Knowing your genre helps you deliver on your audience’s expectations and gives you guardrails on what to include in your story. It also challenges you to avoid the obvious tropes and cliches of your chosen genre

Do I have to?

Of course you can write a story that doesn’t fit neatly in a genre. But other people will want to know what genre your story is before they commit to it. To have a genre is to promise certain things to the audience – be it terrifying horror, stunning action sequences or heart-wrenching romance. Audiences like to know what they’re getting into because every single one of us has strong preferences about which genres we like and we don’t like to waste our time with genres we don’t.

On top of giving your audience an idea what to expect, setting your story in a particular genre gives you the freedom of a creative restraint. By which I mean, you’ll be expected to deliver certain things when you set your story in a genre.

In a romantic comedy we expect the couple to “meet cute”: a surprise meeting where sparks of attraction first appear. At the same time, there is then expected to be some hugely insurmountable obstacle to them getting together, or we don’t really have a story.

So what genres are there?

Well, first of all it’s worth noting that genres are necessarily quite broad and change all the time. Some genres just don’t get made much any more as they go in and out of fashion. Like Westerns and Disaster Movies

Secondly, within each genre there tend to be a number of story archetypes. I’ll go into those when we cover Themes later on, so for now just having a rough idea of your genre is all you need. Don’t sweat it too much just yet

Common Genres (and Sub Genres)

Romantic Comedy
Gross-out- Comedy

Drama (includes Thriller, Procedural, Family Drama, Crime Drama, Real Life Drama, Biopic, Soap)
Comedy (includes Situation comedy which includes Studio Comedy ( filmed before an audience) and Single Camera comedy (shot like other TV))

Literary (broadly: high-concept and use of language in a distinctly literary way)
Commercial (a broad term to describe accessible or propulsive stories)
Genre (a broad term used to describe horror, erotica, science fiction and fantasy)

As you can see, the list is not exhaustive and there are some overlaps. Some broad genres such as Comedy have subgenres such as Sitcom which can also be described as Studio Comedy or Multi-camera comedy.

Touching the audience in a certain way

In the end though, you only need to know the broad genre at this time – and that is the sort of emotion you’re trying to evoke most often. At a risk of stating the bleeding obvious, you could sort the genres into the emotions they deliver to the audience.

ComedyActionFeel-goodHorrorHeart-wrencherCrime/ Thriller

Seems trite to say but rumour has it there are a lot of scripts and novels out there that purport to be in one genre or another but don’t deliver on the expected emotion. There is a joke that a comedy-drama is a comedy that no-one could find any jokes in…

Emotional Catapult

Of course there has to be a mix of light and shade. The best comedy comes after a moment of extreme tension; the most frightening horror moments come moments after everyone is merrily fooling around; the most tear-jerking moments follow sequences of pure joy. Think of emotions as like a catapult – you have to pull really hard away to get the full impact beyond.

If you do nothing else, deliver on your genre.

So, if you have a rough idea about your genre and you think you can deliver on it, on to your World idea

In Summary

  • Make sure you understand some of the conventions of that genre
  • Choose a genre which reflects how you want your audience to feel
  • Think about how you might break them without undermining the genre
  • Find ways to make audiences feel exactly the opposite to your key emotion so you can catapult them back to the main emotion

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