Although I’ve already talked about this topic with relation to the horror genre, I thought that I’d talk about why knowing your chosen genre is important for all stories. This is mostly because good (or even average) stories in any genre will often use multiple “types” of the same genre in order to add variety to the story and to keep it unpredictable.
In fact, if you look at almost any professionally-published novel, TV show, film etc.. then you will see something like this. It is one of the basic things that separates amateur storytelling from professional-standard storytelling.
For example, although I probably won’t review it properly, I happened to watch a rather amusing vampire-themed comedy film from 2014 called “What We Do In the Shadows” recently. Amongst other things, the types of humour in it include dark comedy, slapstick, farce, visual humour, running jokes, parody, character-based humour, wordplay, humourous contrast, understatement, subverted expectations etc… Because there are multiple types of humour here, the viewer is constantly caught by surprise and the film is a lot funnier than it would be if it had just focused on one type of humour.
Likewise, the modern sci-fi thriller novel (“The Rosewater Insurrection” by Tade Thompson) that I plan to review tomorrow contains several different types of thriller fiction. It is a mixture of a suspense thriller, a political thriller, a tech thriller and an action-thriller story. This mixture of thriller elements means that the reader never really gets tired of any one of them, which keeps the story compelling.
And, as mentioned in earlier articles, horror fiction will often use multiple types of horror in order to constantly catch the reader off-guard and prevent them from getting too used to any one scary thing. An excellent example of this is probably Nick Cutter’s 2015 novel “The Deep“, which uses at least 10-15 different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, paranormal horror, cruel horror, apocalyptic horror, gory horror, scientific horror, body horror etc…) to create the kind of unforgettably terrifying nightmare fuel that might catch even experienced horror readers by surprise.
So, if you want to avoid making your story seem amateurish or boring, then you need to know the genre that you are writing in. You need to know as many different techniques and “versions” of the genre that exist, so that you can include an unpredictable mixture of them in your story that will catch your reader by surprise. Because, if you focus on just one thing (eg: slapstick comedy, gory horror, fast-paced combat etc..), then it will probably get boring for your readers more quickly than you might think.
In computer game terms, this is why linear and almost entirely combat-focused “Serious Sam“/”Painkiller”-style first person shooter games are extremely fun to play… for about an hour or two at a time. Whereas, traditional-style FPS games (like “Doom II”, “Blood”, “Quake” etc..) can be enjoyed for much longer gaming sessions because they include a better variety of things that the player has to do. Instead of just fighting, the player also has to explore, solve basic puzzles, search for hidden items/areas etc… too.
Even if you really love one particular element of a genre, try not to focus on it too much. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you also need to include other stuff in order to prevent the audience from becoming bored or jaded. Think of it like guitar chords in a song or something like that. Even the most basic punk or heavy metal song will probably use at least three different chords. After all, if the guitarist just plays the same chord over and over again, then it will sound monotonous after a while.
So, the more things that you’ve looked at in your favourite genre, the more you will learn about what different types of things you can include in your story. Best of all, if you also look at other genres too, then you can sometimes find things that have something in common with your favourite genre, but haven’t really been used in your favourite genre that often. This results in much more original and interesting stories.
To use another musical example, take a look at the band Rage Of Light. They’re a modern metal band that use some well-known elements of the genre (like a mixture of clean and growled vocals, crunchy distorted guitars etc…). Yet, they have also obviously listened to a lot of trance music too, since their songs also include a lot of melodic electronic elements too. Because trance music is a fast-paced, intense and energetic genre of music, it goes surprisingly well with metal (which is also fast-paced, intense and energetic) whilst also producing something that sounds intriguingly different from most modern metal music.
So, whilst knowing your own genre will result in better stories (since you can use a much better variety of elements), learning a bit about other genres will result in even better ones.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂