Three Tips For Bringing Old Genres Up To Date

Whilst reading the book I reviewed a couple of days ago, I realised something. It was a book from 2013 that was basically a 1990s-style action movie in disguise πŸ™‚ It surprised me that the type of films that I really wish Hollywood still made still existed… but in book form.

Not only that, the novel had also brought this old genre (eg: 1990s-style action movies) into the present day in a way that didn’t really seem too nostalgic or old-fashioned. It felt totally fresh and new, yet it was undeniably a 1990s action movie in book form.

So, this made me think about how to bring old genres up to date – and I thought that I’d offer a few tips:

1) Timeless elements: The best way to bring an old genre up to date is to look at the basic underlying elements that make the genre so distinctive. The qualities that can be quickly summed up in ten words or less. In other words, the timeless parts of the genre.

For example, with 1990s-style action movies, this would include things like: Ludicrous villain plots, non-topical drama, teams of main characters (instead of a lone hero), an optimistic attitude, interesting location choices, a friendly atmosphere, light-hearted romance, a sense of humour, making mundane things thrilling etc…

With 1980s-style cyberpunk novels, this would include things like: Information overload, jargon-heavy narration, gloomy weather, morally-ambiguous protagonists, alternative worlds (eg: cyberspace), cynicism, hyper-capitalist dystopias, fast-paced storytelling etc…

With 1980s-style splatterpunk horror novels, this would include things like: Poetic descriptions of ugly things, gory violence, the mundane mixed with the horrific, a dark sense of humour, a grim sense of poetic justice, complex background characters who die soon after they appear, lurid titillation etc..

Once you’ve found the timeless elements of an old genre (by studying it), then it’s just a simple case of writing a modern story that includes these elements. Even if your story is set in the present day and has a few differences, if you include lots of the timeless elements from an old genre, then your story will remind people of it.

2) Nostalgia: This is a bit of a complicated one. On the one hand, nostalgia is absolutely amazing. On the other hand, it can get in the way of what makes updated modern versions of old genres so fascinating – namely the feeling of discovering something new in a genre that you thought was long since gone.

After all, many of the original works in an old or forgotten genre weren’t made for nostalgia. They were made to tell stories, to entertain people and as a form of creative expression. All of the nostalgia was added later by fans. So, even if you don’t include any nostalgia, then your audience will add it anyway.

As such, don’t go overboard with nostalgia when updating an old genre if you can help it. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, too much obvious nostalgia can remind the audience that they’re looking at something based on something old – rather than getting to experience the joy of discovering a totally new work in a forgotten genre. So, be subtle about including nostalgia and don’t include too much of it.

3) Streamlining: Simply put, get rid of whatever doesn’t work whenever you’re updating an old genre. Be ruthless.

But, be sure that you have a good understanding of how an old genre works before you decide what is worth keeping. To use a videogame-based example, a lot of “awkward” design choices in old survival horror games (eg: strange camera angles, limited inventory, clumsy movement/combat controls etc..) are deliberately there to make the player feel vulnerable, and therefore even more scared.

But, if you find something that used to work in a genre (but which doesn’t work these days), then get rid of it and replace it with something that does work. One example of this that I briefly mentioned in an article a couple of days ago is how older and newer thriller novels handle things like sentence length and linguistic complexity differently.

One of the main differences between a thriller novel from the 1970s and one from the 2010s is that the old one only had to compete with films/TV, but the new one also has to compete with boxsets, smartphones, the internet, videogames etc… too. So, things like more matter-of-fact descriptions, shorter sentences and shorter chapters might mean that new thrillers aren’t the same as classic thrillers. But, they work!

These changes mean that they’re efficient and readable enough to hold their own against boxsets, games etc.. They still evoke the same emotions as older thriller novels do, but they’ve had to cut out the excess in order to keep doing this in the 21st century.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Two Very Basic Ways To Create A New Sub-Genre

Well, although this is a short article about creativity in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about music briefly. This is mostly because I seem to be listening to slightly more heavy metal than usual at the time of writing.

Anyway, one of the defining features of the heavy metal genre is how many different sub-genres of heavy metal there are.

There’s symphonic metal, classic metal, power metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, pirate metal, folk metal, trance metal etc…

Yet, all of these sub-genres are still very recognisable as heavy metal. So, although I’ve probably mentioned all of this stuff before, here are two very basic tips for how to make your own sub-genre (of art, fiction, music etc…).

1) Have a wide range of influences: Generally speaking, many new sub-genres are created when someone takes inspiration from something outside of their chosen genre.

For example, the Symphonic Metal sub-genre probably began when someone thought “what this opera really needs is some electric guitars“. Likewise, the Folk Metal sub-genre probably also began when someone thought the same thing about folk music.

Likewise, the Zomcom genre of films probably began with a brilliantly hilarious film called “Shaun Of The Dead”, which is a mixture of a romantic comedy and a zombie movie. If the creator of this film had only taken inspiration from one genre, the film wouldn’t be the distinctive, genre-defining classic that it is.

So, having a slightly wider range of influences will make it much easier for you to find new things to blend with your favourite genre. And, this is how you make a new sub-genre.

2) Know your tastes: Another way that new sub-genres can be created is when a person realises exactly what they really love about their favourite genre and then decides to turn it “up to eleven”.

A good example of this would probably be Splatterpunk fiction – this is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular during the 1980s/90s and it probably just stemmed from several horror writers thinking “why can’t horror novels include more blood and guts? Horror movies can include this stuff, why can’t we? Best of all, we don’t have to deal with film censors either….“.

So, if you’re a massive fan of a particular genre, then look carefully at which elements of the genre you really love, and then emphasise them more. I mean, you’re probably going to do this anyway (it’s a part of taking inspiration) – but if you do it prominently and distinctively enough, then you can end up creating a new sub-genre.

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Sorry for another short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Three Quick Thoughts About What To Do When Making Stuff In Your Favourite Genre Feels Less Exciting

The night before I wrote this article, I was making a painting that will be posted here in a few days’ time. Since I was feeling mildly more inspired than I had been over the past few days, I decided to make a slightly more detailed painting in one of my favourite genres – the cyberpunk genre. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th July.

Although the painting turned out ok, it felt a bit like I was just going through the motions. I thought back to how the times when I’d started making cyberpunk art more regularly (in 2016/early-mid 2017) felt a lot more interesting and exciting.

So, what do you do when making stuff in your favourite genre starts to lose it’s “spark”?

1) Move to one of your other favourite genres: This is the obvious one, but if you find that making stuff in one of your favourite genres isn’t evoking the feelings of excitement, fascination and “this is awesome!” that it used to, then move to a genre that does evoke these feelings in you.

Whether it’s just a passing fascination with some random topic, or another genre you really love, you probably have more than one thing that really fascinates you at any one time. So, focus on one of the other ones.

After a while, when you start to feel temporarily bored with that thing – you’ll have probably had enough of a break from the genre that you were getting bored with for it to start to seem interesting again.

2) Change how you think about it: One of the interesting shifts that I’ve noticed in my attitude towards making cyberpunk art is that it has gone from being “let’s make something really cool-looking” to “let’s making something easy, that also looks cool“. Because I’ve had a fair amount of practice with this genre of art, I can pretty much make cyberpunk paintings in my sleep these days.

Still, this isn’t a bad thing. At the very least, it now means that I can still make good-looking art on less inspired or moderately inspired days. In other words, it is a sign of artistic progress. It is a sign that I’m progressing as an artist. It’s another backup for uninspired days. In other words, it isn’t a bad thing.

If you can find some kind of silver lining to your current lack of enthusiasm for your favourite genre, then this can help a lot. Because, even if it just means that it’s time to find a new favourite genre (and experience all of those feelings of excitement again), then this is certainly better than just feeling miserable about the fact that your favourite genre doesn’t excite you as much as it used to.

3) Find more inspirations: Simply put, the times when I’ve felt really thrilled about making cyberpunk art have been when I’ve discovered something “new” in this genre that I haven’t seen or played before and have been absolutely entranced by it.

So, one way to rekindle your enthusiasm for making stuff in one of your favourite genres is simply to find more stuff in this genre. The only problem with this is, of course, that finding “new” stuff becomes progressively more difficult over time since not only will you have already seen or played even more stuff in this genre but you’ll have already learnt a lot about that genre (and the thrill of learning new stuff is an important part of those feelings of fascination).

So, this approach isn’t perfect. But, if you’re experiencing this jaded feeling for the very first time – then, time and budget permitting, it can be a good temporary solution.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ultra-Basic Ways To Come Up With Story Ideas In Genres You Don’t Normally Write In

During a random conversation a while before I originally wrote this article, I was asked by someone to come up with random ideas for romance novels.

Although I thought that this would be an extremely challenging thing (since romance usually tends to be a background element, if anything, in stories that I write), I was actually able to come up with two vaguely ok story ideas within the following hour. They didn’t turn into actual stories, but I’m still surprised that I was actually able to think of the ideas in the first place.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how to come up with story ideas for genres that you don’t normally write in.

1) Work out which part of the genre you like (and which part you don’t): If you have to plan a story in a genre that you don’t normally write in, start by asking yourself what you do and don’t like about the genre in question. When you’ve found the things that you like, then focus on them.

Although this won’t give you an instant story idea, knowing what you do and don’t like about the genre in question will point you in the direction of the basic story types that you’ll be best at planning. So, it will give you part of a story idea, although you’ll obviously have to think of the rest.

For example, in romantic fiction, I prefer stories where the romance is either a pre-existing thing at the start of the story or an inevitable thing. I’m not really a fan of stories that involve love triangles, affairs etc.. since this adds a lot of unnecessary tension and emotional awkwardness to a genre that is supposed to be uplifting and reassuring (albeit with some light dramatic conflict). So, knowing this, I was able to know a little bit more about the basic types of stories that I’d be best at planning.

2) You know more than you think you do: If you’ve ever seen a sci-fi film called “Limitless“, then you’re probably going to guess what I’m talking about here. In this film, the main character ends up in a situation that allows him to access literally all of his memories. This means that, thanks to lots of things he’s seen or read about briefly in the past, he instantly becomes a genius. The basic point of this film is that we absorb a lot more information than we actually remember.

The same is true for genres that you don’t normally write. Chances are, you’ve seen or read more things in this genre than you think – even if it’s just mixed with other genres. For example, if you’ve never read or written a horror story before and haven’t seen any horror movies, then you’ve probably still seen films, TV shows etc.. that include elements from the horror genre.

So, think carefully about all of the things that you have seen or read that include elements from the genre that you’re going to use in your story plan and see if those elements can teach you anything about how to tell stories in this genre.

3) Your own version: One of the best ways to plan a story in a genre you don’t know much about is simply to think of your own version of it. In other words, if you read a story or saw a film in that genre which you actually liked – what would it look like? Once you’ve worked this out, then coming up with a story plan becomes somewhat easier.

Yes, it might involve adding elements from other genres to your plan or it might involve using literary techniques from other genres, but it will help you to think of a story idea that is actually enjoyable to write about.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Reasons Why Genre Blending Is So Important

Although I’ve talked about combining genres before, I thought that I’d look at it from a slightly different angle today. This is because, whilst there are lots of ways that writers/artists/musicians/filmmakers etc… can mix genres together, the act of genre blending is important in it’s own right.

Here are a few reasons why:

1) It widens audiences: Normally, I’m not a fan of the superhero genre, especially when it comes to “traditional” superheroes. Don’t even get me started on how annoying it is when people use the word “comics” as a synonym for “superhero comics” (other types of comics exist!). And, yet, one of my many favourite TV shows is probably “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“.

This is an American TV series about Superman that was originally made during the 1990s and it is a world apart from “gritty and serious” modern superhero movies. This show is much, much better as a result. But, why? Well, because it includes elements from lots of other genres.

Rather than being in the action genre, it takes heavy influence from the comedy genre, the romance genre, the detective genre and occasionally the science fiction genre. It’s a fun, light-hearted and funny show about an incredibly cute couple (and their complicated love life), who solve mysteries that also occasionally include things like futuristic gadgets and spaceships. In other words, it’s a show that wasn’t made for obsessive superhero comic fans and it is amazing!

Likewise, I used to think that folk music was a boring genre. Then I heard heavy metal and punk bands make amazing songs that were based on various old folk songs. I also used to think that the fantasy genre was “silly”/ “nerdy in a bad way”, but then I read and watched “Game Of Thrones” (which takes influence from the horror genre), and played computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” that blend the fantasy and cyberpunk genres in really cool ways.

If you include elements from other genres, then you introduce audiences to genres that they may not have really been interested in before. Not only does this widen the audience for a particular genre, but it also allows people who aren’t usually fans of a particular genre to take a look at it without wasting their time.

2) Originality: As many people will probably tell you, there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is influenced or inspired by something else. And, yet, the most famous “original” works have got that title for the simple reason that they took influence from an original mixture of things.

For example, the film “Blade Runner” wasn’t the first sci-fi film about robots. It wasn’t even the first thing in the cyberpunk genre (a writer called Bruce Bethke got there first). The basic story behind the film isn’t even original (it’s an adaptation of a Philip. K. Dick novel). Even the film’s beautifully ‘futuristic’ set designs are clearly inspired by cities like Tokyo and Seoul, older comics like “2000AD” and “MΓ©tal Hurlant” and old film noir movies.

But, it’s recognised as a cinematic masterpiece because of the fact that it combined science fiction, film noir and philosophy in a way that no-one had ever done before. The film’s originality comes from doing something totally new with a wide range of different influences.

New genres and highly “original” creative works tend to emerge when people mix elements from different genres in ways that no-one has really done before. So, genre blending is essential to originality.

3) Awesomeness: If you’re a fan of two genres, then seeing them combined can make something even better. Whilst this depends a lot on how the two genres are blended, it can result in some truly awesome things.

The classic cinematic example is probably the film “Alien“. Science fiction is awesome. Horror is awesome. This film blends both genres together in such a way that they rely on each other to turn the film into something greater than the sum of it’s parts. Without the film being set on a claustrophobic spaceship, it’d just be a generic monster movie. Without the alien creature, the film would just be a generic “serious” late-1970s sci-fi movie. But, together, these elements create something truly brilliant!

When genres are mixed in a way that allows each genre to compliment the other genre, then it can turn into something that is mind-blowingly awesome if you happen to be a fan of both genres.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚