It’s easy to see in horror films but when a movie picks a genre, it needs to reflect that genre in every scene. In horror films, that means every scene needs to display a hint of fear and despair. In comedies, that means every scene needs to bring a smile to our face in some way. In drama, every scene needs to intrigue us with human emotions. The biggest flaw with many screenplays is that they fail to reflect their genre in every scene. When even one scene fails to support the overall movie’s genre, it weakens the story.
In the horror film “Don’t Breathe,” a girl is trapped in a boarded up home with a killer. That’s he basic premise of the story, but every scene still demonstrates a bit of horror in some way. In an early scene, the hero and her friends are breaking into a home after disabling the alarm. What makes this early burglary scene somewhat horrifying is when one of the hero’s friends masturbates on the bed before the group trashes the house and escapes.
Later in “Don’t Breathe,” the hero goes home. Normally you would think a scene involving a home and a mother might be warm and friendly, but in “Don’t Breathe,” this scene at the hero’s home is horrifying because the mother belittles the hero and hangs around with an alcoholic boyfriend. Thus the hero’s home is anything but warm and inviting. In short, it’s horrifying.
In the comedy “Midnight in Paris,” a man can magically go back in time and chat with historical figures like Ernest Hemingway. This film, a comedy drama, makes sure every scene involves comedy or drama. When the hero tries to convince his girlfriend he can go back in time, she looks at him like he’s insane. This isn’t a particularly humorous moment as it is a dramatic one. Later when the hero meets Hemingway for the first time, Hemingway speaks in short sentences, much like he writes, which creates humor.
In the original comedy “Ghostbusters,” every scene is played for laughs or horror since the movie is a comedy-horror film. The opening scene shows a librarian being scared by a ghost in the library, which is scary. Then a later scene shows the ghostbusters confronting the ghost in the library and it scares them, which is humorous.
Remember, most movies are a combination of two genres such as a comedy horror film in the original “Ghostbusters” or a pure horror film in “Don’t Breathe.” Whatever genre your screenplay follows, make sure every scene supports that genre. If a scene doesn’t support your story’s genre, that’s a clear sign that you need to rewrite it. When every scene supports your story’s genre, you’ll have a much stronger overall story.