Defining the Genre, Sub-Genre, and Time

The best way to write a story is to stay focused. Every story falls into a specific genre such as:

  • Comedy – laughter
  • Horror – fear
  • Action – excitement
  • Mystery – intellectual challenge
  • Romance – love
  • Drama – revelation about life

Identify the main genre of your story and that can focus your story so you’ll always make the right choices in how your story develops. If you’re writing a comedy, then you’ll know that scenes that create horror or drama without comedy will likely derail your story.

Think of every great movie and you’ll notice that every scene clearly fits within a specific genre. “Die Hard” is an action film, “Get Out” is a horror film, and “Manchester by the Sea” is a drama.

Once you can clearly define which genre your story falls under, the next step is to define a sub-genre. That’s because most stories aren’t about one genre but a combination of the two where one genre dominates and a second genre provides extra richness and depth to the story. “Alien” is a horror film but also an action film as well. In comparison, its sequel, “Aliens,” is more of an action film first and a horror film second.

“Die Hard” is undoubtedly an action film but its sub-genre is a romance because the hero’s goal is nothing more than to get back with his wife.

Pixar films like “Up” and “Inside Out” are mostly comedies with strong dramatic elements behind the laughter.

Romantic comedies are usually romances first and comedies second. That means every scene focuses on romance as much as possible with comedy thrown in to make the story more appealing.

Notice the difference between “While You Were Sleeping” and “Bridesmaids.” In “While You Were Sleeping,” the emphasis is more on the romance genre with comedy thrown in. “Bridesmaids” is more of a comedy first and a romance second. “While You We’re Sleeping” focuses more on telling the romance story while “Bridesmaids” focuses more on comedy first.

That’s the power of defining the dominant genre and sub-genre of your story. “Pulp Fiction” is an action film but with comedy thrown in. That’s a whole different tone than “Pineapple Express” that’s more of a comedy with action thrown in. Knowing your story’s dominant genre keeps you focused on telling a story with a consistent tone. If you try to switch genres in the middle of the story, it would be as jarring as seeing “Blackhawk Down” suddenly turn into a farcical comedy halfway through the movie. It won’t work because¬†you’ll confuse the audience.

Defining a sub-genre for your story helps keep your story from being one-dimensional. Bad movies focus on only on genre such as bad karate movies that only focus on mindless action. Yet “Kill Bill vol. 1” also focuses on action, but also is a mystery as we try to figure out what happened to the hero.

Besides defining a dominant genre and sub-genre for your story, focus on the time setting of your story:

  • Historical (past)
  • Contemporary (present)
  • Science fiction (future)

“Django: Unchained” is a historical action film with dramatic elements. “Die Hard” is a contemporary action film with romantic elements. “Blade Runner” is a science fiction, action film with dramatic elements.

“Legally Blonde” is a contemporary comedy with romantic elements. Notice that the majority of scenes focus on comedy and if they’re not striving to evoke laughter, the scenes focus on romance.

Notice how combining time, genre, and sub-genre helps define a unique story? “Shakespeare in Love” is a historical romance drama while “Dunkirk” is a historical action drama. By playing with time, genre, and sub-genre, you can better define what makes your story unique. There’s no right or wrong mixture. It all depends on the type of story you want to tell, but knowing the dominant genre and sub-genre helps insure that every part of your story satisfies the main genre while also catering to the sub-genre.

Know your story’s time, genre, and sub-genre and you’ll automatically know what type of scenes will or won’t fit when you’re writing your actual story.

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