Following on from last month’s post about using structure to write a story, I’m continuing with Blake Snyder’s guidelines. Again he used these in relation to screenplays, but I think they can be used for novels.
We are all familiar with the genres which books fit into: romance, action, comedy, thriller, horror etc. These broad genres help us decide exactly that: where our story broadly fits. But how will that help us decide on the specifics of the plot? How will we make sure our story is riveting and not just a vague ‘romance’ or ‘action’ novel that rambles on… and on?
Step in the late Mr Snyder, who defined 10 specific genres. This is 1-5:
1. Monster in the House!
This involves a Monster (obviously); people trapped in a House (or village, or hostel or group). And the vital component: the Sin which leads the Monster to the victims in the House. A really basic genre, which is why its so popular.
Think of these movies:
Jaws (Monster = shark; House= beachside town; Sin= greed of the council not shutting the beaches, so they could rake in money)
Fatal Attraction (Monster= Glenn Close; House= Michael Douglas’s secret acts with Glenn; Sin= adultery)
Psycho (Monster= Norman Bates; House= Bates motel; Sin= theft. Naughty Janet Leigh thinks she’s got away with it, but runs into worse danger)
2. Golden Fleece
A group of people go on a journey searching for something, but usually they realise it wasn’t what they wanted after all: what they find on the journey is more important. The essential factors are: the Road, the Team, the Prize.
Dodgeball– what the team sought was to win the dodgeball championship, but what they found was… friendship. Aw…
Star Wars– Luke longed for excitement: what he found was his destiny.
Walk the Line– Johnny Cash was looking for forgiveness for his brother’s death. What he found was he needed to forgive himself instead.
Wow. This genre is deep. And quite good taglines too.
3. Out of the Bottle
Someone has a Wish: they want to make a big change in their life. Along comes a magic Spell or person to grant their desire… but it comes with a Lesson to be learned…!
Big– Josh wishes to be grown up. He goes to the fairground and ‘bing!’ he is Tom Hanks! But being ‘big’ is harder than he thought and he learns it would be better to grow up at the right pace.
It’s a Wonderful Life- James Stewart thinks life in his town would be better if he’d never been born. Angel Clarence shows him how that would really have been, and he learns he made a huge difference, even though he didn’t know it.
Groundhog Day- Shallow weatherman Bill Murray wants to get out of town and on with his life. But a mysterious, unknown force keeps him there until he learns to be a better person.
4. Dude with a Problem Here we have Mr or Ms average, an innocent character, who is hit with a sudden, major event. They then have to struggle, its life or death!
The Bourne Identity– Who the hell am I? thinks Matt Damon when he’s pulled unconscious from the sea. Suddenly he finds he has advanced fighting skills and, someone is trying to kill him (the Event). His life or death struggle is literally that.
Speed– Innocent Sandra Bullock travels on a bus, then suddenly Dennis Hopper reveals he’s put a bomb on it! Then she and Keanu have to join forces to keep the passengers safe while deactivating said bomb, all at over 50 mph!
The Day After Tomorrow– Dennis Quaid thinks the climate is about to change dramatically. No one believes him, then suddenly the Earth falls in the deep freeze. So he has to struggle across the icy wastes to save his son from certain death…
5. Rites of Passage
Now this one sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Life Problems and how to deal with them. This often involves going The Wrong Way, but (like life), Acceptance is the only way.
Lost in Translation– Life Problem: Bill Murray’s and Scarlet Johansson’s marriages are failing. They are attracted to each other but know it cannot be, so in the end, he returns home, she stays in Japan.
American Pie– Jim and his friends want to lose their virginity. So they try any way they can, generally pretending to be who they aren’t. But after all that, they accept that they just have to be themselves to get what they need.
Postcards from the Edge- When released from detox, Meryl Streep’s film company insists she lives with her mother to stay clean. At first, Meryl resists being in her mother’s shadow again. But gradually she accepts her own mother’s struggle with addiction and a dominant mother.
Continued soon with the second half of Blake’s genres.