Studying Genres

There’s a reason why most stories fall into specific types of genres. That’s because they emphasize a certain emotion that people want to experience such as:

  • Horror — fear
  • Comedy — laughter
  • Romance — love
  • Action — excitement
  • Mystery — intellectual challenge deciphering clues
  • Drama — understanding about some aspect of life

A horror movie like “It Follows” focuses solely on creating horror for the main character as a mysterious ghost, which changes appearance regularly, stalks the hero through her ordinary life. A comedy like “Bridesmaids” invokes laughter at the absurdity of life, friendship, and finding love. A romance like “When Harry Met Sally” emphasizes finding the right person and falling in love. An action thriller like “Terminator 2” emphasizes fighting. A mystery like “The Usual Suspects” challenges the audience to figure out what happened. A drama like “Brooklyn” lets us better understand life of another person in another time and place.

What makes a bad movie is when it fully embraces one genre and totally ignores all the other types of emotions that other genres create. For example, you just have to watch a bad kung fu movie to see lots of fake action and violence with little story or character development. That’s because a bad kung fu movie simply focuses on action and ignores comedy, romance, mystery, or drama.

Look at a bad horror movie that graphically shows helpless people getting tortured and it may be grisly, but it gets boring if we don’t care about the characters or don’t understand what’s happening other than watching some maniac dismember people in creative and ghastly ways.

What makes a good movie is when it embraces all genres but emphasizes one in particular. Watch the latest comic book superhero movies like “Deadpool” and you’ll see that it mixes action with comedy and even includes a little dose of love as well as a mystery. There’s also a bit of horror as the hero is being tortured by the villain.

A movie like “10 Cloverfield Lane” is mostly a horror film, but includes a lot of mystery and a little bit of comedy as well when the hero and the villain play board games in the shelter. Another movie like “Eddie the Eagle” focuses on drama as a seemingly loser tries to pursue his dream of competing in the Olympics. There’s lots of comedy as Eddie (the hero) tries time and time again, but drama as he fights against the British Olympic committee and his teammates to gain he respect he craves.

The point is that a bad movie focuses solely on one type of emotion but a good movie focuses on one type of emotion but includes fragments of other types of genres as well. “Star Wars” is mostly an action film but includes a little bit of humor (known as comic relief) when Hans Solo charges at stormtroopers single-handedly or when C3PO warns R2D2 to let Chewbacca win a game so he doesn’t rip R2D2 apart.

For your own screenplay, focus on the main genre, but offer bits and pieces of other genre emotions to keep your overall story interesting. “Brooklyn” is mostly a drama about an Irish girl coming to America, but there’s a bit of horror when the hero has to confrontĀ a mean woman who she used to work for. The more any story embraces multiple emotions normally associates with other genres, the more likely the story will be more likable and more appealing.

“Captain America: Civil War” is mostly an action film with lots of comedy tossed in but also a mystery of what’s happening underlying the overall story. There’s also the drama of the government trying to supervise and control the superheroes as well. Watch any good movie and you’ll see multiple emotions mixed in within each genre.

The formula for any bad movie is to focus on one genre completely. The formula for a good movie is to embrace a single genre but include bits of other genres in as well.

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