Of course, the inevitable lament rose up after yesterday’s post on Right At Your Door (this time on Twitter, in my words) – “We don’t NEED categories, the average viewer/reader is smart, the marketers and producers are talking down to us!”
I’ve been script reading so long now that when I started, the *thing* of the moment was – and I quote – “fragmenting the narrative”. I remember hearing about it every five minutes: at uni, at meetings, from colleagues. Basically it boiled down to thus: “Structure’s a load of pants! Pulp Fiction and Memento is the way to go! Non linear baby, WOOOOOO!” Of course, fifteen years or so later AFTER these ground breaking films (and dozens and dozens of variations later), we all realise that *actually* stuff like Pulp Fiction and Memento didn’t actually “fragment” anything in the narrative AT ALL – they just re-ordered it.
And the rally *against* categorisation is no different IMHO; I believe it’s just another *thing* we have to work through. As much as it might pain us as WRITERS to have our work pigeon-holed sometimes, as CONSUMERS ourselves, we DEMAND it. When we see a film that does not pan out as “expected” (whatever that happens to mean), it’s not unusual for us to feel CHEATED, for whatever reason. This is why it is unwise to try and reinvent the wheel when it comes to genre or drama: there are *certain things* that ARE done and others that AREN’T, according to whatever you’re writing. It’s just the way it is. If you stray too far from those conventions then, you’re not actually writing what you intend. So what’s the point?
To say viewers and readers don’t need OR want categories I believe is naive. Just look at the fans, who are SO willing to say they love Horror, Sci Fi, Comedy – and yes, even Drama. They go to pains to DEFINE themselves *as* fans of a particular genre or even on the flipside of the coin, as someone who is NOT. Just look at your friends’ blogs, Twitter profiles, Facebook pages and the like. But even if they didn’t, as human beings we categorise everything and everyone: child, son, daughter; father, husband, mother, wife; boyfriend, girlfriend, single, married; straight, gay, bisexual, transexual; skilled, unskilled, professional; rich, poor, whatever. The list goes on and on and on. Why? Because that’s how we understand and define the world, whether we agree with doing it or not. Why would books, films etc be any different?
I think it’s important to remember using conventions is not JUST so viewers and readers will “understand” – on this basis, I think the writers who believe categorisation is *just* that are actually the ones talking down to the audience, not the marketers or producers. Audiences are MASSIVELY media literate and are becoming increasingly ever more so, so it’s important to push boundaries as much as possible, for fear of becoming otherwise pedestrian and dull. This is why producers want “the same… but different”: NOT because they’re actually restricting what the audience “can” have, but because the audience actually want it TOO. And think on… Is the “Same… But Different” really THAT restrictive, when it can literally BE anything? It’s your story, people.
So it’s a good idea to give your audience SURPRISES within the confines of those categories: it’s those surprises that make the narrative fly and pushes said boundaries. But mixing drama and genre conventions doesn’t automatically do this. As I demonstrated yesterday with RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR, there were many things I liked and admired about the film and I “understood” the narrative perfectly well. But that doesn’t mean I found it ultimately dramatically satisfying. A GREAT drama and a GREAT genre film are two very different things. Trying to be both then “dilutes” the potential greatness of each. We end up with what is essentially a hybrid that cannot reach the pinnacle of its narrative potential as it pays to lip service to both elements, rather than picking just one to exploit. An old saying springs to mind, “A jack of all trades and a master of none”.
It’s very easy to talk down categorisation and say audiences are being patronised by its very existence. If you really feel this way, I would recommend taking a walk to your nearest slush pile and reading several hundred screenplays with an identity crisis like RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR. Regardless of what each script is *supposed* to be – drama OR genre – I venture you will see countless story opportunities missed; undefined character motivations; and structure that makes a 90 pager feel like 900 minutes – and that’s just for starters. In short, I don’t believe you will find scripts that are the best they possibly CAN be.
However, if you read/have read all those screenplays and STILL feel the same way about categorisation? Then by all means, be my guest. As if oft said thanks to ol’ Goldie, “No one knows anything” and I’m not about to say my own thoughts are cast iron.
Bet you’ll change your mind, though ; )
MORE ON THIS BLOG ABOUT GENRE & DRAMA:
Check out The Required Reading List, it has its own section!
Glad you made a rebuttal post.
Whoever said —
"We don't NEED categories, the average viewer/reader is smart, the marketers and producers are talking down to us!"
— obviously doesn't get it.
It's not about a need for categories. The categories exist.
Some tales make us laugh. Some make us cry. Some make us afraid of the dark.
The thing is — to do all of those things within a single story is asking a hell of a lot out of the story.
"Jack of all trades, master of none." Perfect quote.
It really has nothing to do with who the audience is (smart or dumb) or who the producers are. It has to do with story structure and expectation.
If you're mixing genres willy nilly chances are very high that your tear jerking moment where a mother has to choose between which child lives and dies probably doesn't belong in your slapstick comedy about a group of guys in Mexico searching for a donkey show.
I read a lot of scripts that it is very clear from the opening the writer doesn't know what they want the story to be. I'd wage 75% of the scripts I read suffer from this.
The scripts that nail their genre go a lot further with me. The scripts that are written by writers that know their genre so well that they redefine it are immediate RECOMMENDS.
I think a lot of new writers mix genres because they think it's easier. Mix a little of this with that. And look something totally new and different that's like other things.
The truth of the matter is if you can write one genre very well, you will sell scripts.
And by no means am I saying one writer can't be a master of all genres. But I am saying one story can't.