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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2 thoughts on “Genre & Marketing

  1. ABE

    I just had a disconnect: you talk about the importance of genre conventions in setting the reader’s expectations.

    You have a book – Scarab – for sale at $0.99 – the kind of price that leads people to click through (I did). I opened the link in another tab, meanwhile clicking onto another of your posts, A Character’s Story, read a bit – and encountered the words:
    “In my forthcoming science-fiction novel, Scarab II, the protagonist, Jack Wheeler is drawn into a rerun of the cataclysmic events that unfolded in the North West Province of South Africa some five years previously. In Scarab I, Jack is…”

    And my brain went Huh?

    Since you might like feedback – I never assume I’m unique – I stopped and analyzed.

    I realized the COVER of Scarab that I had clicked on DID NOT, for me, say ‘science fiction.’ It said ‘Thriller.’ Like the cover of Ken Follett’s ‘Rebecca’ might say thriller.

    There were no Science Fiction elements on the cover that MY brain recognized.

    The scarab said ‘archaeology,’ ‘dessert,’ ‘antiquity,’ maybe even ‘mysterious’ (not ‘mystery’ – to me).

    Thanks for an interesting post – I am thinking covers, too, for my stuff, and saving bits of info I locate. I would like feedback when I get them up – hope you don’t mind.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis

      Thanks for the comment! I do, however, think there is a Sci-Fi element implied in my cover, albeit very subtly—the bright points of light behind the Scarab are suggestive of stars, or spaceship lights, perhaps?

      Reply

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