Thursday, 18 December 2008


I want to talk about genre.

I never used to want to talk about genre. In fact, genre seemed to be a subject well worth steering clear of. Especially after I spent a whole afternoon in a tutorial discussing the finer points of genre. 'Never again,' I thought.

But now I'm going to talk about genre, and for a very good reason.

A lot of writers seek to eschew the very concept of genre. They see it as unnecesarily restrictive, like they're being made to compartmentalise their work. 'My writing can't be pigeon-holed like that,' they seem to say, 'I'm a free spirit.'

Sorry, that won't wash.

Say you decided to watch a film. What kind of film do you fancy? Hmmnnn ... how about a romantic-comedy?

So you watch it. And it's not very romantic. And there's not much comedy in it.

How do you feel? Like you've been had? Do you feel cheated, let down, even maybe a little angry?

Maybe you went for a horror. Which wasn't very horrifying. Or a thriller, which was noticably short of thrills. Or a drama, which had very little drama in it.

See what I mean? Writers who insist that they don't adhere to genre are everso likely to upset their readers.

Genre is about rules. We come to every genre with a set of expectations. If you refuse to fulfil those expectations, you might well alienate your audience.

Sure, you can mingle genres. 'Shaun of the Dead' made a very good job of mixing horror and romantic comedy (or rather, 'slacker' comedy with romantic overtones) - but that was because it was horrific and funny.

Terrible things happen when a writer sets out without a clear notion of the genre he or she is writing in.

Or if they try to pick 'n' mix genres and end up making a mess.

Don't try and run away from genre. Don't pretend you're above it all.

Genre matters. It's important.

There aren't many (and you're highly unlikely to invent any new ones).

But if you're writing drama - make it dramatic.

If you're writing romance - make it romantic.

If you're writing comedy - make it funny.

If you're writing horror - make it horrific (NB: horror must have a supernatural component; believe it or not, 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is not a horror - it's a thriller.)

If you're writing a war movie - what do you need?

Figure out what genre you're going for and stick with it. USE the rules of the genre to make your script really shine. Look at your particular favourites in that genre. How do they work?

Don't try to buck the trend. Genre is not an enemy. It's there to help you and it's there to help the reader or viewer.

Genre is your friend.


Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

That's a good blog. I like to limit myself to writing genres, because I stick to what I'm best at.

I've tried writing an action screenplay and it just didn't work because I really don't watch that many action films, but I'm good with horror and dramedies.

oh well. maybe someday I'll be able to write a screenplay of every single genre out there... that'll be cool

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Miladysa said...

Texas Chainsaw is not horror? This is new to me and something I need to think about.

I LOVE thrillers, dislike horrors and LOVE a good supernatural thriller.

Oh dear... my brain hurts :D


Thanks for another great post, Doc.