com as I think it's one of the great sites for writers. Art is going to pop in and out as he can during the day. In the publishing world there has been a long ongoing debate about genres. Art has a funny, but probably more realistic view than many would admit, on the topic. Please join us.
Art Holcomb is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, and comic book writer and has written for Marvel Comics, The SHOWTIME Channel, The SYFYChannel, Paramount Studios and elsewhere. He begins teaching screenwriting and graphic novel writing at the University of California, Riverside in the Fall 2012. His most recent screenplay is FINAL DOWN (a NFL team disaster film) and is completing a workbook for writers.
I love a good mash up story . . .
You know the type, where the author has taken two or more genres or storylines and has crushed them together in a way that they, while still familiar, seem strangely unique.
They are a blast to write, not only because the writer gets to go deep into different genres, but because this kind of writing always stretches the imagination to produce possibilities and directions that hadn’t thus far been considered. While television and the movies have had a long love affair with mash-ups, there are a number of novels out in recent years that have sparked renewed interest in the approach.
Typically, mash-ups fall into one of a couple of categories:
CLASSIC MASH: This combines a pre-existing text, such as a classic work of fiction, with a certain popular genre.
Consider a few of the following recent efforts.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)
- Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (Grahame-Smith)
- Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Austen and Winters)
- The Eerie Adventure of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe (Defoe, Lovecraft and Peter Clines)
NEW MASH: Sometimes a mash-up uses a classic story, but it needn’t be that way. It can be just two or more genres sent in counterpoint to each other.
In my career I have created such stories as:
- FINAL DOWN – an NFL / disaster film
- 4EVER – a religious afterlife / thriller set in a tech future
- The AMBASSADOR – a Sci Fi / Mobster story
- FRANKI & JONNI – a Frankenstein myth / high school drama
- Oliver and the Four-Piece Regency-Style Bedroom Set of Death – a YA mystery/comedy
. . . Although, I admit, that last one may have gone too far.
RE-IMAGININGS: Another fun approach to stretch your writing horizons is to reimagine an earlier story or set of characters in a completely new or updated way
- The BBC recently did this with SHERLOCK, a re-telling of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories –but set in modern-day London.
- In WICKED, it is the wholly recognizable story of THE WIZARD OF OZ, but told as a parallel novel from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. Old story – new viewpoint.
RETELLINGS: are all about drawing the inspiration and flavor of the source material and making it live again.
- The movie, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is a retelling of the Odyssey myth.
- Certainly, many of the Disney stories are, in fact, retellings of classic fairy tales.
PREQUELS, SEQUELS and the CONTINUUM OF STORY: A subset of re-imaginings really, this is the most available of all mash-up possibilities, and perhaps the most freeing. Here, a writer will take a piece of work, character or setting and imagine it years previous to or years after the time of the originally piece. What was Captain Ahab like as a boy? What was Phillip Marlowe like as an old man? What was Tom Sawyer’s world like at the turn of the century?
A good example of this was the television show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
This type of story allows you to just find a character you like and trace them back to their suspected beginning and their possible ends to see what excites you.
Now, it’s your turn . . .
Why not try to make up some mash-ups of your own?
Here are a list of genres, tropes and categories to choose from. Mix and match to your heart’s content using some of the exercises below.
Action/Adventure, Advice, Adult, Animal, Arts, Biographical, Children’s, Circus, Comedy, Contest, Crime/Gangster, Cultural, Dark, Death, Detective, Drama, Educational, Emotional, Entertainment, Environmental, Erotica, Experiential, Family, Fan fiction, Fantasy, Fashion, Finance, Folklore, Food/Cooking, Foreign, Friendship, Gay/Lesbian, Genealogy, Ghost, Gossip, Gothic, Health, History, Hobby/Craft, Holiday, Home/Garden, Horror/Scary, How-To/Advice, Inspirational, Internet/Web, Legal, Magic, Medical, Melodrama, Men’s, Military, Music, Mystery, Mythology, Nature, News, Nonsense, Occult, Parenting, Personal, Pets, Philosophy, Political, Psychology, Regional, Relationship, Religious, Research, Romance/Love, Satire, Sci-fi, Scientific, Self Help, Spiritual, Sports, Suburbia, Supernatural, Technology, Teen, Thriller/Suspense, Tragedy, Transportation, Travel, Tribute, War, Western, Women’s, Writing Skills, Young Adult.
Don Quixote, Pilgrim’s Progress, Allan Quartermane, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Three Musketeers, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Captain Nemo, The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Moreau, Fu Manchu, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby, The Big Sleep,
TROPES (Genre Mainstays)
Vampires, Aliens, Werewolves, Ghosts, Monsters, Disaster, Psycho, Nightmare, Serial Killers, Torture, Satanism, Demons, Cannibals, Haunted Houses, Zombies.
Alternate Universe, Aliens, ESP, Time travels, Spacecraft, Robots, Cyborgs, Space Travel, AI, Steampunk, Space Opera, Superheroes
Dark Lord, Magic, Quest, Medievalism, The Ancient World, Dragons, Witches, Other Races, Creatures, Barbarians, Damsels, Swords, Rings, Prophesy-
Oh . . give it a try!
Exercises Number 1: “Name & Job”: Pick a character and a genre / trope at random and see what this new combination stirs in your imagination. Possibilities could go something like:
- “Ask Frankenstein, Advice columnist” (Frankenstein / Advice)
- “Donkey Ote” Knight Burro (Don Quixote/ Medieval)
- Captain Ahab, spokesman for PETA (Moby Dick / Animal)
- “I was a Vampire for the FBI” (Vampire / Crime)
While such mash-ups often create comedic or farcical characters, I’m often surprised what people come up with. There is a film columnist that I respect quite a lot who writes under the moniker FILM CRITIC HULK!
Exercise Number 2: “Fill in the Blanks”: This is a tool screenwriters use to create and pitch new ideas for shows. Just take any two of the genres or tropes and plug them into the sentence below:
“________ meets __________”.
Television especially loves this one, as in:
- Serial Killer meets Family = Dexter
- Detective meets Magician = The Mentalist
- Writing Skills meets Crime = Castle
- Alternate Universe meets Scientific meets Detective = Fringe
- Vampire meets Soap Opera = Dark Shadows
- Vampires, werewolves and ghost meet Suburbia = BBC’s Being Human
- Vampire Cop = Forever Knight
Just off the top of my head as I was writing this, the following possibilities came to mind:
(1) Fantasy Detective
(2) Alien Soap Opera
(3) Gothic Time Travel
(4) Haunted Circus
(5) Zombie Fairy Tales
(6) DIY Haunted House Repair
(7) Questing Mobster
(8) Lawyers for Aliens
Not all winners to be sure, but I took a shot at fleshing out a couple of them as illustrations of where you could go:
“Once Upon a Crime Spree” – Grendel Jones was born in the shadow of the great castle, rumored to be the son of a witch and an ensorcelled prince. He was raised on the hard streets of a fairy tale land content to help solve his neighbor’s little problems until the day he is asked to trade his magic and skills as a detective for a chance to learn the secrets of a past he never knew he had. (Fantasy Detective)
“Asta” – Harrison Quell, Esq. is a bitter and disillusioned attorney who stumbles across the case of a thousand lifetimes: a chance to represent an alien who has been living among us for 100 years. Can Quell keep the creature alive and safe – from the military, the press and a mysterious secret organization that has been hunting the visitor for generations –just long enough for it to talk to the President of the United States before it’s too late? (Lawyers for Aliens)
“1-800-Got Creepy?” – Deke and “Big Tommy” Perez have a successful TV show built around their reputation as Haunted House Flippers – taking spooky wrecks and turning them into profitable rentals. The network has given them their biggest challenge yet for Sweeps Week: turn a two hundred year old terror around in a week. But is this nightmare – with its eerie glow and forbidding past – more than they bargained for? (DIY Haunted House Repair)
Now it’s your turn!
Give it a shot yourself and share in the Comment section anything you find interesting (or feel free to keep it to yourself for future use). I’ll be monitoring the post for a couple of weeks to see what you come up with.
The more story notions you come up with, the more keepers you might find.
I think you’ll find this to be a great way to keep your creativity and imagination in tune.
Do share your crazy, imaginative, and totally off-the-wall plots. We’re ready. Best, Cassy