Victim plays and how you write pop songs (Genre Cheat 3/3)

This post is the final part about genre. I’ve written about the cancer of modern drama that is the victim narrative. I’ll talk briefly about gangsters and rom-coms how they are two sides of the same coin. I also write briefly about the meta-narrative and how to write a pop song.

Victim Play

This is an extension of the drama but it’s toxic, and you should avoid deliberately writing one. I’ll tell you what to watch out for. The most mainstream example of the victim play is the film Philadelphia. When people mention Philadelphia, they talk about how groundbreaking it was. It helped bring discussing the plight of people with AIDS into the mainstream. No one ever talks about the film and whether or not it’s any good. The film isn’t.

A man gets fired for being gay/having AIDS because his bosses hate gay people. A man hires a homophobic lawyer. A homophobic lawyer learns that gay people are people too. Court rules that gay people are people also. Gay guy dies.

The audience realises that gay people exist. I want to make it clear that the makers of the victim play have good intentions it’s that practically it’s a big “and” at the end. The people who need to watch Philadelphia and take the lesson from it never will. The victim play reduces people to morally simple cyphers. Gay people are living saints; everyone else is Satan.

With the victim play, there is also a degree of fetishising the injustice. If you make a film about the domestic abuse, you will have to have a scene where the wife beats the husband.

In Philadelphia, there’s a scene the homophobic lawyer uses all the slurs that come to mind. It’s a case of having your cake and eating it too.

Rom-com/ Gangster

The rom-com and gangster film are two sides of the same coin only one is feminine and the other masculine. They both deal with rules of behaviour in society. The only difference is the consequences. In the rom-com, you are undateable and lose your chance at love. In the gangster film if you snitch they will kill you. Both end in similar ways. There is usually a wedding at the end of the rom-com, the heroine leaves the dating world behind. In the gangster film, the hero leaves the life of crime behind. They leave “the life” through the witness protection programme or death.

Meta-narrative

If you can find a way to make a commentary on the nature of storytelling or filmmaking, there is a chance that you are a master storyteller. The most popular means of doing this is through the framing device, the voice over. Many times it’s forced and can seem cheap. The best example is The Ponderosa Wedding Massacre from It’s Always Sunny.

The Lord of The Rings has a meta-narrative with Frodo writing the story of the Lord of The Rings.

If you can do it subtly, then you are a master. Inception is as much about film as it is about dreams. Look at the scene in the cafe; they are talking about screenwriting.

Arrival is also a good example too. It deals with the distortion of time and our perception. You think that you are watching a flashback when you’re watching a flash forward. It’s a magical manipulation of time.

Briefly about pop songs

There’s no real another place that I will get to put this in so I’ll talk about it here.

With pop songs, you take an old cliche and put your spin on it. Let’s assume for example “A stitch in time saves nine”. You recognise the expression OK, so now what, you look for a word that rhymes with nine. “A stitch in time saves nine/ How come I’m eighth in line?” Not great but not terrible for thirty seconds of work. Those lyrics don’t make literal sense, but that doesn’t matter. Pop songs are better left vague.

As for chorus’ something repetitive and simple.

If you’re a man: Make it about either saying that you screwed up and are heartbroken.

If you’re a woman: Make it about how he didn’t do enough, and you’re irreplaceable.

Pop is all about selling a comfortable lie.

Conclusion

Hope that these three parts helped you gain some clarity when it comes to genre. I enjoyed writing about this and hope that you enjoyed reading up on the subject. Feels like I’ve only scratched the surface. I will return to this subject later.

If you liked reading about what genre and want to know more would you mind leaving a comment because I want to help you. Unless you want to write a victim play.

Thank you.

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This Cheat Sheet will make you master Genre Part 2

20180511_030248_00018780830504285575838.pngWelcome to part 2 on genre

Hello and welcome back to the second part. In this part, you’ll read about mystery, tragedy, comedy and drama. These are genres that are the foundation of western fiction. Understand a genre and you will understand what your audience expects of you.

In the final part, I’ll talk about meta-narrative and give you a bare-bones guide to writing a pop song.

Mystery Thriller Genre/ Police Procedural

Oedipus Rex is the foundation of all detective fiction. The play is the basis of the mystery genre. The story of Oedipus is also the infant subconscious. You have a hatred of the father and the lust for the mother. That element doesn’t need incorporated into your plot. Detective fiction needs to have a hero who sets out to the right a wrong only to find out that he is the cause of the wrong.

The extension of this is the police drama.

If detective drama deals with the fault of the self, detective drama is concerned with the fault of the parents. In the detective drama, it usually starts small with the murder of some nobody in a derelict area. Our hero discovers that the corruption doesn’t come from the criminal underworld but within the police department. In LA Confidential and Minority Report, the police chief is revealed as the criminal. In Insomnia Hilary Swank discovers that it was Al Pacino who shot his partner.

TV Detectives

I can’t write about mystery thrillers without mentioning Columbo and Jessica Fletcher.

I’ve never understood the appeal of either as there is no progression. Each episode is like a self-contained film that has no relation to one or another. You could watch either show in any order, and it would make no difference.

Let’s talk about Columbo first.

Anyone who has read Homicide by David Simon will know no detective would get away with what Columbo does.

Columbo’s unorthodoxy gave me an idea that he is the manifest guilt of the murderer. The theory doesn’t hold up, but it makes the show more fun to watch.  Frank Columbo almost exclusively interacts with the guilty party. Columbo keeps showing up and nags the suspect. Lt Columbo is more like the three Furies from The Eumenides than an actual person, let alone a cop.

Columbo is manifested by the occurrence of the crime. You never get an idea of who Columbo is apart from being a bit of a bumbler and resilient. There are mentions of a wife and some episodes he has a dog, I think. I’m not watching every Columbo for this article. Each episode ends with the criminal either confessing or confronted with irrefutable evidence. You never see the trial; there’s never any follow-on. The episode stops once a confession has been taken from the criminal.

Murder, she kept writing

As for Murder, She Wrote there is a joke about how she’s the real murderer. That would make the show far more enjoyable. The show is camp. It would be enjoyable to see it as an episodic version of Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Jessica as the murderer. Alas, it’s too much of a stretch. Angela Lansbury is a treasure though, and you must cherish her.

Mystery Money

You could probably make a lot of money if you wrote a half decent mystery. I am convinced that all you have to do is write a kind of interesting mystery and have it end well for it to be successful.

Look at some of the more popular authors from previous years. There’s John Grisham, legal thrillers, JK Rowling; you think that Harry Potter is a book about magic? Think of the titles of her books; they are mysteries set within wizard world.

Is that why The Cursed Child didn’t quite excite people the way Harry Potter had done? Did switching the focus to time travel spoil the magic?

If you have an idea for a mystery, get it written and make your millions. I’m envious because I never could, nor will I ever have the motivation to write one.

Tragedy

Think about the genre tragedy. Macbeth is a great example of the genre. The character is told a lie and is unable to turn away from his destiny. With a little tweaking, the genre could change from tragedy to comedy. Towards the end of the Scottish play, the two armies are preparing to clash. They’re ready to fight when one of the kings gets a letter saying the witches manipulated the whole thing. They decide to forgive kooky Macbeth, he still gets punished, but there is forgiveness.

Think about Romeo and Juliet. The sleeping potion wears off Juliet right before Romeo poisons himself. The parents come in and say that if their children can set aside differences then so can they, it becomes a comedy.

Comedy

The same goes for comedy. At the end of Liar Liar, Jim Carrey arrives at the airport to find out that his ex-wife and son took off hours ago. It becomes a tragedy. The misconception about comedy is that because it brings out laughter it must be jovial. Comedy has some of the grimmest subject matter.

One of my favourite sitcoms, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has an episode where they exhume their dead mother.  Another great plotline is George Costanza from Seinfeld, his fiancee, died licking envelopes. Furthermore, there is the oppressive atmosphere of The Office UK.

If you want a great example of a comedy plot, I recommend season 5 of The Wire. There is a lie told by one of the characters, that lie builds. More people believe in the lie before the truth is revealed.

Comedy is the lie discovered. The tragedy is the lie discovered too late.

Drama

Drama is a less heightened version of tragedy/comedy. If tragedy and comedy deal with justice and forgiveness, a drama is “everyone is a bit shit”. A recent example of a good drama was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

What’s the film’s plot? It’s not a mystery thriller, the identity of the daughters killer is never revealed. Is it about a mother grieving, no, all the grieving seems to be done by the start of the film. Mother and daughter don’t even like each other that much as you are told through flashback. Is it about an asshole sheriff who learns something, sort of. The cumulative effect of the drama is to leave the audience with a sense of nostalgia.

Theatre darling

Furthermore, look at some of the greatest plays from the previous century. A Streetcar Named Desire and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There’s no real plot, and there’s no real hero. Everyone is kind of awful; everyone is kind of weak all are human. I can’t offer too much advice on drama. Don’t mistake subtle progression for no progression.

 

 

This Cheat Sheet will make you master genre Part 1

Intro

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.

If you are considering writing a script, then I recommend The Hero With A Thousand Faces, anything on Jungian archetypes and The Uses of Enchantment.

Genres

Sci-Fi

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.

Horror

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

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.

Fantasy

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.