The late Blake Synder was revolutionary when it came to story and plotting. If you haven't read any of his Save the Cat books, I think there are 3 in the series, check them out. He has a new way of looking at the same old genres we see time and time again. He's the Polti of our generation. Below are the seven most popular genres per Save the Cat. If you like this approach, I think it's a fun approach to creating, there is also Save the Cat software and an Iphone App. I love the app because then I can create on the go or while I'm waiting for appointments. A creative mind is never idle!
The 7 Most Popular Genres per Save the Cat
1. DUDE WITH A PROBLEM - Every story, in essence, is about a “dude with a problem.” But this particular genre dictates a certain type of problem: one that is life-or-death and immediate, that must be solved through some sort of physical battle, right now. The whole movie is essentially a chronicle of that battle (which might consist of a series of mini-battles). Think Die Hard, Bourne Identity, Misery, 2012, or Apollo 13.
2. GOLDEN FLEECE - This often seems to be the “catch-all” genre when no other will fit. But it, too, has its own specific requirements that must be met for it to really work. The key is that the main character’s “team” is chasing a very clear and definable “prize” that seems unreachably hard. You’ll know the movie is over, because they’ve achieved the prize, or not. Often, I find in scripts purporting to be a “Fleece” that the “prize” is unclear, or not big or challenging enough, and the journey toward achieving it thus not as compelling as it could be. Think The Bad News Bears, Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan, Ocean’s Eleven, or Cast Away.
3. BUDDY LOVE - All movies have relationships with problems. But it’s not a “Buddy Love” unless the main problem of the movie has to do with a key relationship that seems essential to the main character, which is threatened by something. “Will they or won’t they end up together?” is the central question of the movie, and the main issue that is explored throughout. Think The Black Stallion, Starsky and Hutch, Pretty Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, or An Officer and a Gentleman.
The world of fashion is an institution - and as a turns out - makes for a memorable film.
4. INSTITUTIONALIZED - Just because a story takes place at an “institution” of some sort, does not make it fit this genre. And the “institution” does not have to be literal. The question is whether there is a group with its own rules and norms that the main character is exploring the costs and benefits of membership in — and ultimately deciding whether they want to be a part of it or not. It’s about deciding who they want to be in relationship to it, and the risks and reward of same. Think Full Metal Jacket, Goodfellas, Office Space, The Devil Wears Prada, or Crash.
5. RITES OF PASSAGE - Similarly, just because a character is going through some sort of rite of passage (in the generic sense) does not mean it meets the criteria for this genre. The key here is that it is a relatable life problem (like adolescence, divorce, mid-life, loss of a loved one, or addiction), which the main character is avoiding by chasing something else. They are clearly on a wrong road, as they spend most of the movie in pursuit of some challenging goal that is entertaining to watch, but not ultimately going to work out well. Finally, they’re left having to face life after all, hopefully having learned something in the process. Think 10, The War of the Roses, Ordinary People, Trainspotting, or American Pie.
6. SUPERHERO - The key here is a nemesis and problem that is seemingly bigger than they are. It’s never compelling watching amazing people (real-life or made up) succeeding over and over again. Good stories are always about characters being pressed to their limits and overmatched — in hell, essentially — until the very end. (I cannot say this strongly enough. Stories are about dealing with big problems that only get worse when you try to deal with them. So are scenes, most of the time. This is the main issue that I work with on almost every story — making sure it’s a compelling problem that is big enough, hard enough, and complicated enough to take a whole movie to solve.) Think Erin Brockovich, the Harry Potter series, The Matrix, Gladiator or Spider-Man.
7. OUT OF THE BOTTLE - The “magical” catalyst should cause complications and challenges that never would’ve been there without it. Again, they make the hero’s life harder, in ways that demand to be solved. Usually, it’s easier for readers to swallow if the magic emerges from some sort of relatable, semi-explainable place (i.e., not too arbitrary or contrived) like a carnival wish machine, an electrical storm, or some established mythology like genies or witchcraft. And the magic should go away or be resolved in the end, with the character back to an essentially “normal life,” where they’ve grown in some way. Think Big, Aladdin, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar or Field of Dreams.
Question for today: Where does your script or concept idea fall within these seven?
Happy Writing and Creating!