Pick Your Genre
Okay, so you’re sitting at home watching a cheap movie you got from a Redbox or a discount Wal-Mart bin. Your stomach churns because the flick you’re laying your eyes on is simply horrible. The story is so second rate, you say. You tell yourself “I can do better than this, are you kidding me?” (Sidenote, if you’ve NEVER thought that, than maybe this article isn’t for you.)
So you decide to try your hand at writing a script (or create the source material in general), and you have some ideas, but you just aren’t sure what avenue to take your story in. Well, one of the first things you got to think of is deciding what genre your new “bomb-ass screenplay to the extreme” is going to fall into.
Of course generally speaking, the two major genres are comedy and drama. I’m not telling you anything new here. You should also know that all stories are essentially drama, and the execution of the premise/story/plot determines whether or not it’s a drama or comedy. I’ve used this analogy before, but we are all conceived female, for example. (True Story. It’s the reason why men have nipples). Later on in our prenatal development we are assigned a gender and we come out of the womb either male or female. But if you’ve ever scrolled down the aisle of a Best Buy or Target (or Blockbuster, if you’re old school) you know there are way more genres than just the aforementioned two. You have romantic-comedies, you have action-adventures, you have westerns and war. You also got science-fiction, fantasy, thrillers and mysteries. The possibilities are endless.
Most aspiring career writers, usually somebody who either gets contracted to write something or someone looking to make writing a career, tend to write according to popular trends. The process is pretty simple: Basically find something that’s in the zeitgeist and craft your story around that. The problem with this method is kind of obvious. If it’s in the zeitgeist, (or the pop culture fabric if you will) a lot of people are going to have the same idea. It’s sort of like going to a baseball game. If the team you came to root for is down by seven runs in the eighth inning, I can imagine thousands of people having the same idea of leaving the game early to “beat the traffic”. And of course as the cruel irony of mother earth would have it, you’re stuck in a traffic jam even before your sorry team even leaves the field.
If that’s too theoretical, imagine this: From the year 1998 to about 2009 the whole world was smitten with vampires (again). You had your “Blades” all the way up to your “True Bloods”, “Twilights”, and “Moonlights”. Now, of course we as the American public has been engrossed in vampires before, “Bram Stoker’s Interview with the Vampire,” “My Best Friend is a Vampire” and “Near Dark” come to mind, but never before have we tried tinkering with the mythos with vampires so much. It was close semblance to the Western genre. Westerns were one of the last “pure genres” in that you knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. It was as American as a slice of apple pie. The Spaghetti Western and Revisionist Western movements came and changed all that. Now every Western that graced the screen since are riddled with anti-heroes with ambiguous moral compasses, living in a world that can be easily called “less than desirable”. A far cry from the romanticized view we had of the Old West in the 1950s (film) or the 1930s (comics).
A more immediate problem happens when two different works have a similar story/plot or themes. This happens more in Hollywood than anywhere else, but who could forget movies that come out within months of each other having a similar story? (Think “Armageddon”/”Deep Impact, or “Dante’s Peak”/”Volcano” or “Finding Nemo”/”Shark Tale”).
I know this this is totally off topic but I am “Shark Tale” fan myself.
The second method, or the more “idealized” method is to write what you know, or what you are more comfortable with. You lived in an inner city where crime was part of the daily life? Maybe your crime story would be a stronger entry than the one written by the upper middle class film school graduate (zing!). You say your doctoral thesis was in underwater exploration for rare jewels? Well then, your great American Novel would feature a character that does exactly that (wiki: Dirk Pitt). This is a safer method in a way because you are more familiar with the genre’s conventions (or “rules” the genre plays by) but it leads itself to some problems. One, it’s very easy to stray off course. What I mean by that is, if you were the guy with the doctorate in that exploration mumbo jumbo, it’s very easy to have a character or a plot point be bogged down with needless information or exposition. “The Da Vinci Code” was a prime example of this. There are entire chapters where the action stops and the characters drop information to each other. Then again, it’s a best selling book so what do I know? Another problem is that of your audience. There are very few authors out there that create just for themselves, the crazies. You eventually are going to have to have an audience to at least make your work relevant if not profitable. You can know all there is to know about red beans, but your action thriller about trying to genetically engineer black beans into red ones can fall on deaf ears if your audience just doesn’t care.
This is a problem that affects Sci-Fi. A science fiction writer wants to create a certain world but the movie execs feel that children under 18 and women (the people who spend the most at the movies) aren’t going to dig it. So what happens in the land of show business? That’s right, creative compromise. I’m singling out Hollywood here but it happens everywhere. Now, your space tale about a guy trying to leave his home planet to be become an intergalactic bounty hunter has a lightspeed spaceship chase and a romantic subplot to maximize potential viewers.
Oh, and I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and claim “creativity is dead”. Ever since the world has had artists, they have been starving and are usually forced to create things against their natural will for their clients. It’s an evil of the profession.
Or to paraphrase the old saying, “It ain’t called show art, it’s show business.”
There is a balance between the two methods. Find something that is needed in the marketplace, but don’t jump into a segment that is over saturated. This also holds true for non-fiction too. For a time period in the 1990s during President Clinton’s…er…extra-circular activities, there were books coming about him regularly. Things were going good—new authors came to the forefront, fading authors got some extra shine–but then came the backlash. The American people were ready to move on and you soon found books in the subgenre filling out discount bins at the local Kmart.
And you and I both know that nobody goes to K-mart.
Happy Writings, yo!