Genre and genre conventions

Before you start developing the idea you have for a story, you need to know what genre you want to set your story in, and what type of story you want to write.

The fundamentals of Genre and Genre Plots

Genre is a word that often creeps into writing and can be easily misunderstood or misread. Genre is simply the category you choose to write, or the sort of film you will be able to write. This can be a drama, romance, action-adventure, science fiction, comedy, horror, musical, documentary, etc.

You have to be familiar with other films that relate to or are similar to, the screenplay you want to write. It is one of the major building blocks in laying the foundation of the story you want to write.

Each genre imposes certain conventions on the screenplay. The choice of genre sharply determines and limits what’s possible within a story.

There will be:

  • Conventional settings: In the crime genre the setting of the murder will have its particular characteristics.
  • Conventional events: In the crime genre there must be a crime.
  • Conventional roles:  In the crime genre there will be a detective character that discovers clues and suspects; in the horror film the character is the victim; the main character in the action film or Western is often the hero.

Storytelling is genre-driven and each genre has demands that must be understood and met… Since there are certain requirements that studio readers and audience members consciously and subconsciously expect to be met, the greater the chance you have of making a sale. Richard Krevolin

While scholars dispute definitions and systems, the audience is already a genre expert. It enters each film armed with a complex set of anticipations learned through a lifetime of moviegoing. The genre sophistication of filmgoers presents the writer with the critical challenge: He must not only fulfil audience anticipation, or risk their confusion and disappointment, but he must lead their expectations to fresh, unexpected moments, or risk boring them. Innovative writers are not only contemporary, they are visionary. They have their ear to the wall of history, and as things change, they can sense the way society is leaning towards the future. They can produce works that break convention and take the genre into the next generation. Robert McKee, Story

Genre is a type of story that has a visceral appeal to its audience.

Genre is simply the category you choose to write, or the type of story you want to write; this can be a drama, romance, action-adventure, science fiction, comedy, horror, musical, documentary, or a well-balanced mixture of different genres (An action-romance, a horror-comedy)

As a writer, you must be familiar with other stories that relate to, or are like the story you want to write, and engage those who will see, watch, or read your story.

  • Genre is the goods you must deliver to make your audience/readers feel satisfied.
  • Each genre has its unique audience/readers: You are asking millions of people to pay money to come to see your vision / read your story; you’d better give them what they came for, whether it is laughs, thrills, or romance.  
  • No matter how brilliant your story is on its own terms, if you do not deliver the goods on the genre, you will frustrate your audience/readers and the story will fail.

Genres are harsh on those who don’t know the history, don’t know the rules. Once you know them, you’ll know where they can be broken. Terry Pratchett (‘A Slip of the Keyboard’)

”Genre and Genre Plots” is fully explored The Write Journey screenwriting course