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Why You Should Know And Understand Your Genre

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It’s important that you understand and know your genre well. Your genre is the concept that your audience is going to buy into when they choose to read your book or watch your film.

When you market your story, you’re marketing it to the audience that wants that concept. You have to follow through on the promise to deliver it. But to do that, you have to know what your genre is. What are the rules for that genre? How can you still be original within it?

What’s Expected In Your Genre?

Firstly, you need to know your genre, understand what is expected of that genre, and then target it correctly. For instance, imagine you’re promising to deliver a story that’s a fantasy story. If you throw in a graphic sex scene, having no reference to the fact it’s an ADULT fantasy, you’re going to boot people out of the story who didn’t sign up for it. Plus you have missed out on an entire audience that do want sexual material in their stories.

We are currently in production on a film called Hollowhood. Very early on realised we had to figure out what genre we were writing, because there was a mixture of different influences.

Is it a horror? An urban fantasy? A thriller? Within each genre there’s a certain expectation the audience will have. If they go to the film to watch it with that lens and we don’t deliver, then it will impact their experience of it. Even if it is still a good film.

There’s the other issue that happens your audience is very familiar with the genre you’re writing in. If you’re trying to hit the beats that make it conform to that genre perfectly, you might end up doing something that is cliched and predictable. That will also stop your audience enjoying your work because it’s not fresh and new.

Pitching the genre correctly, and covering the beats required within that genre whilst still being original, are essential for making your story successful. If you don’t understand your genre properly, you can miss something important.

It’s Not Always Easy To Indentify And Understand Your Genre

Identifying your genre might seem simple, but it isn’t necessarily. As I say, Hollowhood has elements of a variety of different genres, horror, thriller, urban fantasy, plus elements of romance, comedy and drama. Narrowing it down and targeting it accurately is tricky.

For instance, we talked about the film Alien to try and narrow down the genre. I said it is primarily a science fiction film, Jonathan said it’s primarily a horror.

The fundamental principle of a horror film is that it’s scary, and Alien is scary, as is Hollowhood. However, I felt that a horror required a level of gore and Hollowhood is not a gory film. We aren’t mimicking films like Hostel or Saw which I think of as horrors. So I felt it was more urban fantasy thriller, because thrillers are scary but not gory. However, if horror doesn’t require gore, just scares, then Hollowhood absolutely could be a horror.

This conversation and debate can be had about so many different films and books. Genre isn’t necessarily a clear cut tick box system, and most stories will have at least two primary genres they fit into. One genre will dominate the other just enough to steal the label. For instance, Alien could be seen as a science fiction with horror elements, or a horror movie in a science fiction setting. Technically both could be correct, but which one dominates the film is debatable.

Working Out How To Understand Your Genre

Having the debate about existing work of others will allow you to develop an understanding of different genres. You can start to learn how to target your own work within genres. Understand your genre by properly understanding the genre of other stories.

There is a massive amount of conversation to be had around genre. It’s both entertaining to talk about and helpful as a writer so you can start learning what’s expected and how to meet those needs, whilst still being true to your own story style. So my advice is to pick a film or book with your friends, something you consider in the same genre as your work in progress, and then talk about it.

You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get. If you’ve found my work helpful, please consider dropping me a tip in my Paypal tip jar to help me keeping bringing you free writing advice!

How to understand your genre, JJ Barnes Writing Advice
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2 Comments

  1. Fjook Enterprises

    Good article like always.

    Is the first terminator a horror movie with an action movie coating? It has the required gore.

    Something I was expecting to read but didn’t is that if you want to write in a genre and break convention you have to know that genre really well.

    1. Yes that’s really good advice. If you’re REALLY SOLID familiar with genre tropes than playing with them will be easier and more effective because you’ll have full control over what you’re doing and a complete knowledge of how your audience will respond.

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