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Messages posted since 08/28/2014

Topic: A genre question

Author: Timothy Landrum Posted: 10/28/08 09:27 AM

Have you ever had a story idea that you couldn't make up your mind which way to take it genre wise? You first write it as a comedy then sit back while reading it for the billionth time and see it as a thriller?

I have many other story ideas to work with but I'm stuck in limbo because I can't get this thriller off my mind. This ever happen to you or anyone you know?

To make matters worse, thrillers aren't my thing, but I see this one so clearly it haunts me.

Author: Thomas Rechtin Posted: 10/28/08 09:51 AM

Personally, I'd say splice the genres together. Do something that no one has ever done before--if you are being pulled in two directions, rather than resist that, read that impulse as a desire to do both. How do you write a "comedy thriller"? Not sure (that's for you to figure out), but consider how many horror films have infused comedy into them. That aside, for me at least, I find the "seriousness" of thrillers tiring (there are so many bad thrillers that take themselves too seriously). So, infuse new life into the genre by placing a spin on it. People say that everything has been done before, but if that's true, take the stuff that has been done and present it in a unique way. Good luck!

Author: Patrick Daly Posted: 10/28/08 12:35 PM

I've got a coming-of-age drama that I'm going to add elements of a thriller to, so I agree with the last post--mix it up!

Author: Thomas Swan Jr Posted: 10/28/08 05:50 PM

Never ever think about what genre your story lies in. Throw it on the page and let someone else worry about it.

Author: Walter Winton Posted: 10/28/08 06:38 PM

I have to disagree with Thomas. You must have a firm grip on what your genre is before your write the script. That's the best way to maintain a clarity of story and tone of the screenplay.

The idea of "let someone else worry about it" is self-defeating because the truth is, if a producer will have to "worry" about it, they'll simply opt to avoid the script entirely. A genre-bender is a tough sell.

Although contests read scripts for their literary and artistic qualities, producers/agents/anyone-who-can-transform-the-script-into-a-movie read with half their mind on marketing. And the only way to market a script is to stand on the shoulders of the movies that came before it. Like it or not, the marketplace will judge your script based on the previous movies in that genre.

It's crucial that you know your genre.

As for the original question, without knowing anything about the script, I'd advise you to go with the thriller because of genre expectations. If people start reading a comedy but then it has moments of tension, part of them will think, "Why am I not laughing? This isn't funny." But on the flip-side, if they start reading a thriller and the tension takes a break for a light-hearted moment, the laughs will come. The audience will appreciate the pause in all the seriousness. The biggest laughs I've heard in theaters usually comes during serious movies rather than comedies.

A light-hearted thriller is much much much easier to pull off than a tense comedy.

With that said, I fully anticipate that after you finish your first draft, you'll have to go in and cut some of your favorite gags because they just aren't adhering to the tone of your script.

Author: Ron Brassfield Posted: 10/28/08 07:08 PM

Walter has some fine advice there.

I believe, with some experience to bear this out, that as spec script writers, we are stuck with writing in one well-defined genre. My personal conviction is that genre-bending is the salvation of movies at this point, and I've been trying to do that to a point which I thought was "safe," but I can see from the feedback that I get that it is not. It is as Walter has said. You might as well realize you are going to be dealing with people who are, in essence, "programmed" to suss out the signs of which genre you are writing in and they don't forgive much crossing of the line. My readers and enjoying my stories at a personal level, and complimenting me, but they're not recommending them largely because of genre and tone. You can't take chances unless you can make your own films. Then, if you want to be the Coen Brothers, then be the Coen Brothers.

That said, if I were you and still as stubborn as I know I am, I'd write it both ways, attend a pitchfest after I'd refined them both, and pitch the straight thriller. If the producer or agent asks for a copy, I'd hand it to them and say, "And then, in this one, I REALLY had fun, and it's not only X, but I did Y with it and it's won..." A producer will know if s/he may want it, and an agent may know what several producers are looking for. Who knows, it may tickle just the right funny bone that way.

Author: Jean Hunter Posted: 10/28/08 07:10 PM

Good post, Walter. Glad you're back (I hope?)


Author: Thomas Rechtin Posted: 10/28/08 07:58 PM

For what's it worth, I'd have to disagree that one must play it safe and wedge oneself in a genre. What will distinguish or set one apart from others are the twists one puts one the genre to make the story unique, singular. If you stick to the genre and simply do what's been done before, why would anyone want to produce your script? And let's say there's some truth to the idea that the production studios are looking for firmly set genre work--will they look for it from writers who haven't broken through, or the tried and true who have been doing the job for years? In the end, you have to write the stories that come to you, whatever genre (or genres) they're in--that will ensure that your story, whatever it is, is both as good as it can be and as unique. It's THE story that came from YOU (not their story, not the story they want, which will likely be an imitation of what they really want). As soon as you tailor your writing to a "market", you're not letting the story come through. I went to a pitchfest this past weekend where the speakers, screenwriters and agents, all said that you gotta do what's good for you, what's good for the story--as McKay says, if it's a good story, you could throw it off the highway overpass and it'll end up in the right hands, get produced. In this business, you gotta trust your gut and believe.

Author: Walter Winton Posted: 10/28/08 08:56 PM

That's not quite what I was saying, Thomas.

I'm saying that you need to KNOW your genre first. You don't need to follow every plot point and cliche of your genre. You don't need to write a beat for beat imitation of a successful film in your genre. But you must KNOW your genre. Know the expectations that people will have when they see your genre next to the title (because it will get lumped into a category if you hope to sell it), and know all the significant films in that genre.

Then you can start to improve on it. Play with it. Add your twists, turns, and "wow! I didn't see that coming!" moments.

The balance between writing your heart and writing your marketing mind is a fine one. But you should never write with just one or the other (if you ever want to be produced, that is).

Genre bending is not an industry evil, but you should always know which genre forms the foundation for your script, and that's the original question. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a great example of a horror-comedy, but at its heart, it's a comedy.It's very clear and very firm on that. That's how it was marketed and I'm sure that's how it was pitched.

My advice to the original poster is to write multiple loglines. Some with comedy themes and some with thriller themes. And then decide which one is actually the stronger idea.

But you gotta know what genre you're starting from. Genre sets the tone. And the tone holds the script together.

Author: Thomas Swan Jr Posted: 10/28/08 09:03 PM


Sure you need to know your genre and to a large extent it picks you. If you're writing in one genre, you can't break off to another one at the opposite end of the spectrum but worrying what genre your in or even thinking about it is ridiculous and completely unnecessary in the writing process.

In the selling process, okay.

Author: Walter Winton Posted: 10/28/08 09:30 PM

We gotta disagree on that one. You don't need to be a slave to your genre, but you must know where you're starting from. And you must have a base of knowledge of all similar movies that preceded yours - all of which have already been classified into different genres.

It also makes the writing and rewriting process easier because it gives the script a clarity of purpose.

Author: Thomas Swan Jr Posted: 10/28/08 10:24 PM


You're putting way too thought into this. Again, the original thread was about the writer straying from comedy to thriller (or vice versa), which is fine. I appreciate your clarity argument and agree with it but a writer, in my opinion should never wonder what genre they're in. Genre is figured out by other peole not the writer.

Author: Ron Brassfield Posted: 10/28/08 11:03 PM

I think Blake Snyder's most valuable contribution from "Save the Cat" is the writer-friendly genre list with definitions. And a good book on genre-bending is "Alternative Scriptwriting" by Dancyger & Rush. (There I go with the books again, eh?) Snyder's going all-out out for blockbusters; the other authors examine a list of obscure films. What are you aiming for?

I'm not out to be a "primitive" writer. I already made that mistake with other forms of artistic expression, in my youth.

Hollywood wants something well-known, with a proven success record, presented with a fresh and surprising twist. Not knowing your genre is almost like showing up as a competitor at a sports competition without knowing if you're going to compete in the hundred yard dash, or the hundred meter swim.

Author: Thomas Rechtin Posted: 10/28/08 11:05 PM

I can understand the perspective of knowing your genre--your primary genre--before you write. At the same time, I don't think you have to consciously know this, consciously position yourself, even though you may be working within that genre. So, yes, an understanding of what kind of movie you are writing is important, even if it is merely a launching point.

At the same time, I still believe that concerns over marketing oneself must be secondary (if not tercery) to creating, first and foremost, a great story. The rest will take care of itself. (BTW, I also think some people simply work well within genre, while others find the constaints of genre limiting--while still others like to play with genre. Taratino comes to mind. What's his genre? Drama? Is "Death Proof" drama? Horror? It doesn't seem to fit either. But, whatever it is--and many may disagree with me--it's a fine film...)