The Biggest Reason Why Writers Fail At The Premise by John Truby
Film Courage: Why is understanding genre so important?
John Truby: Genre really is the key to understanding screenwriting today and it comes from what I call the First Rule of Hollywood, which is Hollywood doesn’t buy and sell movie stars, directors or writers, it buys and sells genres.
Now genres are story forms. And more importantly they are the all-stars of the story world. They are story forms that have been told over decades, centuries and in some cases like with myth, thousands of years. So they have already been worked out. They’ve been worked out in very great detail. And they know exactly how their characters work, what their themes are, they know how the plot is going to work and so on, so it’s very, very tough.
Now in order to sell to a worldwide audience you have to use these different genres because this is what the audience is really buying. When an audience goes to see one of the big summer blockbuster films, they may not know in their head “Oh, that’s a myth-based film.” or “That’s an action film.” or a combination of the two but they know what they like. And that’s what is underneath each one of those stories (AVENGERS, DARK KNIGHT, so on). Those are all just basic story forms, basic genres, with a unique skin placed on top.
So it’s very important for the writer to understand what genres they are working in. It’s also very important for them to understand minor genres because almost every film that gets made is not a single genre, that was decades ago. Now almost every film that gets made (not just in Hollywood) but in worldwide cinema, is a combination of two, three and sometimes four genres.
Now a lot of writers know this. What they don’t know (they usually don’t know) is that combining genres is very difficult because each genre has its own hero, it’s own opponent, it’s own desire line, them and so on. So when you start combining these, typically you end up with chaos. You end up with so many story elements that are connected that the script doesn’t work.
So it’s very important to understand how to put these genres together.
One final point about this, when a writer is developing a story idea, right at the beginning of the writing process they come up against the biggest decisions that they will have to make which is “What genre is this story?” The biggest reason that writers fail at the premise, and by the way, 99% of scripts fail at the premise line, right at the biggest decision in the writing process. The biggest reason is not that it wasn’t a good idea. It’s that they used the wrong genre to develop the idea.
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