3 Steps for Delivering Genre Expectations

Genre (noun); a loose set of criteria for a category of composition.

All successful scripts evoke an emotional response from the reader. Your screenplay’s genre helps inform a potential reader what to expect emotionally and structurally. Genre, then, creates a set of expectations and it’s your job as the writer to know what those expectations are and deliver them in a familiar but unique way. Successful genre writing is not about clichés and formulaic choices – it is about understanding what makes a particular genre satisfying to the viewer. 

If you’re writing a thriller, your script will have specific thriller elements: a fast pace, plenty of action, a resourceful hero, a villain-driven plot, suspense, red herrings, twists and cliffhangers. The reader expects to experience visceral thrills, tension, shock, fear, curiosity and surprise.

The most effective way to understand genre and expectations is to study genre in action. Here are 3 steps to delivering genre expectations:

  1. Select 10 films or scripts in the same genre as your current screenplay to view or read.
  1. Note the patterns between the films: specific elements, structure, and your emotional responses.
  1. Now compare the list with the elements in your own screenplay. Are you hitting all the expectations of your genre?

If your story mixes genres: comedy-drama (Juno), action/adventure-comedy (Beverly Hills Cop), science fiction-horror (Alien) – try to stay with the tone of the dominant genre to ensure your script is focused.

A (by-no-means exhaustive) List of Genres and Subgenres:
  • Action/Adventure (Sub-Genres: Swashbuckler, Disaster, Survival, Chase, High Adventure, Epic)
  • Animation
  • Bio-Pic
  • Comedy (Sub-Genres: High Concept, Romantic [Rom-Com], Screwball, Farce, Black Comedy, Parody, Satire, Teen, Mockumentary)
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Crime (Sub-Genres: Detective, Gangster, Film Noir, Serial Killer, Heist, Murder Mystery, Who-Done-It, Caper, Revenge, Courtroom, Newspaper, Prison)
  • Docu-Drama
  • Drama
  • Fantasy
  • Horror (Sub-Genres: Supernatural, Uncanny, Slasher, Psychological, Ghost, Monster, Vampire, Zombie)
  • Love Story (Sub-Genres: Romantic Love, Buddy Love)
  • Musical
  • Science Fiction (SciFi)
  • Thriller (Sub-Genres: Crime, Psychological, Supernatural, Action, Horror, Sci-Fi, Political, Spy, “Erotic”)
  • War/Military
  • Western