Exploring Your Film Genre

John Truby, another L.A.-based screenplay instructor and consultant, speaks of the importance of a central premise of your story. What is it really about and how will it grab the attention of a producer?

Another important term all screenwriters should learn is GENRE. Knowing your genre is vital since defines a story form and the types of stories told within its parameters. Each genre has its own hero, opponent, story beats, structure and themes. Knowing both your premise and genre of your story serves as a road map before you start writing.

The HERO can be described as:

  • a fighter in action films,
  • a lover in love stories,
  • an enforcer or criminal in crime stories,
  • an investigator in thrillers and crime stories
  • and a victim in horror stories.

Define your hero’s DESIRE LINE. What are their goals?

  • In fantasy films, it’s the hero desires to explore an imaginary world far from the drudgery of everyday life,
  • in mythic stories, to embark on a treacherous journey in search of their true self,
  • in sitcoms, to escape from an impossible predicament,
  • in thrillers, to escape an attack,
  • in horrors, to survive.

A movie’s genre defines the RELATIONSHIP between the hero their opponent.

  • In TV drama, its usually restricted to family members,
  • in comedy, society at large
  • in thrillers, trapped in a system
  • in love stories, between lovers.

Genres differ in the CENTRAL QUESTIONS posed by the hero to force decisions in the story.

  • In thrillers, is the suspicion justified?
  • In comedies, do you lie or express your true self?
  • In action films, do you chose freedom or life?
  • In fantasy films, do you chose style or freedom?

Genres provide STRATEGIES for storytelling.

  • In action films, the hero fights with an intense punch and the opponent with an equally forceful counter-punch,
  • In sci-fi films, the hero explores a technological world highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of humanity,
  • In thrillers, a weakened hero is trying to escape from a desperate situation,
  • In crime films, a hero defending the social morality and values against an opponent who’s above it all.

Genres also help define plot. There are 8 to 16 key story beats depending on genre. Creative screenwriters twist the story beats to add uniqueness and interest. “Little Miss Sunshine” merged mythic with comedic elements.

Studios actively seek hybrid genres such as action-comedy, to broaden their audience base.

Unique characters are born from archetypes, but molded into individuals, audiences can relate to. Give them a strong identifiable humanly recognizable weakness. The “traveling angel” archetype (a perfect being solving everyone’s problems, such as “Amelie” should be forced into the center of the drama rather than the periphery.


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