Every story fits within a specific type of genre such as romance, horror, or action. The type of genre you story fits under largely defines the type of story you’re telling. For example, any romance follows this basic formula:
- The hero is lonely and risks settling for the wrong love
- The hero finds true love
- The hero loses true love and risks choosing the wrong love
- The hero wins true love
This basic formula holds true whether you’re writing a romantic comedy or a romantic drama. Most stories are actually a combination of two genres where the main genre defines the story and the second genre defines how that story is told. With a romantic comedy like “The Proposal” or “Legally Blonde,” the main genre (romance) is about love while the second genre (comedy) tells how that story is told.
Notice that a romantic drama is a love story (the romance genre) but is told dramatically (the drama secondary genre). A romantic drama might be “Atonement,” “Brokeback Mountain,” or “The English Patient.”
When defining your story, first identify the main genre that it fits under. “A Quiet Place” and “Get Out” fit under horror. With a horror story, the basic formula looks like this:
- The horror is introduced to the audience.
- The hero enters the villain’s lair and gets trapped by the horror
- The hero learns that the horror is worse than believed
- The hero fights back and wins (or loses)
In “Get Out,” Act I hints of the horror when a black man is abducted off the street and the hero (another black man) is reluctant to visit his white girlfriend’s parents. Act IIa occurs when the hero arrives at his girlfriend’s home and starts noticing odd events where he’s ultimately trapped. Act IIb occurs when the hero learns what the real horror is, that white people are taking over black people’s bodies. Then Act III is about fighting for his life.
Action stories follow a similar pattern as horror:
- A mysterious villain’s threat appears to endanger the world
- The hero tries to stop the villain
- The hero learns that the villain’s threat is even worse
- The hero fights back and wins
In horror, the hero may win (“Get Out”) but just as often loses (“Night of the Living Dead”). In action, just like comedy, the hero always wins. In “Die Hard,” Act I introduces terrorists taking over a skyscraper. Act IIa is about the hero fighting back, thinking he’s dealing with terrorists. Act IIb is about the hero learning that the terrorists plan to blow up the hostages on the roof to get away. Act III is about the hero stopping the villain.
In comedy, the story pattern looks like this:
- The hero’s humorous antics cause problems
- The hero enters a new world where the humorous antics do work
- Suddenly the hero’s humorous antics no longer work any more
- The hero’s humorous antics defeat the villain
“Ghostbusters” is a horror comedy so you can see how it follows both genres.
- The hero’s humorous antics cause problems (A ghost mysteriously appears in a library)
- The hero enters a new world where the humorous antics do work (As ghostbusters, the hero starts catching ghosts all over the city)
- Suddenly the hero’s humorous antics no longer work any more (The real villain is releasing the dead to take over the world)
- The hero’s humorous antics defeat the villain (The ghostbusters defeat the villain)
Comedy is most often used as a way to tell a story rather than a main story itself. Strip away the humor and “Ghostbusters” could be a straightforward horror story.
When writing your story, identify the genres of your story. This simple step alone will help you shape the basic structure of the story you want to tell.