How To Invent New Genres

2016 Artwork Inventing a new genre

The day before I wrote this article, I may have invented a new genre. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had an experience like this, but it’s always fascinating when it happens. Of course, it’s possible that someone else has discovered this particular idea earlier, but I thought that I’d share it and, more importantly, how I found it (in case it’s useful to you).

Although I’ll include some general pointers about how to invent new genres at the end of this article, I’ll start with the story of how I (possibly) invented a new genre.

It all started when I found a fascinating series of videos about game design on Youtube. As long-term readers of this site probably know, I’ve always wanted to make computer games. But this ambition has never really come to fruition due to my almost complete aversion to programming, my short creative attention span and the fact that the very small number of user-friendly game creation programs I’ve ever found are either not quite what I’m looking for or they are free trial versions of programs that are far outside my price range.

After a while, I found myself having a familiar thought “If only computer games were as fast, intuitive and solitary to make as making art is“.

Then I started wondering what a low-tech version of a computer game would look like. After all, comics can (and have) been used as low-tech substitutes for TV shows and movies. After all, when popular TV shows have been cancelled, their creators have sometimes continued the story via comic books. Comics are the closest medium to film and TV for a solitary creator (or small group of creators) without a large budget.

So, knowing that low-tech versions of modern mediums existed. I held the idea in my mind and began daydreaming about creating computer games using nothing more than a pen and paper. I didn’t quite know how such a thing was possible, but I tried to hold on to the idea that it was possible.

Naturally, my thoughts first settled on the gamebook/ interactive fiction genre. I’ve known about this genre for quite a while and, last October, I even wrote something in it which- by virtue of being on the interent – is technically an extremely primitive computer game. However, with a few changes, it would work well as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style gamebook (and this is how I originally designed and structured it). But that wasn’t what I was looking for.

I didn’t want to write, I wanted to make art.

Still, I realised that gamebooks were probably the closest things to non-electronic computer games in structural terms. Then I thought about comics again and about the short-lived “wordless novel” genre from the early 20th century. All of these ideas suddenly clicked together and I drew a few small sketches of a “wordless” sci-fi gamebook:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] The idea is that, to go to another page, you follow the numbers in the middle of the pictures.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] The idea is that, to go to another page, you follow the numbers in the middle of the pictures.

At the time of writing, I don’t know whether I’ll actually turn this into anything (or whether it’ll inspire anyone else to work in the genre). But, just having the idea was quite a cool experience.

The important thing here is that, like with all “new” genres, there isn’t really that much new stuff involved. Structurally, my idea is similar to gamebooks, comics and/or modern Hidden Object Games (with a few changes, it could even include hidden object scenes). It isn’t so much a new genre as a mixture of several existing genres.

This can be seen with every other “new” genre that people have been created. Often, they don’t actually contain anything particularly new. They’re just a slightly altered version and/or mixture of existing things.

Even when a new creative medium (eg: video games) has been created, the “new genres” that are created for it are often based on pre-existing things (or pre-existing ideas). However, they are altered or remixed in an interesting way that turns them into a totally new genre.

So, yes, it’s impossible to invent a totally “new” genre. But, you don’t need to. All you need to do is to work out how to do something interesting with everything that currently exists.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Four Tips For Making Art (That Looks Like The Awesome Type Of Art You’ve Just Found Online)

2016 Artwork Cool New Type Of Art article sketch

A while before I started writing this article, I discovered a really cool type of art that I’d never really paid attention to before. I was nostalgically looking for things about old 1990s video games on Google, when a VHS cover for a cheesy action and/or horror movie from the 1980s caught my eye on Google Images.

After a couple of quick searches, I was in artist’s heaven. Seriously, only heavy metal album covers, vintage American horror comic covers and 1980s/90s splatterpunk horror novel covers come close to the sheer level of artistic awesomeness that can be found on low-budget horror and action VHS tape covers from the 1980s.

Naturally, I found it… inspirational. Here’s a preview of part of one of my upcoming paintings:

Yay! It's the 80s! This painting will probably appear on this site in full during early September.

Yay! It’s the 80s! This painting will probably appear on this site in full during early September.

This type of art was, in that moment “the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen“. It was the kind of art I wanted to make, and I was able to make something vaguely similar. But, how? Well, this brings me on to the first point on my list:

1) Know your own sensibilities: Generally, if you actually want to emulate a type of art that you’ve found online then there’s a good chance that it fits into your own artistic sensibilities. These are the kinds of things that you find aesthetically pleasing.

In my case, this includes art that has a large amount of contrast between light and darkness (often with a gloomy background). It includes art with bold colour schemes. It includes melodramatically/hilariously grotesque art. It includes stylised art. It includes things that look like they’re from the 1980s and 1990s etc……

If you know a lot about your own artistic sensibilities, then you’ll be able to work out why you want to make a particular type of art that you’ve just seen.

Not only that, even if you don’t have the same level of technical skill as the artists you admire, you’ll still be able to produce your own version of that particular type of art by focusing on the themes and visual elements that interest you. It may not look identical to the type of art that you’ve found, but it’ll be similar in spirit.

2) Look at the colours: When you’ve found a new type of art that really interests you, look carefully at the colours in it. Does the art use a wide range of “realistic” colours? Does it only include a couple of colours? Is there are lot of contrast between the light and dark areas of the image?

This may seem like a strange thing to look at, but once you’ve worked out how these artists use colours, you can make your own art look a bit like theirs by handling colours in the same way.

Likewise, once you’ve worked out the general “rules” for how a particular type of art uses colours, you can also put your own unique “spin” on it. For example, in the preview image that I showed you earlier, I ignored the “realistic” colour schemes used in a lot of old VHS colours in favour of a limited palette orange/blue colour scheme. Although the colours are different, my painting still looks a bit like an old VHS cover since I included a lot of contrast between light and darkness.

3) Look at the composition: Another reason why my painting looks a bit like an old VHS cover was because I used a similar composition to the old VHS covers I’d seen online. If you don’t know what composition is, it refers to how a painting is laid out. It refers to where things are placed in a painting or drawing.

Once you learn what the compositions of several pieces of art (in the genre you’ve discovered) look like, you can follow the same “rules” when making art of your own.

For example, the compositions in old horror movie VHS covers tend to be fairly striking. They feature things like zombies reaching towards the audience, creatures emerging from things, melodramatic scenes of violence, amusing captions etc… So, if you wanted to re-create something in this genre, then you’d want to use a similar composition.

Likewise, the composition in old action movie VHS covers often tend to feature the main characters posing dramatically whilst firing and/or brandishing guns. So, you’ll probably want to include something similar if you decide to make this type of art.

4) Use your own style: I know that this might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s often a good idea to try to use your own art style as much as possible when trying to make things in new genres. Yes, it might be tempting to copy all of the style used in the art that you’ve seen, but you’ll probably be a lot more confident if you (mostly) use your own style. Not only that, it will also make your art look a bit more unique too.

However, that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t copy the artwork you’ve found in order to learn new techniques. If you can add a few elements from the art that you like to your own style, then not only will your art look more like the thing in question, but it’ll also still look unique too. Plus, it’s a great way to learn and evolve as an artist too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Work In A Totally New And Undiscovered Genre

2014 Artwork Undiscovered genre article sketch

First of all, sorry for sounding a bit mysterious and secretive in the first couple of paragraphs of this article – but there’s a point to it. At the time of writing this article, I have an idea for a writing-based project that I may or may not have started by the time that you are reading this.

Anyway, it involves something which may or may not be a totally new genre of writing and/or fiction (I’m still not certain about this. It probably isn’t a new genre – but it could at least be a new spin on a little-known genre. Kind of like how hidden object games are a spin-off from traditional “point and click” adventure games).

So, for today, I thought that I’d give you some basic tips for working in a totally new and previously undiscovered genre of fiction, writing, entertainment and/or art. I’ll try to keep this article fairly general, in the hope that it will be useful to as many people as possible.

Yes, truly new genres are fairly rare things, but they still appear every now and then. For example who, sixty years ago, could have ever imagined that lots of people would play First Person Shooter games or MMORPGs on computers in the future? Likewise, who had even heard of punk music before the 1970s? So, yes, new genres are still being invented every now and then.

But how do you create something good (in terms of writing/design etc..) in a genre which no-one has really worked in before? After all, there will be no points of reference and nothing else that has already been made in this genre that you can get any inspiration from.

Simple. You look for similar things and you experiment.

The thing to remember here is that no new genre is totally new. There are always things that have come before that have at least some similarities to it and you can use these to guide you.

For example, cyberpunk fiction may not have been invented until the 1980s – but both “ordinary” science fiction and “hardboiled” detective fiction existed for at least a few decades beforehand.

Film may have only existed for a little over a century, but theatre and drama existed for millennia beforehand and photography existed for at least a couple of decades beforehand (I’m not sure of the exact dates though). When photography was invented – early photographers could probably use traditional “realistic” art as a point of reference when it came to working out things like good compositions for their pictures.

Likewise, MMORPG computer games are a relatively recent innovation – but “ordinary” RPGs existed for at least a decade before this and, before then, there were tabletop role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons”.

Hell, even the “stand-up horror” genre that I invented a few years ago is fairly similar to both stand-up comedy and traditional “campfire” horror stories.

What I’m saying here is that there is nothing truly new under the sun. So, if you’re lucky enough to discover or invent a new genre, then you’ll probably learn a lot about what works by looking for things that already exist that have something in common with it.

Anyway, once you’ve learnt as much as you can from the things that already exist and have worked out the basics of how to work in your new genre, it’s time to experiment. One of the great things about coming up with a new genre is that you’ll be able to do stuff in it that you can’t do in any other genre – so, experiment. Seriously, it’s the only way that you’re going to learn what those things are…

Good luck 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Stand-Up Horror – A New Genre? (And How To Perform It)

2013 Artwork Stand Up Horror Article Sketch

About a week or two before Halloween in 2010, I came up with an idea for a new genre of entertainment. Or at least I thought I did. It’s probably been invented before – I probably just came up with a new name for it.

I am, of course, talking about Stand-Up Horror. Basically, it’s like stand-up comedy, but instead of trying to make the audience laugh, the …I can’t really say “comedian”… performer tries to scare and disturb the audience with a variety of creepy stories and facts.

But, apart from using it as the inspiration for a drawing I made last August (which can be found hereWow! My art looked really terrible back then!), I didn’t really do anything with this idea for various reasons.

For starters, the basic idea behind stand-up horror is nothing new. After all, it would basically be a glorified version of someone telling scary stories around a campfire and I guess that there have probably already been shows and performances which were “stand-up horror” in all but name. However, it has never really been seen as a “genre” as such in the way that “stand-up comedy” has (eg: when was the last time you saw a “horror club”?).

Secondly, I’d probably get a serious case of stage fright if I ever tried to give a stand-up horror performance. Ironic, isn’t it?

Anyway, I thought that I’d provide something of a guide to anyone who wants to put on a stand-up horror performance and has an interest in actually turning this idea into a real genre. The first person to actually do this may well end up becoming famous, since there seems to be very little like this out there at the moment.

Having had next to no experience in stand-up comedy (apart from one talent show ages ago when I was about fourteen), I’m nowhere near an expert on the actual mechanics of performing on stage and it might take some practice before you can come up with an act and a distinctive performance style that actually works.

But, what I can do is to give you a few ideas about three other things which might help your stand-up horror performance.

1) Stories: You’re going to need to come up with scary stories – stories which actually creep you out when you think of them.

Not only that, you’re going to have to write them in a way that you can remember (since reading from notes on stage is probably highly unprofessional) and in a way which works when you tell your story out loud. These stories should also be fairly short too.

Personally, I think that the best kinds of stories for a stand-up horror performance are the kind of vaguely realistic stories that have an “urban legend”-esque feel to them. The kind of almost realistic stories which your audience will listen to and think “that’s probably not true, or at least I hope it isn’t!”

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t include supernatural things in your stories, but it’s probably best to only hint at them or describe the after-effects of them and let your audiences’ imaginations fill in the gaps.

There’s a wonderfully disturbing blog I found a few years ago called “Saya In Underworld[WARNING – This site will give you insomnia and/or nightmares] which is filled with Japanese urban legends and creepy stories. Whilst you shouldn’t copy any of these and you should come up with your own stories, the short stories on this site might give you an idea of the style of short stories which would probably work well in a stand-up horror performance.

2) Humour: First of all, any humour in your performance should be of the dark and cynical variety. And, despite the fact that it’s meant to be a horror performance, there should be at least some comedy in it. Trust me, there’s a good reason for this.

Back in the 19th century, before horror movies were invented, the closest thing that people could watch were Grand Guignol plays. I was lucky enough to see a recreation of three of these short plays at the Abertoir festival [NSFW] in 2009 and, even these days, Grand Guignol plays can still be as disturbing as any horror movie. Anyway, one of the really interesting things was that – out of the three plays – the one in the middle was actually a comedy.

This might seem odd, but it worked extremely well in dramatic terms because it made the last play seem even more horrific by comparison. Something horrific is a lot more disturbing if you were laughing five minutes earlier than it is if you were just in a fairly “ordinary” mood five minutes earlier.

So, by adding a bit of humour to your stand-up horror performance, you can actually make the disturbing parts of it even more disturbing.

3) Facts: To get a quick reaction, stand-up comedians have one-liners. Stand-up horror performers have disturbing facts. Yes, facts. Short and creepy facts which most people didn’t know and which will probably linger in your audience’s imaginations for quite a while.

So, where to find these facts? Well, there are plenty of books dedicated to strange facts out there, you might find the occasional disturbing fact in documentaries and then there’s also the internet. There’s no shortage of places to find disturbing facts. Hell, when I was a kid, I used to read a series of books by Terry Deary called “Horrible Histories” and these were absolutely crammed with all kinds of macabre facts.

However, I should point out that you should only use disturbing facts and not depressing facts. In other words, go for facts which will make your audience feel disgusted rather than facts which will just make them feel miserable about the world in general. Plus, it’s probably a good idea to avoid facts which make it look like you’re trying to make a political point too.

Good subject areas for disturbing facts include: death, insects, ancient history (eg: how the ancient Egyptians actually mummified people), rare and unusual diseases (eg: what the Ebola virus does to anyone who is infected by it), ancient weapons, historical methods of execution (eg: what actually happened when someone was “hung, drawn and quartered” in Tudor England) etc…

I should probably point out that if you are going to use any historical facts, then anything after about the 18th or 19th century may be in bad taste.

Yes, a lot of horrific things have happened in both the 20th century and in this century, but you shouldn’t use them to get a cheap scare out of your audience. This is because some of these things (eg: anything related to WW2) happened in living memory or very close to living memory.

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Sorry that this guide is so short, but I hope that it was useful 🙂 if you actually want to put on a stand-up horror performance, then I wish you all the best of luck 🙂