Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Expanded Ultimate Story Checklist: Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple, merged genres) introduced from the beginning?

Let’s leap back into the shoes of that long-lost Blockbuster Video clerk of yesteryear. He has been ordered to sort every single videotape by genre so people who want that type of movie will find it. As a writer, you must put yourself in that same position. To find your audience, you must choose a pre-established genre for your story. 

But be careful, because each genre comes with a large set of expectations.

Most genres lend themselves to certain pre-established thematic dilemmas: westerns tend to be about individualism versus societal needs, science fiction is often about innovation versus tradition, comedies are about fun versus responsibility, and dramas pit two incompatible adult responsibilities against each other.

Genres also establish how the characters will be expected to act. In most genres, we expect the behavior of the characters to reflect human nature, but there are exceptions. Nobody in the real world has ever said, “A serial killer is obsessed with me, so I’ll kill him myself without going to the cops,” but it happens all the time in thrillers. At the end of the movie version of Strangers on a Train, it’s ridiculous for Guy to go after Bruno himself, except for the fact that thriller fans would be disappointed if he didn’t.

Mixing genres can be done, but there’s always a danger that you’ll mix or lose the metaphor, as we discovered before.

Choosing to write in a certain genre is always a trade-off: you agree to write within certain pre-established expectations, and in return you get a preselected audience that has accepted your inherent promise that you’ll provide what they crave. It’s a great power that comes with great responsibility.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

YES, the romantic comedy / sex-comedy


YES. It consistently and successfully combines sci-fi and horror.

An Education

YES. The romantic melodrama.

The Babadook

YES. Horror/drama

Blazing Saddles

YES. Western/Comedy.

Blue Velvet

YES. It’s a Hitchcockian/erotic thriller throughout, albeit it an odd one.

The Bourne Identity

YES. It’s straight up spy, with a little more romance than usual.


YES. Raunchy comedy


YES. Somewhat, a short-lived genre: the international-intrigue-romance


YES. Noir.

Donnie Brasco

YES.  Mafia

Do the Right Thing

YES. Comedy-drama, mixed throughout. 

The Farewell

YES. Dramedy

The Fighter

YES. It combines four: Sports, biopic, drama, merged throughout


YES. The fairy tale

The Fugitive

YES. Action/thriller

Get Out

YES. Horror and social satire merged from the beginning.

Groundhog Day

Sort of: It’s a romantic comedy until it becomes a sci-fi / metaphysical comedy 18 minutes in. That’s a little late, but the two are well-blended from that point on.

How to Train Your Dragon

YES. Action-Comedy / Heroic Fantasy

In a Lonely Place

NO. it’s halfway between film noir and neo-gothic romance and doesn’t quite satisfy either.

Iron Man

YES. Consistently mixes action and conspiracy. 

Lady Bird

YES. A straight-up coming of age tale.

Raising Arizona

YES. The small-time-crook black-comedy


YES. The coming of age movie


YES. Historical drama.

The Shining

YES. classic straight-up horror.


YES. Combines male-bonding comedy / romantic drama, which is a somewhat awkward combination, but it’s maintained and it works.

The Silence of the Lambs

YES. Thriller

Star Wars

YES. Combines sci-fi and fantasy throughout

Sunset Boulevard

YES. gothic melodrama mixed with Hollywood satire.

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