Help needed to define genres!

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Mon Mar 03, 2014 10:45 am Post

Yes, I like the concept map, too.

But I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the late and lamented Blake Snyder, Hollywood narrat-ologist. (Is there such a job title? Script doctor? Lecturer to wannabes? Scriptwriter who took the advice 'If you can't do, teach'?) He had little time for the traditional genres. He described ten new ones, with names like The Golden Fleece, and Fool Triumphant, which have claims to being more useful in film and TV: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TenMoviePlots.

They may also be more useful in novels.
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Mon Mar 03, 2014 12:16 pm Post

Thanks Hugh, Yes, Blake Snyder. I've read and enjoyed both his original Save the Cat, and the sequel (more of a cash-in really, but still fun) Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.

A key distinction between Blake's stories and what I'm trying to get to is that Blake wasn't trying to make a definitive list of all types of story. He was giving a template people could follow that would help them hit all the elements that audiences expect from certain stories. I'm trying to classify everything, without judging on quality. That said, it's a useful list of certain types of story, so we should make sure we've covered them all!

Monster in the House: Yup, that's in there as Story>Crime>Monster (which could equally apply to a serial killer or a supernatural demon).

Whydunnit: Well, I've called it the whodunnit. Maybe I should change that category to Who/Whydunnit?

Golden Fleece: We have in as Story>Quest. I'm not sure Road Movie deserves a separate sub-division, simply because it happens to be set in a car / on a horse. Thoughts?

Rite of Passage: has a lot of overlap with Coming of Age, although RoP seems wider / slightly distinguished. Perhaps instead we have "Personal Growth" (or similar) as a story and CoA and RoP as subs?

Out of the Bottle: Depending on how the story is told this could either be a Quest or a Personal Growth? Hmmm... maybe Personal Growth (and therefore Coming of Age and Rite of Passage) should be a subset go Quest rather than off on it's own? So we have Story>Quest and then underneath that: RoP, CoA, MacGuffin and Save/Free the Community? What do people think? Does that ring true?

Institutionalised: The idea of a man vs the community I'd folded up into Frontier/Western, but I suspect I do need a better name for it. Suggestions?

Superhero: I'd argue that this isn't a Story at all, but a Reality. Admittedly, most of them have the same Story (that of Crime>Monster).

Buddy Love: Again, I'm not convinced that this is a 'story'. A buddy movie, is just a movie with two characters. The "boy and his dog" sub-category in Blake's Buddy Love is just another Personal Growth / Coming of Age tale... but with a specific catalyst. Romance, of course, we have already covered.

Dude with a Problem: The title here pretty much describes every book ever written, but the point of Blake's category is the ordinary person with an extraordinary problem. Die Hard and the Terminator being two examples (although "Die Hard and the Terminator" is a movie I would totally go and see). Still Terminator is essentially just a SciFi Monster movie and Die Hard is really the 'man vs community' idea I mentioned in Institutionalised, above.

The Fool Triumphant: I'd say this isn't a Story/Plot, as such, as simply a particular subclass of humour?
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Hu
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Mon Mar 03, 2014 3:53 pm Post

pigfender wrote:Thanks Hugh, Yes, Blake Snyder. I've read and enjoyed both his original Save the Cat, and the sequel (more of a cash-in really, but still fun) Save the Cat Goes to the Movies. Even more the case with Save the Cat Strikes Back. Yet, I think Snyder tapped into something fresh and somewhat true.

A key distinction between Blake's stories and what I'm trying to get to is that Blake wasn't trying to make a definitive list of all types of story. He was giving a template people could follow that would help them hit all the elements that audiences expect from certain stories. I'm trying to classify everything, without judging on quality. That said, it's a useful list of certain types of story, so we should make sure we've covered them all! Hmm, maybe. It's a list, not necessarily the definitive list, of types of story which seem to have traction in front of vast audiences on a worldwide scale. Worth considering, at least, alongside rival lists or treatments from Booker, Field, Campbell and others. At least, these are types of story, which, because of their ubiquity in popular culture, may give cues, possibly subliminal, that novelists and other story-tellers would be wise to be aware of.

Monster in the House: Yup, that's in there as Story>Crime>Monster (which could equally apply to a serial killer or a supernatural demon).Yes, but… a monster needs a confined space for a story. Monster on the Prairie? I'm not convinced. But Alien in a Spaceship? Godzilla in a Metropolis? That's better. And Blake also highlights in such tales the almost religious role, of sin. (Personally, I'm a fan of sin.)

Whydunnit: Well, I've called it the whodunnit. Maybe I should change that category to Who/Whydunnit? Is it just me who thinks whodunit is quite boring these days? But whydunit - the endlessly fascinating material of human motivation - much more interesting. Think of Seven.

Golden Fleece: We have in as Story>Quest. I'm not sure Road Movie deserves a separate sub-division, simply because it happens to be set in a car / on a horse. Thoughts? Golden Fleece implies to me a journey by any means, and also the episodic, disconnected nature of such a journey - a genre title with meaning if ever there was one.

Rite of Passage: has a lot of overlap with Coming of Age, although RoP seems wider / slightly distinguished. Perhaps instead we have "Personal Growth" (or similar) as a story and CoA and RoP as subs?Hmm - lots of rites of passage involve stages in life other than coming of age - and as well as successful growth, they need to include failures to grow. (Isn't there a Jack Nicholson movie that illustrates this point?)

Out of the Bottle: Depending on how the story is told this could either be a Quest or a Personal Growth? Hmmm... maybe Personal Growth (and therefore Coming of Age and Rite of Passage) should be a subset go Quest rather than off on it's own? So we have Story>Quest and then underneath that: RoP, CoA, MacGuffin and Save/Free the Community? What do people think? Does that ring true? Isn't the key element in this genre magic? (Of whatever kind - not just Harry Potter, but also Big and Liar, Liar?)

Institutionalised: The idea of a man vs the community I'd folded up into Frontier/Western, but I suspect I do need a better name for it. Suggestions? The classic example here is One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, but there are also all those army (e.g.A Few Good Men) and schools stories.

Superhero: I'd argue that this isn't a Story at all, but a Reality. Admittedly, most of them have the same Story (that of Crime>Monster).Isn't the story usually provided by the hero's/heroine's weakness - see the early Superman movies and Christopher Nolan's Batman series? But I agree - if no weakness, then no story.

Buddy Love: Again, I'm not convinced that this is a 'story'. A buddy movie, is just a movie with two characters. The "boy and his dog" sub-category in Blake's Buddy Love is just another Personal Growth / Coming of Age tale... but with a specific catalyst. Romance, of course, we have already covered. No, I disagree - in terms of story, Butch Cassidy and Lethal Weapon go through the same phases as Love Story, and the phases are the story.

Dude with a Problem: The title here pretty much describes every book ever written, but the point of Blake's category is the ordinary person with an extraordinary problem. Die Hard and the Terminator being two examples (although "Die Hard and the Terminator" is a movie I would totally go and see).Me, too. Still Terminator is essentially just a SciFi Monster movie and Die Hard is really the 'man vs community' idea I mentioned in Institutionalised, above. That this is one of Snyder's weaker categories - agreed, could even be called a catch-all for what won't fit elsewhere - but I've difficulty seeing that Brucie in DH is 'institutionalised' - it does seem to me that he has a problem, which, for an action movie, is reasonably sophisticated, involving his marriage as well as Alan Rickman.

The Fool Triumphant: I'd say this isn't a Story/Plot, as such, as simply a particular subclass of humour? No - think Forrest Gump, which for some primal and story reason worked as a movie, and indeed, worked as a novel before it was a movie.


Anyway, enough of taxonomic pedantry. Time to read a good book. :)
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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Mon Mar 03, 2014 5:01 pm Post

I agree that Snyder’s ideas were both fresh and helpful - especially to people who are new to the craft of storytelling. There is quite a difference between being good at English Language and being good at crafting a story, in much the same way as being great at maths doesn’t by itself make you a structural engineer.

I also agree with your comments about their use and usefulness.

Primarily, though, I think Blake was trying to get the following message out: If you are going to tell one of these stories (and there is a good chance that you are, whether you realise it or not) then there are certain things you ought to include to make your story work to it’s full potential. For example, if you are going to make a Monster movie, for Pete’s sake make sure it’s constrained in a House, otherwise surely people would just run away and leave the Monster sad and lonely all by himself.

I don’t disagree with that. In the original NiaD (“the Dark”) the victims were literally trapped in the house with a monster (because it was nighttime in the middle of nowhere and it was light inside and if you went into the darkness you got mushed). I’d not read Save the Cat at the time I pulled that together, but I’d be surprised if I went back now if it didn’t hit several of Snyder’s beats. But my sole purpose here is to classify genres helpfully, and that includes books that Blake Snyder would think are weaker stories. Hell, I’ve read loads of books that are crap. They still warrant a genre.

I’ll pick out a few of your points where you’ve (perhaps rhetorically) asked a question, or disagreed decisively.

On Superhero - I’d say the story isn’t provided by the hero’s weakness, but by the villain that wants to exploit it.

As you’ve gathered already, I disagree with your viewpoint on Buddy Love. The *story* in Lethal Weapon is a crime flick. The reason I feel comfortable saying that is that if you were to ask someone if they were in the mood for a love story and then gave them Lethal Weapon they’d be disappointed. If you told ‘em they were in for a good ol’ crime action romp they’d say you nailed it. And that’s what I’m trying to get at here: what is the most useful classification? Sure it has a sub-plot that involves bromance of the highest order, but that’s not the main bit. Similarly, the Story in Butch Cassidy has more in common with the Institutionalised / Frontier idea of character(s) against the world they find themselves in than in bromance for me. I don’t find the idea that they (buddy love and romance) go through the same phases convincing, especially since Snyder argued that *all* stories go through exactly the same phases.

Die Hard is definitely Institutionalised in my mind. He’s trapped in a microcosm society (the Nakatomi Plaza) that is under the iron control of Alan Rickman and his Merry Men. It is that conflict (rather than Alan vs the FBI) that defines the story in my opinion.

Forrest Gump is a coming of age story (it just takes him until Middle Age to do it). The Pink Panther is a crime lark. They just happen to be told using a particular joke.

Again, I’m not saying Blake is wrong. His classifications work. They’re just not all compatible with the approach I’m taking with this exercise, as some of them are genuinely Stories, some are Realities, and some are Emotions. For example, you could easily write a story that was A Fool Triumphant Superhero up against a Monster in the House. Just don’t call it “Die Hard and the Terminator” cos I’ve got dibs. :)

But you are right: Institutionalised / Coming of Age / Rite of Passage / Quest needs more than I have in there at the moment!
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Mon Mar 03, 2014 5:19 pm Post

pigfender wrote:Wikipedia (effectively) defines Urban Fantasy as a fantasy set predominantly in a City. Feels a bit too weak a distinction to justify a separate genre classification to me, but then I'm not really very educated when it comes to fantasy. Still, it seems to have emerged as a class of story that people deliberately seek out, so I'll add it as an offshoot of low fantasy.


The problem with that definition is that there are plenty of cities in "High Fantasy" genres--they're just set in a technologically medieval to maybe renaissance-like time period, whatever the world may be. If you put real magic into a story set during the height of the Roman empire, I don't think setting it in Rome would qualify as Urban Fantasy. Not if you are using the term colloquially, rather than relying on the taxonomy of the words making up the label.


Also, I have to re-iterate that there is no Low Fantasy super-genre. Only people who have an unflattering opinion about sub-genres of Fantasy would call it that. If you want to make two categories (not genres, since I've never seen books shelved this way) that are equally descriptive at that level, then I would suggest "pre-industrial fantasy" and "post-industrial fantasy".

Pre-industrial would include:
-"High Fantasy" which is almost always set in a world other than Earth (Westeros from Game of Thrones)
-Historical fantasy set in our world (Arthurian legend) but with "real" magic, like druids transforming into beasts and wizards casting lightning bolts about.
-Examples: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Mists of Avalon.

Post-industrial fantasy would include any story set in 1800's London, or any country in the late modern era for that matter, so long as they include mythical/mystical beings and people who can wield power over the world around them (or worlds adjacent to our own) via ritual or in-born talent ("Chosen One" types and the like). Many books in this category also include portals to magical worlds (faery, various godly realms), but are primarily set on our Earth, or an Earth with an alternative history of real magic affecting industrial developments or being supplanted by them.
-Examples (all series names): True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse (modern day Louisiana), The Parasol Protectorate (industrial era British Empire), Dresden Files (modern day Chicago).

So there are my suggestions/observations; hope they help a little.
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Mon Mar 03, 2014 5:50 pm Post

You've probably hit the nail on the head with why I've had problems accepting "Urban Fantasy" as a real genre and not just a marketing ploy.

I took the definition and title of "low fantasy" from research on wikipedia, so I'm certainly on shaky grounds in terms of my own knowledge. My understanding is that the "low" refers only to the fact that the proportion of fantasy elements are low: the world is predominantly the world we know, but with a little bit of magic added. I certainly mean no disrespect when I use the term, and would be open to a more flattering term if one could be suggested that sums up the idea nicely.

There certainly seems to be an established academic acceptance of high fantasy with the three classifications I noted, and I have some sympathy with the idea of there being four basic reality constructs:

1) Completely new world with no relation to ours.
2) Our world exists, but there are portals to other worlds with fantasy elements.
3) Wainscot or world within a world - where our world is as we understand it, but with a hidden sub-culture that has fantasy elements.
4) What I've shown as low fantasy, which is some fantasy elements introduced into our world.

From what I can gather from wikipedia and your descriptions I'd say:
- Lord of the Rings is category 1 (although I understand that Tolkien himself passionately disagreed with that idea, saying that it was set on Earth, just a long time ago).
- Dresden Files and Arthurian Legend sound like category 4.
- Harry Potter is category 3.
- True Blood is Supernatural rather than any of the 4 identified fantasy elements.

I'm not beyond ignoring known names of genres if they don't fit the Reality / Emotion / Story construct, nor inventing new ones if there is a clear need, although if there are known marketing tropes, then it's useful to understand them to be able to point to where they would fall within the map.
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Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:32 am Post

The best alternative I've found to calling it "low fantasy" is the French term "Le Fantastique", which certainly seems to apply to the same basic reality, but (as you might expect) it tends to be written in French.

I certainly found plenty of references to 'low fantasy' in my research though.
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Tue Mar 04, 2014 3:58 pm Post

Sorry if I sounded (looked?) defensive; I haven't studied fantasy academically, but have discussed it plenty in fan communities, so it's likely that past uses of the term "low fantasy" in a derogatory tone have colored my perception of the label.

I think I'm looking at your map from the wrong perspective; as a map of the genres as they are referenced by readers and, to a lesser extent by book sellers & publishers. Since that doesn't seem to be the case (I know, I'm slow sometimes), I think I need to sit back and let the discussion continue without providing more unhelpful and uninformed tangents.

But... I do have a quibble about your categorization of True Blood vs Dresden Files. They share a huge swath of fantasy tropes. Magic wielders (witches/wizards), supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, fairies...), portals to adjacent worlds (the land of fairy), etc., etc... The only major distinctions I can think of to separate them are tone and writing style. Wouldn't "supernatural" as a category be reserved for stories that hew closer to our reality as perceived by people who believe in seances and hauntings, clairvoyance and precognition, possession by (non-corporeal) demons... ?
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Tue Mar 04, 2014 4:48 pm Post

Not at all - please continue to discuss. I'd also be interested in reading your YA thoughts at some point!

What I'm trying to do is come up with a new classification that works, albeit with a strong preference to making existing labels work within it if at all possible.

The 'side-effects' of this new system will be (I hope):
1) Have a way of talking about books, films and other stories that makes sense rather than the current misaligned concept of genre (as discussed briefly in my first post)
2) Highlighting unusual pairings (i.e. 'gaps') that might make for an interesting new take on a favoured slant (discover the next 'paranormal romance', if you like)
3) To help remove some of the stigmas attached to certain genres by highlighting that they are simply another colour on the wheel, by showing how closely related they can be. For example, a lover of Raymond Chandler detective stories (R1Contemporary E1Intrigue S1.2Whodunnit) might move just one step to discover Robert B. Parker's Spenser series(R1Contemporary E3.4Humor/Black S1.2Whodunnit) or just as easily pick up something from the Dresden Files (R2.6.1UrbanFantasy E1Intrigue S1.2Whodunnit).

So, as far as possible I'd like to map the current understanding of genres, but put them within the more rigid construct of the three questions. If I have to exclude something because it's not clearly defined or is actually a combination of more than 1 question then... (a) I'm okay to do that, but (b) would also like to note it on the map as either a footnote or as a established pairing of two questions.

In other words, if something is missing then tell me. If something is in the wrong place, tell me. If you can think of a way to break down categories further (as I discussed with arousal and romance earlier), even if such a break down doesn't formally exist, then add that to the mix too.

But, mostly what I'm trying to do is make a cool concept map that I can share here! :D
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Tue Mar 04, 2014 4:52 pm Post

I should perhaps say, that I apologise if I defend the diagram a little too hard. It may not look like much, but it actually took quite some time to pull together and organise the 'starting' diagram in the first post.
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Mon Jun 09, 2014 6:56 pm Post

Are genres bigoted? A better way to define fiction...
now available at: http://www.pigfender.com/index.php/2014 ... s-a-genre/

1) updated version, plus
2) scapple map used to create it, plus
3) opportunity to comment and improve
"Some dice only have sixes." nom, 19 Oct 2013
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