Monthly Archives: January 2013

Genre & Marketing

Masks

Genre

In his book, Story, Robert McKee states that “to anticipate the anticipations of the audience you must master genre and its conventions.”

Genre is as much a marketing tool as it is a story creation-tool. If a film or book has been correctly promoted the audience or readers approach the story with a certain expectation. In marketing jargon this is referred to as “positioning the audience”. This alleviates the danger of readers or audiences spending the first part of the story trying to find out what it’s about.

Adroit marketing taps into genre expectation. From the title, to the fonts used in the text itself on posters and in television ads, the promoters are at pains to telegraph the sort of story the audience or readers are to expect. This means that the conventions of the genre have to be adhered to. But what are some of the most important conventions?

Music, Location, Dress Code, Gadgets, Vehicles, Lighting, and Narrative Conventions

In film, music forms one such convention. Traditional love stories, for example, use a certain type of score to elicit emotions appropriate to that type of story. The mellifluous musical score for Gone with the Wind would not be appropriate for Alien, or vice versa.

Location is another important convention. Westerns use the untamed countryside as part of the backdrop, while science fiction films include high-tech interiors such as spaceships or futuristic exteriors and interiors to convey mood and a sense of otherworldliness.

Clothes, gadgets, and vehicles, and lighting, are further clues to identifying genre. Who can forget the white high-tech armor of Star Wars‘ Storm Troopers, the Jedi Light Sabers, or the hi-flying cars and taxis in The Fifth Element and Minority Report? In terms of lighting, Film Noir, for example, utilises a stark chiaroscuro style to dramatise seedy streets, alleys, rain-coat wearing detectives, and the femme fatale.

But beyond the physical elements, narrative conventions also apply. Sad or tragic endings form part of the narrative tradition of tragedies such as Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet, while “up endings” are traditionally associated with comedies and musicals, although exception do occur, as in Evita.

Things get interesting when genres mix, as in Blade Runner, which utilises conventions from film noir and science fiction. Indeed, the mixing of genres presents writers with the biggest opportunity for dressing up old stories in new clothes. Done well, the result is a tale that draws on tradition and novelty to produce narrative that is fresh and rooted in verisimilitude.

Summary

Genre is both a creative tool helping writers shape their stories based on what has gone before, and a marketing tool used by marketers to tell audiences what to expect in a film or novel. Understanding genre conventions allows us to use them effectively to create new and interesting combinations that are fresh and engaging.

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How to Write Your Story’s Midpoint

A halfway line on a playing field

Halfway Line

Although much has been written about the midpoint, not least of all in this blog, it is a crucial structural element in a story that deserves revisiting.

Midpoint/Moment of Illumination/Point of No Return

The middle of a story is the point in which the Hero makes an important decision: She can choose to turn back from the path she has been following, or, choose to press on, but with renewed insight and illumination stemming from an event that causes her to reassess her situation and her inner approach to it.

Unlike the first or second turning point, the midpoint does not necessarily involve a huge climax or intense action scene. What it does do is: cause the Hero to reassess the quest, have the Hero consider giving up, lead the Hero to realize that she must continue, have her formulate a new or more specific plan of action, have her commit to this new goal in a way that she can not back out of, have her learn something new about her innermost self.

Film Examples

In Field of Dreams, the midpoint occurs at the baseball game with Terence Mann, when Ray notices the sign about Archibald ‘Doc’ Graham, then hears, once more, the voice saying ‘Go the distance’. In The Crying Game, the midpoint occurs when Fergus uncovers Dill’s physical secret. In both cases, there is a strong inner, or, psychological aspect to the midpoint.

Typically, the midpoint changes a crucial aspect in the Hero’s inner life that impacts on her outer life: if she was not in control, she seizes control, if she was uncommitted, she becomes committed, if she was a victim, she decides to hit back, if she was hunted, she becomes the hunter, if she was delusional, she starts to deal with reality, if she was defeated by the goal, she begins a new struggle to achieve it. In this sense, then, the midpoint brings the inner and outer journeys together by fusing self-illumination to a plan of action, which leads to her achieving the story goal.

Summary

The midpoint is not only the half-way point of the story in terms of length, it is also the moment in which the Hero reassesses her situation, regathers her strengthen and resources, and presses on with renewed insight and wisdom.