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5 Tips for Choosing A Screenwriting Genre

How to become a screenwriter. Screenplay Contests. Screenwriting Contests.

By Lee Hamilton.

One of the most frequent questions we get from writers submitting to our contests is which genre should they choose to categorize their script. There are 14 basic genres that our writers can list their scripts under, but what if your script is a combination of two different genres or even a mashup of several?

Fortunately, we have an ‘other’ category to use as a fail-safe for scripts that don’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of being a single genre, and there’s also the option to leave a comment for the reader if you want to detail the sub-genre or list whatever combination of genres your story has. But how can you decide what genre your story truly is, and does it even really matter? Let’s take a look…


HOW TO CLASSIFY YOUR SCRIPT

Most movies are a combination of two or three different genres, so here’s how can you know which category to list your script under when you can only choose one.

 

1) Identify what elements and conventions feature more prominently in your story. Focus on the A-Story. If your love story is the A-story, rather than the B-story subplot, you’ve got a Romance. If the story has lots of fast-paced fights, chase scenes, or catastrophic disasters occurring, you’ve got an Action movie, etc. Understanding the expected fundamentals of your chosen genre is key here. So, reading existing, successful scripts can be a real help. If you want to read scripts, why not take look at our bespoke script collections, free to read and download from our website.

2) Another way to approach the problem is to look at the role that your protagonist is fulfilling. Identifying their archetype can help determine the genre too. A warrior may be the lead in an Action movie, a victim; a Horror, an outlaw; a Crime movie, the joker; a Comedy, etc.

3) Or you can take the setting into consideration. You may have a serious character-driven plot crammed with drama, but if it’s primarily set in a war zone, it could be classed as a War movie, similarly, if it’s taking place during a past era, then it becomes a Period Drama. Equally, if it’s located in a magical land with supernatural elements, it could become a Fantasy.

4) Another approach is to consider what format, medium, or story-telling techniques are being used? If your movie is going to be computer-generated or hand-drawn, for example, it’s going to be classed as an Animation, regardless of the plot. Equally, if your characters are doing lots of singing and dancing, then the movie’s going to be categorized as a Musical, etc.

5) Lastly, but very importantly, consider which emotions feature most in your story? Understanding which emotion you’re trying to evoke in the audience throughout your script is key. If you’re trying to create nail-biting suspense, then you’ve probably written a Thriller. If it’s fear, repulsion, or disgust, then you’ve likely got a Horror, and if your aim is to create light-hearted entertainment and laughter, then you’ve got a Comedy, etc.


With an endless number of sub-genres and mashups, it all comes down to which genre elements are strongest in your script but don’t worry too much if you list your script incorrectly. The reader will be able to pick up on whether your story is more drama than comedy, or more sci-fi than romance, etc., and they’ll reflect this in their scoring and coverage notes.

Moreover, if your script goes onto our Feature Contest quarter-finals and beyond, we offer our writers the chance to review and consider what Genre prize they would like their script to be considered for.


WHY GENRE IS IMPORTANT

Genre creates expectations for the audience, and it helps inform their decision about which movies to watch.

Cross-genre movies are extremely popular because it’s become harder and harder to pull off an original genre piece that feels fresh and new. Plus, studios like the prospect of doubling their audience numbers if a movie’s going to appeal to fans of more than one genre. Take, for example, Wild Wild West (1999) – which is arguably more of an Action Comedy than a Western or a Sci-fi, showing just how blurred defining a movie genre can be.

Where problems can arise though, is when a studio or distributor can’t figure out how to market your movie towards the people most likely to go and see it. If you’ve got a script that has a prominent love story with time-travel elements, but also has a complex thriller plot unfolding with scares, there’s always the risk that your movie won’t be able to satisfy everyone in the audience.

If you’re unable to clearly express what the primary genre is, there’s also the risk that you’re not quite sure what kind of story you’re writing yourself.

Not only does genre help sell your script, it’s also a great tool to use when writing it. Genres come with tried and tested tropes, conventions, and patterns, which you can use to enhance your story, create shortcuts via expectations, as well as surprise your audience if you deliver the opposite of what’s being anticipated.

There’s no limit when it comes to mixing genres, but the focal point should always be on which genres work best with your story. It’s going to be pretty difficult to pull off a psychological thriller romance, for instance, because you’d be trying to juggle two drastically contrasting emotions throughout.

So, although there are potentially hundreds of sub-genre combinations to create, always remember to keep the audience’s expectations and reactions in mind, as well as how easy your idea will be to market if you want to sell your script.

Keep Writing!

 


Lee Hamilton is a script reader, developer, and author. Lee was one of the original readers to join Shore Scripts and has since moved into education and development, penning numerous articles, workbooks, and writing courses.

Don’t forget! Our readers are waiting to read your story in our Feature Screenplay, and TV Pilot Contest this year. Find out more.