Genre can be difficult to pin down. You know what works but you find yourself grasping for something but you don’t know what.
First of all, this is by no means a comprehensive list. I’m not an expert either so treat the following accordingly. While I’m not an expert I have a skill for pattern recognition in film.
I’m going to be looking into what are the subconscious undertones of each genre.
If you’re a writer and are considering working within a genre there’s no harm being prepared.
Even if you’re not a writer you understanding a genre can help why you watch something that is fine, but there’s a missing element. Usually, it was because the creators have deviated from some of the staples of the genre in an unsatisfying way.
A quick example is Kill Bill. Revenge movies have to end with the death of the character getting revenge. The heroes purpose in revenge stories is to right a wrong and then die. The hero cannot come back from the underworld and return to the normal world, certainly not whole, they have to lose something on the way.. Kill Bill not only has the hero returned from the underworld alive she has returned unscathed. That may be good filmmaking, but it isn’t great storytelling.
Know your genre.
I’m going to be talking mainly about screenwriting but this applies to other forms of fiction writing if you can see the patterns at work.
Sci-fi is about the quest for higher knowledge about ourselves and our universe. It ends with the hero transcending, either by dying or disappearing.
Sci-fi in it’s most simple terms is “Where is god, there is god, I am god”
By god I don’t mean Yahweh the Christian God I mean god in the sense of being a higher being, higher knowledge, the next step in evoloution.
Sci-fi deals on the subconscious level about shedding the ego and the id to be part of something greater.
There is always an element of the religious when it comes to sci-fi. That is because the Bible is the basis for all sci-fi. That is why you will see a lot of Jesus imagery in sci-fi films. 2001: A Space Odyssey ends in death and rebirth as does the Matrix. Even low key sci-fi taps into religion Children of Men is the Nativity story. Battlestar Galactica is Moses in space.
The key to creating good sci-fi is reading the Bible.
I love horror; I made a horror film that you can watch here. Horror is the inverse of sci-fi. Sci-fi is an outward optimistic journey whereas horror is a pessimistic journey inward. Consider 2001 and The Shining. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the Discovery travels from Earth, and David transcends to become the Star Child. In The Shining Jack Torrance enters room 237 and goes insane.
At a basic level horror is a fear of death but let’s look at it on a deeper level. If sci-fi is the voluntary releasing of the ego, then horror is the taking of the ego. Horror is the loss of identity before the self is ready.
In slasher horror like Halloween, Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, Texas Chainsaw Massacre there tends to be five main characters. This number can deviate, but five is a number that represents psychological wholeness.
When the characters enter the world of the film, they are stable but as the numbers dwindle so does their psyche.
The characters in horror aren’t individuals, but together they make a whole. Cabin in the Woods spelt out Jungian archetypes for audiences. That film is a good resource for anyone wanting to develop their horror writing skills.
Monster Monster Monster
Let’s talk about the monsters of horror in broad terms.
- Vampire stories are about the fear of promiscuity and sexual diseases.
- Zombies are about the fear of losing your identity and becoming part of the crowd.
- Werewolves are about the darker side of male sexuality.
- Demonic possession is about our dark shadow, the evil that exists in the best of us. There is an argument to be made that demonic possession with the dark side of female sexuality, in Evil Dead the first victim has been raped by a tree and Regan from The Exorcist gets possessed right as she enters puberty.
Ghost stories are a genre onto themselves. They tend to have less death and any deaths that there are tend to be less violent.
The basic structure of a ghost story is as follows: There is a ghost, you are a ghost, I am a ghost. The Shining follows this structure as does The Others. There are ghostly goings-on that start small. Creaky floorboards etc. Usually ends with the hero finding out that they have been dead the whole time.
Ghost stories are about repression. It’s not uncommon for the ghost to be a symptom of the repression rather than a cause. An unsolved murder or a past wrong tend to be the centre of ghost stories.
If you had to sum up the fantasy genre into a sentence, it would be: Let’s set aside our differences and tackle bigger problems. You see it in Lord of the Rings; the kingdoms must unite to take on Sauron.
Even the anti-Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones you can see the structure asserting itself. The four houses are now having to unify to take on the undead.
Why You Find Star Wars a bit dull
Part of the reason that the new Star Wars films are boring is that there is no advancement of what went before. Star Wars is a fantasy film within a sci-fi setting. I tried to rewatch Return of the Jedi recently, I struggled, it’s a boring film. It should have steered into the fantasy structure.
Instead of a pointless rescue mission that takes up forty minutes of a two-hour film, you could have raised the stakes. Princess Leia is on diplomatic missions to win over more worlds to the rebellion. Meanwhile Luke goes to confront the Emperor and in doing so becomes the new one.
I may go into how I would have written Return of the Jedi. Even though I’m no longer interested in Star Wars, I still fanboy over the prequel trilogy and the missed opportunities in the saga.
To be continued
I didn’t expect to have so much to say about the genre. There are still more to cover so I’m going to split this into two and I’ll post part 2 on Monday.
You have a great weekend now.