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Screenwriting Structure Series Part 7: Structure vs. Genre

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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Too many times have I read screenplays that simply kept piling on the story elements of THAT GENRE without any real regard to the structure of the story. This seems to happen a lot with the horror genre i.e., let's just keep coming up with outrageous events and obstacles to scare the hell out of the audience.


In fact, this happens a lot with newbie scripts. I'm not sure if it's because they don't know what structure is or that they THINK genre IS structure. I've actually read horror scripts that had about six amazing scenes in them - stuff I'd never seen or heard of before but there was no story. Just gore and horror - horror and gore.

I've read some romantic comedies that did precisely the same thing. A guy gets a girl - loses the girl - gets the girl - ho hum.

It's as if some writers study the films within their chosen genre so much that they get lost in their quest for the ultimate gag - which is fine as long as you weave those gags into your structure.

Don't get caught up in writing a screenplay with the most amount of genre gags. Genre is more the scope of your story than it is structure. Certainly, audiences that line up to see your movie because it falls within their favorite genre expect to see certain genre story elements...

That goes without saying.

But it ain't structure.

Structure is the order in which you show your audience those story elements they paid their money to see. Order - plain and simple. How and where you arrange your scenes and sequences to reveal your story so that your story creates the greatest emotional reaction from your audience. Structure reveals character and plot.

Genre sets up the kind of train ride your audience is about to get on. Should they be prepared to be scared? Should they be prepared to laugh? Cry? Be amazed?

Of course structure and genre should work together. Of course you should seriously study the genre of your story so that you know what, within the scope of the genre, your audience expects to see and experience.

An example would be writing a horror film where a young woman is getting chased by a stranger down a dark alley and finally gets cornered by him. The stranger then looms over her and we zoom in on her panic stricken face as she screams. But that's not a horror movie. It's a thriller. What would make it a horror?

Not cutting on her closeup and scream but actually showing her throat being slashed in all its bloody glory.

That's genre.

But it ain't structure.

Don't let genre get in the way of your story. Don't just keep going for the genre gag and hope that if you have enough over the top genre gags that you've written a breakout screenplay.

Genre is why the audience shows up. Structure is why they stay through the end of the film.

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About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

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