Genre and Story

Minority Report is a fine example of the science fiction genre
Minority Report is a fine example of the science fiction genre

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

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.

Genre is as much a marketing tool as it is a story creation one.

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?

Genre Specifics

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.

Published by

Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

3 thoughts on “Genre and Story”

  1. I understand. It’s just worth mentioning. I can only imagine that a agent representing someone like Tom Cruise has a particular preference when it comes to screen plays. It’s not called show business for nothing. It’s not negative criticism, it’s just a reality check. In the article you talk about a marketing tool. For a film like Minority report Tom Cruise is your marketing tool. I’m just saying that in my humble opinion if you want to be a ‘professional’ screenwriter you need to apply some business ethics. In other words don’t write songs for ABBA or the Bee gees when everyone else is chanting Disco sucks!

  2. Gerhard, the article is from the story or narrative component point of view, not the casting point of view. Your comments are more appropriate from a directorial perspective—not the point of this article.

  3. Interesting how one of the most vital aspects is not listed above. Namely being : Type casting. it is true that understanding conventions is what gets a good script through the reading agency to the desk of an acting agent. Perhaps the most significant phase of getting a stories from page to screen lies in the agent representing a specific actor. The agent representing the actors who have the commercial presents to sell your film gets to be the final decision makers who predetermine the potential of a script. However be certain to which agent you are selling to. If you got a love story good luck selling your script to the agency representing Bruce Willis who is unlikely to act in a romantic comedy.
    In short before you sell , know who you are selling to.

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