Genre Games

Weird Genre Speculations
Pam Uphoff

We’ve had a lot of discussions about when is it plagiarism and when is it grabbing an idea and turning it into something new. Using someone else’s words is plagiarizing. Using someone else’s ideas is just good healthy fun. If you just steal the idea, the premise, it’s not stealing. Use your own words for the whole thing. And definitely change the character and place names and descriptions. FanFic is a whole other can of worms.

I realized that some of the premises in a book I’m writing might be illustrative of how many things you can do with an idea. How to use an idea, but not the words. Let’s play . . .

So . . . my character killed a man.
Then traveled back in time and changed things. The man lived.
So . . . is she a murderer or not?
The crime was not committed (now) but _she_ is still the person who picked up the gun and killed a man.
Is she a danger to society?
Should she feel guilty?
Will she be more likely to kill again, knowing she can “fix” it later?

I love science fiction. You can speculate on so many things. But please, keep the belly button gazing down to a minimum. I want some action, I want to see someone else kill that scumbucket. I want her to realize that killing _this_ person was a good thing. But I want her to realize it while she’s running around doing cool things, saving the world, designing spaceships, or fighting off alien attacks. Possibly, all of the above. She can cry, and have nightmares, so long as she gets up in the morning and gets to work.
I might even throw some romance in there, but again, it’s got to be in brief interludes between action of a significant nature. The main story problem is not how the girl grows up, accepts herself as a person who will do violence if it is called for, and falls in love. The story is saving the world. The rest is background and characterization, a bit of thought provoking gee whiz or oooo weee!
It’s maybe half written. You can check it out next year. But what else could I have done with this basic idea?

I (or someone else) could take that same idea, but aim for a different genre.

It might be fun to make it a romance between the killer chick and her once upon a time victim. She could oscillate between guilt about killing him, investigation to find out if he really had deserved to be killed, nightmares about killing him again and . . . Then I’d have to think up a good story for him. An undercover cop assuming the identity of a real nasty sort who looked enough like him to get away with it so long as he didn’t shave his beard off? A twin brother? A cousin? And now his investigation of ??? is getting derailed by this mystery woman? Yeah, it could be fun. Maybe I’ll NaNo a romance this year.

Looking through my list of genres that the staring premise could be shoehorned into. . .

YA and Christian could be done, with a slight change in ages and with religion added. I wouldn’t do the Christian story because I was raised without any religion at all, and tend to be tone deaf or color blind (or any other metaphor for oblivious you prefer) to religious nuances. And, err, large issues. YA, I could do, but it would be a YA SF. I’d need a different POV character, sixteen years old and, hmm, why did he or she kill that person? Deliberate or accidental?

Thriller? Oh definitely, in fact very well. The fast pacing could be pushed by the disaster she’s back in time to prevent. She’s taking the risk of paradoxing herself into oblivion because she can’t deal with the guilt of having killed this guy. Personal win, along with saving the world or some such. Of course, she might begin to suspect that he caused the disaster . . . I could do a gender switch on this one, big tough guy going back in time to save the world, but does he have a secret agenda of his own?

Western? Eh . . . hard to stick to all the other tropes with time travel added to the story. Hard to carry off. Kind of like how Cowboys vs Aliens was amusing, once.

Historical ditto, but throw in some fantasy, instead of a time machine, and you can have Outlander. So done right It can work. Except I’m not sure it hasn’t fallen out of the Historical genre altogether. Heh. I _refuse_ to make it out-and-out Fantasy. Magic *and* time travel makes my head hurt. (But feel free to give it a go, yourself. You could get rich on what I can’t abide.)

Steampunk time machine . . .

Mystery? Umm, the woman could be a police detective, who inadvertently dropped back through time. She investigates the man she killed before she kills him? I dunno if mystery readers would accept that.

Literary? Eeeeee! Kill it with fire! Because there’s so much belly button gazing, angst and guilt opportunities that it could be done. But of course, in the end, she’d have to kill him again.

But all of these are different stories. Any one of you could grab this idea, even the extended genre ideas, write a story, and it would be completely different than what I would write, even in the same genre. But if it’s got the same words, over and over, the same descriptions. If the same scenes show up with minimal alteration . . . Dude. Really, have some pride, some self-respect. Don’t steal someone else’s labor. Roll up your sleeves and get to work on your very own take on an idea.

All ideas are like this. Want a homework assignment? Take the idea of the last story you read, or one of your own that you wrote. Then pick two different genres and see how you could make it fit each one.

And, just to prove that I can figure out how to add a picture to a post, now that I’m back home: here’s my favorite place to write. Pity it’s only “mine” for a week a year.

Favorite writing spot

view from livingroom

But somehow I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done.

Patio Nap Arch Rocks

And the obligatory self promotion:

Today is the last free day for the next 90 days.

Magic vs. Astronomical Disaster.
The young magicians of Ash need to grow up fast, else they may not grow up at all.



  1. I think you just ran me up against one of the limitations of writing fantasy. My last short story contains an instance of human sacrifice. Unless you are writing for Warhammer 40K (I think Williams Gibson pulled it off too) there is no reason I can think of for this outside of fantasy.

      1. I hadn’t even thought about horror (probably because I don’t read much of it). I can see how ritual sacrifice might work in general with several areas ya’lo have mentioned, just not in this particular case as it was a one time necessity. I don’t believe in the fairy tale “kiss the princess and save the kingdom” stuff. Why in the world would you make the key to bringing down your evil plan the same thing as the Prince would do even if you weren’t around! Make the cure as bad as the disease and your evil overlords is far more likely to succeed.

        Back to the main subject, it would work if you applied horror to any genre. Especially Western Horror as I stole the initial action almost straight from the third or fourth verse of Kenny Roger’s “Coward of the County”. 🙂

        1. OK, one time necessary ritual human sacrifice sprains my brain.

          But . . . it sounds like an excellent SF premise. A non-human society that practices ritual sacrifice of animals, that truly believes they _must_ do so is in a situation where they’ve run out of animals, and, well, it’s not that they don’t _like_ the human, but, but they _have_ to . . .

          Or, of course “They never told us this was part of the aliens’ greeting of new ambassadors.”

          Gang initiation?

          Grimdark Urban Fantasy. Or possibly even humor? Only way to close the the Hellgate. The two guys flip a coin to see who ritually sacrifices the other. “Hey, don’t sweat it. Being carved up alive is nothing compared to what the criminal justice system is going to do to you.”

          Not “ritual” but a Kenny Rogers-wise revenge killing, and/or proof that one is not to be dismissed? _That_ will fit in anywhere. Mystery, Western, Historical, Thriller. Might work as the opening of a Romance–just the end results, as the man finishes it and walks away. No clue of who or why. Jump to the female main character, meeting a man for the first time . . .

          Another value to playing with an idea is to see it anew, and maybe see problems that need to be addressed in the original.

    1. Sure there is. Initiation killings.

      There is always room for people who must push others beyond their moral limits.

      Then there is historical fiction.

      Plus, if one is enough of a jerk, contemporary. If a measure has no other grounds than ideology, especially ideology that can be personified into a spirit, and it has enough impact on human welfare, maybe it is some sort of crypto human sacrifice.

      1. In the US, nearly a million people go missing every single year. A significant percentage are never seen again.
        In the UK, nearly 300,000 people vanish every year. Likewise, a good percentage of them just fall off the face of the Earth.
        The serial killers we’ve caught seem to have crossed paths with each other at a much greater rate than simple chance would lead you to expect.
        We know that at least Jeffery Dahmer had an altar made from the remains of his victims. At least Ed Gein wore vestments made from the bodies of the dead. At least Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy were active in politics.
        You can take this in all sorts of directions, and you don’t even need to stretch a single fact.

        Not to even mention the cult of Santa Muerte, or the atrocities commited by the Zetas. Or the reported millions of Aztec descendants who live in the shadows of our society.
        If you look at it a bit skewed, the fatality rate suffered by Central and South Americans as they try to pass through Mexico to the US could be a telling plot point.
        (Can you imagine the howls of indignation?)

        Doing human sacrifice contemporary? Piece of cake.

        1. Your comment made me remember something I read mentioned in the Dresden Files, where the ratio of humans that disappear and are never found / found dead are about the same ratio found in prey species’ death vs predators in the wild.

          I’d always been curious about whether it’s true, but I’m rather bad at math, and a look around online tells me that the question’s been asked a few times before:

          Even without a fantasy element, just the thought of that many people vanishing… to ‘why’… Makes you wonder if John B. Calhoun’s rat experiments hinted at behavioural trends mirroring nature that went beyond just population results.

          That’d make a very scary urban sci-fi / psychological horror premise.

          1. And then there’s taking the Real World and building a fictional story around it. In any genre. Although those sorts of figures are likely to drag you into the dark corners of whatever genre you pick.

            1. Well, with the theme of human sacrifice, it would take a lot of work to make it light and fluffy.

              Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find the thought of writing those stories very fun, either.

    2. As much as I hate the Hunger Games, that’s a good example of using human sacrifice for political ends, not magical. The ‘ritual’ is the game.

      Custom doesn’t have to be dictated by religious belief either; historically that was one of the whys the slaves were buried with the master, the nonreligious ‘rationale’ behind suttee (not sure if I spelled it right), and there would be other examples throughout history, I’m sure.

      Religious belief in a setting where it’s not a typical magic world works as well / falls under ‘customs’. I have vague memories of one of those older civilizations – My brain wants to say Egypt, but I’m not sure because pounding headaches, but around that area / era / both – regularly sacrificing babies, young children – as part of a ‘prayer’ of ‘want’.

  2. It feels like one could also splice the tropes of a mecha anime to that scenario easily enough.

  3. Did my reply (about ritual sacrifice) get stuck in moderation, or did it not get posted because my computer reset?

      1. As best as I recall, it said: Proposal: Ritual Human sacrifice is real and pervasive, but we can’t see it because we are part of the ritual. Maybe in this scenario, Bloomberg and the Nanny State fanatics who ban Big Gulp drinks and smoking in public are really fighting a desperate battle against ritual human sacrifice. NOTE: I don’t believe this for a second. Time to get some more coffee and bacon.

        1. More likely, they’re the practitioners.

          Reducing overall human happiness is a commandment of the same dark gods they sacrifice screaming runaway children to on the blood-stained alters of their hidden temples.

          Their problem is that although they claim their attempts at control are “for your own good”, their contempt for others is too pervasive to be hidden.

          And they know that if they fail in their attempts to control us, *they* will be the next Monster Crunchy.

  4. How about this: Ritual Human Sacrifice is demanded by the Evil Overlords for their amusement. The automobile and road system is a function of this demand. When drinking and driving deaths decline, the introduction of social networking is introduced, and is more satisfactory, because the deaths of cleanly scrubbed young people texting and driving has a higher entertainment value for the Evil Overlords than the deaths of the less pristine drunk drivers.

    1. Now I understand the gadget I’ve seen advertised for putting your email on a heads up display in the car! It’s to raise the number of distracted driver accidents through the roof. Thank you for clearing that up for me.

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