Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Your Genre is Your Taskmaster
You’re written forty pages of great relationship drama and you know that it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. You’ve created deep and rich three-dimensional characters, you’ve imbued them with your own history and pain, and you’ve put them on a collision course, forcing them to deal with their issues and with each other.
But your manuscript begins with an action sequence, has intermittent action sequences throughout, and ends with blowing up an underground lair. Your genre, inescapably, is action, and that forty pages of relationship drama has no action, which means that it has to go, or be significantly transformed.
Your genre is your taskmaster. Action needs action every twenty pages or so. Comedy needs frequent laughs, etc. So what do you do with all that great relationship drama? If you don’t want to lose it, you have to find a way for it to serve the action. The relationship confrontations need to be inextricable from the life-and-death confrontations. The interpersonal breakthroughs need to result in plot breakthroughs. Clocks must always be ticking.
Great writing that violates your genre isn’t great writing. Everything must serve your genre. You either have to jettison a lot of the relationship drama, or you have to jettison the action elements. Good Will Hunting started out as an action script, until they realized that they were doing a better job with the backstory than the frontstory, so they just got rid of the frontstory. Nobody missed it.