Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rewriting: The Genre Pass (Cont.)

All right, that was a lot on suspense (see last two posts (Suspense Pass 1, Suspense Pass 2) - but that’s my thing. I’m sure you regular readers have already gotten this message, but I’ll say it again anyway: If you are writing a book or script in a different genre, any genre, you need to be equally scrupulous about delivering the promise of that genre to your readers/audience: comedy in a comedy, action in an actioner or action thriller, romance and sex in a romance, romance and sex and comedy in a romantic comedy, romance and sex and comedy and action in a romantic comedy/adventure (see ROMANCING THE STONE for an excellent example of delivering all the promises of those genres in one seamless gem of a movie).

Of course, for my money, your first step is always to make a master list – ten movies and books in the genre you’re writing that you can look at to see how the master storytellers deliver the promise in the genre.

A great exercise is to go through a movie or book minute by minute, or page by page, and literally count the genre scenes. List each one and how many minutes, seconds or pages there are between each genre scene or moment. At the end of this exercise you should be able to say with confidence, for example, in GROUNDHOG DAY, there is a laugh-out loud moment every 4 minutes (or however many minutes it is) Seriously. This is a great way to internalize the rhythm of a particular genre.

I must confess, I personally believe that if you’re not a comedian right here, right now, you’re never going to be a comedian. BUT – if you are not a born comedian but are writing a romantic comedy, and you know need to get more laughs in, this a great way to do that. Other genres are, I believe, more forgiving than comedy and easier to learn how to do.

Another good method is to lay out your story on index cards or Post Its again, and this time use a particular color of card or Post It to signify a comedy (action, sex, suspense) scene. If when you step back and survey your story board and you see a long sequence of scenes with none of that color, that’s a good indication that you need to work that sequence and those scenes to layer in genre elements.

The other thing that is essential to look at is how the act and sequence climaxes in a good movie or book are almost always genre scenes. In a love story, these turning points are emotional or sexual. In an action story, they are action scenes, with the essential revelations occurring within the action (Think of the climax of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – Darth Vader didn’t reveal Luke’s parenthood to him while they were washing dishes, now, did he?). Even if you don’t quite pull off every single act climax and sequence climax as a rip-roaring genre scene, it’s not a bad idea to shoot for that, because then at the very least you will know that you have eight scenes that deliver on your genre promise, and that’s a really solid foundation for a successful story. And when you get yourself to think specifically in terms of genre scenes, your mind will be automatically looking for other places to insert genre moments.

While we’re on Act Climaxes, I just wanted to mention the concept of multiple climaxes (in storytelling; hopefully we’re all experts at the other). Some people make themselves crazy looking for the exact scene that is the Act Climax. Well, if it’s not obvious, then chances are you’ve got multiple climaxes, or what I like to call a “rolling climax”. ROMANCING THE STONE’s Act I climax is a perfect example of several different scenes that fulfill the genre promises of comedy, action, romance and sex, which all work togther to make up the act break – take a look at the discussion here:

And here are some posts to help you with identifying Act Climaxes:

- Identifying Act Climaxes

- Raiders of the Lost Ark - Act Climaxes

The good news here is that – you don’t have to get all of this into your first draft! These are rewriting tricks. Write out the bones of your scenes and the story, first, and then start to layer in these genre elements. Take a look at where you might combine two completely different scenes so that you get a big revelation or plot twist inside of a comic or fight scene, or in the middle of sex.

This is the fun part of writing – everything after the first draft is icing. So enjoy!


I will be teaching an online Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop through the Yellow Rose Romance Writers, Jan. 1 through Jan. 18.

These online workshops are a fantastic deal, just $25 for two weeks, and here's where you can get one-on-one feedback on these techniques as they apply to your own story. All genres welcome!

Go here to register:


TerryLynnJohnson said...

Wow! I've just discovered your blog - a commenter on mine suggested it. Even though I do not write screen plays, I've spent over an hour soaking up your sage advice. FYI, I'll be blogging about you in my post today.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hey Terry Lynn, great to have you here, and thanks for the shout out.

I'm really not writing for screenwriters at all, although anyone interested in writing scripts can certainly get a lot out of the discussion. I break down movies because it's an easy way to show novelists how film techniques can improve their fiction writing.

It's all storytelling!

Anonymous said...

This is great advice ..... "A great exercise is to go through a movie or book minute by minute, or page by page, and literally count the genre scenes"

I've learned to break down my MS in numerous areas and what I found early on was that often my characters, with their individual quirks and subtlies, would all talk the same. By performing a similar exercise for dialogue. I was able to go back and expound on what made my characters who they are: their individual, unique, and diverse backgrounds and how they act and react in various settings.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...


annasmallbooks said...

I just found your blog after reading another one, too. I can't wait to read the others you've written. I finally sold my first romance novel, having been writing for more than 10 years. I learned the hard way, but your suggestions and ideas have inspired me to take my writing in new directions. Thank you for sharing!