Genre Mash-Up — a Guest Post by Art Holcomb

NOTE: have a couple of quickie things for you (below) following another killer post from Art.

by Art Holcomb

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. 

New possibilities.

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, FriendshipGay/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.

Science Fictions

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.

Art Holcomb is a successful screenwriter, comic book writer and frequent contributor to  A number of his recent posts appear in the Larry Brooks’ collection: Warm Hugs for Writers: Comfort and Commiseration of The Writing Life.  He appears at San Diego Comic-Con and other writing and media conventions and begins teaching screenwriting and graphic novel writing classes at the University of California in Fall 2012. His most recent screenplay is FINAL DOWN (a NFL team disaster film) and is completing a workbook for writers.


PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE… for the second year in a row has been named to the Writers Digest “101 Best Websites for Writers” list (May/June) issue, the Big Daddy of writing site lists.  Thanks to you all for making this happen!

Next Up… the beginning of a deconstruction series on The Hunger Games both the book and the film.  If you haven’t read it yet, or seen the movie, I recommend you do soon within the next few days, as this is a clinic in all Six Core Competencies and the skillful optimization of underlying story physics. 

RECOMMENDED: my agent, Andrea Hurst, is giving another Writers Digest tutorial, this time on “story structures that sell” (see why we get along?).  Check it out HERE.



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9 Responses to Genre Mash-Up — a Guest Post by Art Holcomb

  1. I’m confused of the difference between “Classic Mash” and “New Mash”.

  2. “I was working in the lab, late one night
    when my eyes beheld an eerie sight.
    For my monster, from his slab
    began to rise
    and suddenly, to my surprise
    he did the monster mash…”

    Well you get the idea.

    It’s funny that you should post this topic just now; I’m starting to wonder if we are tapped into the same zeitgeist. My current WIP is a collection of short stories I’m calling 5×5 fairy tales. I’ve taken 5 (plus three or four) classic fairy tales, deconstructed them and I’m using their key elements in the writing of short stories in various genres – each tale will be rewritten into each genre, hence the 5×5. All together I’ve got 9 fairy tales and 7 genres for a total of 63 stories by the time I’m done. Wish me luck.

  3. Art Holcomb

    @Chihuahua0: The CLASSIC MASH appeared first in story form and has a classic, already published story or character (Pride and Prejudice or Sherlock Holmes) in a completely different genre or setting.

    The NEW MASH usually doesn’t refer to a specific story at all, and collides two completely and seemingly incompatible genres (say Science Fiction and Mobster stories) together for new effect.

    Hope that helps.

    @Mike Manz: Quite an ambitious project there, with some very interesting possibilities. Looking forward to seeing how it all turn out. Let us know.

  4. OMG, I laughed all the way through this post. I remember how much fun I had writing a short story for a GLBT/superhero mash that the editor called “Superqueeroes.” Unfortunately, the publishing house cut back on its imprints and withdrew its offer. The editor subsequently lost interest. That genre mash was a real stretch for me – I tend to be too pragmatic. But it showed me that even I could be tongue-in-cheek occasionally with my writing.

    What a great presentation and explanation of genre mash. And I love your titles. 🙂 Thanks, Art!

  5. @Larry: Congratulations on making the Writers Digest “101 Best Websites for Writers” list! Of course, we knew that all along. 🙂
    I checked out some of the reviews of The Hunger Games, and a bunch of people said it was a ripoff of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, which brought up some ethical questions. Some reviewers severely panned the writing, in great depth. Others loved it. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will, and I’m really looking forward to your deconstruction of it.

  6. Ben Hayden gets a call from his boss saying Indian Point Nuclear Reactor is acting “funny” and needs him to investigate the codes for it. After logging in, Ben finds an anomaly he does not understand. Suddenly, all power ceases throughout Indian Point and its region, including NYC. A picture of Alfred E. Neuman appears on his monitor. Behind him a voice says, “We are fullerenes and have taken over all energy resources and delivery on Earth, shutting down the planet.” He turns, and behind him stands a solid black figure resembling a medieval knight, with cobalt blue eyes blinking at him from its visor. Soon he finds it is a life form made of buckyballs that has emanated from the mother boards of computers throughout the world. Millions of them exist.

  7. Art Holcomb

    @Frederick Fuller: I like this! I’m a huge fan of Fuller and this seems to be an excellent start. It make me want to ask the question all writers long to hear . . . “so, what happens next?” Well done.

  8. Art Holcomb

    @Nann Dunne: Thanks for the note.

    Tongue-in-cheek is good. Tongue-in-cheek can be great!

    It explores possibilities that find their way into your other pieces and help to really make the connection between writer and reader through humor and parody. And I’m in favor of anything that makes a writer reach out of their comfort zone. That warm, comfortable feeling of a comfort zone is just the mean temperature at the certer of the herd. Break out!

    And never say die . . . bet you’d really rock a mash-up!

  9. Pingback: Mixing things up a bit | Jess Mountifield