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    Movie Genres -- What Writers Need to Know

    Movie writing is GENRE story telling. You've probably noticed that movie studios promote their movies by genre. Why? Because moviegoers often choose movies based on genre, they want to see a comedy or a love story or a techno-thriller. Audiences do line up to see their favorite stars; but one reason many stars retain their popularity is because they continue to deliver successfully in a popular genre.

    What Genre Is

    Genre refers to the story elements the audience will expect the movie to explore, like romance, danger, humor, war, alien worlds, crime or technology. Because genres set up expectations in the audience, writers who identify the genre of their movie and work within it stand a better chance of connecting with their audience.

    Genres help writers focus the scope of a story. Genre limits story choices -- in a good way. Audiences expect a well-told war story to reveal the outcome of the conflict the movie dramatizes whether it's one battle or a world war. Audiences expect a well-told love story to reveal how the lovers get together and if they stay together.

    What Genre Isn't

    Some writers confuse genre with structure. Genre determines the scope of the story. Structure is the storytelling technique, the arrangement of scenes that reveals character and unfolds action. Structure and genre work together, neither one can do the job alone.

    Some writers shun genre. They confuse it with dime store romance or pulp fiction. If you believe your stories are too unique to be limited by a genre or your heroes are so complex that no genre can encompass them, stop reading and Godspeed.

    I can't tell you everything you need to know about movie genres in one article. I aim to motivate you to be aware of genre as you write your screenplay so you can exploit the expectations genre creates in ways that engage and surprise the audience.

    Does Your Script Have a Genre?

    In the simplest terms, the genre of your movie is determined by the CENTRAL ACTION your main character takes.

    • If your heroine seeks to find the truth or catch a criminal, you're probably writing some form of detective story or crime story.

    • If your central character is menaced or threatened by someone, you're working within the framework of a thriller.

    • If the main action of the story involves a machine or some form of technology menacing your hero, you're probably writing a techno-thriller.

    • If the main action of the story involves your hero defeating or destroying a monster, your script falls within the horror genre.

    Some Tips for Solid Genre Writing

    • Work in a genre you know well.
      Recall your favorite movie experiences, focus on genres that you know and like. The major movie genres are: comedy, drama, action, adventure, crime, war story, western, love story, fantasy, horror, science fiction, teen comedy and family movies.

    • Research the box office track record of your genre.
      Be aware of the important movies that have been made in your genre -- the successful ones and the failures. This kind of thinking will help you pitch your movie more successfully.

    • Combine genres with care.
      Your movie might combine two genres (a romantic-thriller or comedy-horror); but if you need three or more genres to describe the script you're writing, you need to rethink your story. A story that includes too many genres sets up conflicting expectations in the audience. You want to engage, surprise and thrill your audience not baffle them, frustrate them or throw them into turmoil.

    • Learn from the pros.
      Many successful screenwriters have written about genre story telling. Take advantage of their expertise. Here are some terrific articles on specific genres:

      Action Movies


      Teen Movies

      War Movies

      All Genres

    Consider genre expectations as you plan and write your script. This effort will improve your chances of writing a screenplay that will engage the script reader and eventually connect with the movie audience.

    Copyright © 2002 Lenore Wright

    Lenore Wright has 15 years experience writing and selling screenplays in Los Angeles and New York. Find out if YOUR script is ready for market - take the Studio Sniff Test at For more free marketing tips and tools SUBSCRIBE to Script Market News. Send a blank email to

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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