The Performance Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to editThis is a short and sweet genre that focuses around a big performance. A play, a big game, a race. The subgenres must be strong in this one, because that big event has to really matter to the character in order for the reader to interact with it. Rocky is a good example of a performance genre piece.

Next week, we will be moving out of external genres and into internal content genres, which focus more on what’s happening inside the character as opposed to the outside forces working within the plot. Can’t wait!

 

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FAQ Friday: How will SPOILER impact Persephone in the long run.

Question mark in a blue bubble. Repeating icon for the frequently asked questions in the Daughters of Zeus series a young adult greek mythology retelling by Kaitlin Bevis

 

Super spoilerific post for anyone who has not yet read Iron Queen. Fair warning…

A reader who just finished Iron Queen emailed the following. “This can’t be where Persephone’s story ends! The pantheon hinted that Zeus killing his parents might have been part of what drove Zeus crazy. Plus she’s a triple realm-ruler now, and she lost her mother, and Hades seemed to be a bit unhinged at the end. So what’s in store for her in the future? Are we ever going to see that?”

Short answer:

Yes.

Longer answer:

The sanity thing was just Athena speculating. Zeus was unhinged from birth. Something about his father attempting to kill him, his mother hiding him by tying him upside down to a tree for years, and spending his early years training him to kill his father. The whole slicing his dad open and rescuing his siblings thing only to find himself at once their savior and an outsider to their very tight inner circle, formed by years of being all they had in The Before was also fairly hard on his psyche.

As for the weight of ruling three realms, losing her mother? That gets explored quite a bit in the Aphrodite trilogy. Persephone’s adapting to her new role as queen of the Pantheon and her grief/trauma from everything that happens in Iron Queen. She gets a few POV chapters in Venus Rising to really emphasize that arc, but the Pantheon as a whole has to do a lot of adjusting throughout the trilogy. In the Persephone trilogy, the gods of the Pantheon were separate entities. They were used to working around each other, but they hadn’t truly worked with each other in centuries until the end of Iron Queen. Now they’re realizing they can’t just ignore each other until a big epic battle. That’s the very mentality that left them vulnerable to Zeus. There’s a lot of growing and adjusting that needs to happen.

As for Hades…this is lightly addressed in Aphrodite, and addressed more in depth here, but broad strokes, he’s not unhinged. He’s just mildly traumatized. He went through a lot in Iron Queen. Dealing with Zeus brought up a lot of horrible memories for pretty much everyone in the Pantheon. He also felt every second of Persephone’s torture, and he had to rip her arm off, and she’s waking up from nightmares where Zeus wore his face. That’s a lot to deal with even without the fact that he’s dealing with the fact that Zeus, Demeter, and Apollo are dead. They don’t think of each other as siblings, but that is millennia of history, good and bad. Then there’s the fact that he just kind of destroyed Zeus’s soul, and there’s some emotional baggage with that. And he also witnessed one of his worst fears (that his past will hurt the people he loves), come true for Poseidon.

It’s a lot. And I included that final scene to show that what happened with Zeus didn’t just happen to Persephone. She and Aphrodite weren’t his only victims, and they aren’t the only ones who need to come to terms with the events of Iron Queen. If Hades, the guy with millennia of experience getting over horrible things and a library full of self-help books, is rattled, you can bet every other god in the entire mythology is. And that will be explored quite a bit in the Aphrodite trilogy.

 

 

The Society Genre

The Story Grid, genre chart, #amwriting, #amediting

Society Genre stories tend to be idea stories, and there’s a lot of interplay between them and dystopian stories. They’re often used to present an argument for or against a political argument, they tend to be of the “let’s follow your logic to its conclusion” slippery-slope thought process.

These tend to focus on multiple POV’s to get a better look at how the issue impacts others, but that’s not a requirement. Some of the most famous examples only follow one character.

These absolutely require a sub-genra, so the specific beats are going to be dependent on which sub-genre you go with. The Handmaid’s Tale is absolutely an idea story and a society story and a woman vs. society story and a horror story and so on.

Some sub-genres within this sub-genre include, Domestic Society.  This focuses on the family dynamic. The core value tends to be the well being of the individual vs. the family unit. The core event tends to be a showdown where what’s good for one clashes with what’s good for all.

Women’s Society tends to concern the struggle of the individual woman versus the patriarchy. The core event of the story is the rebellion or submission of the female protagonist (think Handmaid’s Tale).

Political Society (I would argue all of these are to some degree political, especially women’s society) deals with the struggle for power. The core value is power vs. impotency, and the core event tends to be a revolution. This Les’ Mis, though that also falls squarely under…

Historical Society where any one of the above approaches is used but in a hind-sight being 20/20 kind of way. For this genre to be successful, it needs to be applicable to the modern day. Like how The Crucible, a story about the Salem Witch Trials, was also about McCarthyism. Coyne goes on to say that “using historical details enables the writer to comment on a particular taboo or highly charged moment in contemporary life through the prism of the past.”

Coyne also lists biographical stories within this genre, but I think biographies are something unto themselves. It just depends on how the person telling the story decides to frame it.

The War Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to edit The War Genre tends to be pretty straightforward. There’s a war, people fight in it. Pro-War Stories focus on Good VS. Evil, like Wonder Woman. There might be a nod toward the fact that fighting is bad, but at the end of the day, one side is fighting for the betterment of mankind, the other is evil. The war was necessary, in other words. It was right.

Anti-War stories like Once Upon a Forest focus on the shades of gray and how both side are good and evil and war sucks for all involved.

Neither of these are wrong or right, just different approaches to the same type of event.

The core emotion in a war story is either excitement, fear, or intrigue. The core event is a big battle.

Shawn Coyne identified a subplot within war stories called the brotherhood variation. It has a core value of honor vs. disgrace, and the subplot focuses on friendships and relationships among those affected by the war. Love stories are another oft-used subplot within war stories. These two technically follow the same beats, it’s just what the focus is centered on that makes the difference.

War Stories have definitely been used in YA books as sub-genres, particularly in dystopian stories. Even I dabbled in this sub-plot in my novel, Venus Rising.

What are your favorite war stories?

The Love Genre

Romance Arc, Kate Carlisle, #amwriting

Also known as romance, the love genre has a core value of love vs. hate, and the core event in the love genre is proof of love for one character to another. I go over the romance plot structure in quite a bit more detail here, but in The Story Grid Shawn Coyne does introduce a few subplots within romance.

Courtship: Two people meet and either commit to one another or not. In addition to love vs. hate there tends to be some focus on independence/dependence, communication and misunderstanding, morality/immorality, togetherness/loneliness, and the fan favorite, societal approval/disapproval.

Marriage: Not simply a matter of ending with wedding bells, these stories go deeper into already committed relationships. These stories tend to deal in fidelity vs infidelity, truth and lies, betrayal, and valuing of the self over the family. Friday Night Lights does a great marriage subplot.

Obsession: Obsession stories tend to stray into horror. They go beyond courtship and tend to focus on desire, fear, and survival.

Further subgenera include ….

Erotica, which I’ve heard best described as a matter of lighting (i.e some romances fade to black, spicier romances may describe feelings and such but the “camera” (reader perspective) is mostly pointed at the face, and erotica is fully lit descriptions.

Gothic Romances, which also tend to delve into horror. Riverdale played with this subplot a good bit.

Regency, suspense, western, crime, thriller, horror, you name it.

Romance is a stand alone genre and it can pull any major genre in as a sub genre (like J.D Robb’s In Death series), but it is also the go-to sub plot. It’s difficult, incredibly difficult, to find a story that doesn’t feature a romance in some way, shape, or form.

 

 

The thriller genre

8bc792d8-2e75-41bb-8a92-fc3f2c745a67The thriller genre is a mashup of horror, action, and crime. Writing Excuses described the difference between a mystery and a thriller as whether or not the reader knows who the bad guy is and what they’re up to. In a mystery the driving force to turn the page is curiosity. In a thriller, it’s dread. You know what’s coming, the protagonist doesn’t. Like horror, thrillers often go beyond life and death to fates worse than. But a thriller also tends to be a bit more grounded than horror. The villains a bit less like Voldemort and more like Umbridge. He’s out of this world horrifying, she’s the evil you know. Thrillers tend to be more character driven than an action novel because when the stakes are personal (i.e not a bus full of screaming children) and worse than death, you have to care whether the protagonist lives or dies.

The protagonist of a thriller tends to be the heroic type who would throw themselves down in front of that bus of screaming children to slow it down as opposed to the everyman protagonist of most horror novels. The protagonist also tends to be deeply sympathetic, often because they are a victim of some kind.

There’s as many different flavors of thriller as crime, action, or horror. It’s the tone, the stakes, the characterization, and the reader’s knowledge that differ. You can plug in all the windows dressing of a espionage adventure and make it into a thriller. But next week, I’ll discuss a few of the old standbys.

 

The Western Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to editAccording to the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, the core value in a westerns concern the following: the individual within and out of society, strong vs. weak, and civilization vs. wilderness. The core piece of a western is the showdown between the hero and the villain. There are a few different kinds of westerns.

The Classic Western- A stranger comes to town that no one quite trusts, but it turns out they’ve got some sort of unique ability or skill set that makes them the perfect person to save the town from a big bad. In the end, the town sees the value in the stranger and welcomes them to stay, but alas, the stranger must move on. Besides all the classic westerns that fall into this genre, this arc pops up as a sub genre all over the place. Vampire Hunter D used it, so did Full Metal Alchemist.

Vengeance- is mine, sayeth the Lord. Sorry, knee-jerk quote finishing. Anyway, this time the stranger isn’t just passing through, s/he is there to right a specific wrong. This is more the overall arc of Firefly.

Transition- The hero starts in a society and ends outside society. You see a lot of echoes of this sub-genre in dystopian fiction.

Professional- This is really more of a cross-genre to the professional sub-genre in crime. The hero isn’t trying to save society, they’re just making their living outside the law.

Westerns have very successfully resurged through genre blending with science fiction. Firefly is possibly the most overt Western-Sci-Fi blend, but if you think about it, pretty much any story set on the outskirts of society in space, exploring and pushing further out of the comfortable bounds and dealing with the clash between the existing society and the encroaching society fits into the western story arcs. Ditto for post-apocolyptic or dystopian stories where the protagonists leave society or attempt to piece together one in a wild, lawless land. It’s really interesting seeing how the elements of what looked like a dead and dying genre came back to life.

The Crime Genre

  1. Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to editLast week we talked about the biggest percentage of the crime genre. Murder mysteries. This week I’d like to go over some of the other types of crime genre you might see, as broken down by The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

Organized Crime- This is crime from the point of view of the criminal. Think Breaking Bad, Dexter, or The Godfather. The hook that keeps you reading is wondering whether or not the criminal will get caught. There are two offshoots within this genre. The Caper genre. That’s when your criminals are specifically thieves or master criminals doing something really awesome, like Oceans 11, or Mistborn. And the Prison genre, which is when your POV characters are prisoners trying to figure out who set them up or solve happenings around the prison.

Professional Crime- These are all so much alike, I’m combining them into one sub-genre. This is the crime from a professional that has to deal with the fall out’s POV. This includes the subgenera of Police Procedurals, like CSI;  the Courtroom Sub Genre, like 12 Angry Men or The Witness; the Newsroom Sub Genre, like I Love Trouble; or the Espionage Genre featuring spies like 007.

 

Murder Mysteries

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to edit

According to Sean Coyne in The Story Grid, the core value in a story set within a crime genre is justice vs. injustice with the core event being the exposure of a criminal. The inciting incident is generally some unjust occurrence that throws the protagonist out of his or her comfort zone and on a path to restore justice. There are several different categories within the crime genre.

The most famous is the murder mystery. It is in fact so predominant that it gets subgenres of its very own.The inciting incident is nearly always a dead body and the story often concludes with the reveal of the murderer. (If the murderer is known to the audience it moves more into thriller category than mystery). Conventions of the genre include red herrings, interviews with characters who have their own secrets and agendas, a slow reveal of clues, and a demonstration at the end of how the clues fit together. Within the murder mystery are even more sub genres.

The Master Detective- Think Sherlock Holmes. It’s pretty much the trope setter. Well… it might as well be.

Cozy Mystery- A non-detective with skills in seemingly unrelated areas (like writing novels, for instance) finds their skills and experiences make them surprisingly and uniquely qualified to solve the case. A good example of this is Aphrodite where I more than dabbled with the cozy mystery sub genre within my paranormal romance.

The Cat Mystery- Cats solve crimes. Enough said. Diane Duane has a great series set in the same universe as the Young Wizards Series that pulls in this sub genre perfectly in The Book of Night with Moon and To Visit the Queen.

Historical Murder Mystery- A mystery set in a historical time period or featuring a historical figure. But Kaitlin, you might be saying, wouldn’t it have to be set in a historical period if it featured a historical figure? To which I say Sleepy Hollow.

Noir– Noir is as much a style as it is a genre. It features hardboiled detectives and/or lawyers and/or vigilantes, lots of dark backgrounds (though the reverse has been done successfully), femme fatales. It’s often told in flashback “(There I was, sitting in my office, when a dame walked in. She was trouble.”

I actually took a class on Noir Fiction in College for my Topics in American Literature elective, it was fun. My favorite was the one about a guy who goes to a police station to report a murder. Who’s the victim, they asked. “Me,” he replied. He’d been poisoned and the rest of the movie was him telling them who-done-it. Batman is stylized after Noir mysteries, and a lot of popular TV shows have done at least an episode in the Noir style.

 Paranormal- This is really more a cross-genre between paranormal (often romance)  fiction and crime fiction. It can crossover with any of the above categories and magic users of some kind. The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison is one example of just straight paranormal romance mixed with crime fiction. There’s also a lot of historical fantasy crime fiction that sets magical people back in time solving mysteries (to some degree, the His Infernal Devices fits into this). Paranormal pairs well with everything.

Police Procedural- This is your Law and Order/CSI/Dexter type stuff. This one also pairs well with paranormal.

The Action Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to editAction stories tend to have big stakes and often (but not always) include explosions. That the protagonist’s life is on the line is a given. Generally so are the lives of other people and monuments. The mind-hack, as Howard Taylor would say, that you are trying to achieve in an action story is an adrenaline rush. A sense of breathlessness that keeps you turning the page. There are tons of great YA action stories. James Dashner, James Patterson, and Scott Westerfeld in particular have done very, very well in YA action.

The most pivotal moment in an action story according to Coyne is the “hero at the mercy of the villain scene.” But more on that later.

These days, very few stories are just one genre, but a carefully crafted blend. You can have a pure action story pretending to be another genre, or you can have elements of action in another genre. So as you read the following list of sub-genres of action, keep in mind you could have easily seen these elements before in a romance or a mystery or a horror novel.

Subgenres

  • Man VS Nature – The natural (or unnatural) world is working against your protagonist. This is often a one-sided struggle. The volcano neither knows nor cares about the people getting roasted to the bone.
    •  Straight Environment. This is your natural disaster movies featuring volcanoes going off or earthquakes or asteroids hitting the earth, or couples getting abandoned on a ski-slope or left out in the middle of the ocean scuba diving.
    • Monsters. As long as the monsters aren’t consciously thinking and plotting against the protagonist, monsters count as a Man Vs. Nature. Zombies and Pod People are great examples of this. They just exist. Yes, they want to eat your protagonist, but it’s not personal. There’s no reasoning with them. Monsters also include non-supernatural animals, like sharks, bears, or birds.
    • Mazes. If your protagonist is stuck somewhere/must retrieve something from a place, then the place itself can loom as an antagonist for a time. There’s generally a bigger bad (whoever put the item/protagonist in the maze). Think Saw 2. Saw 2 is Man Vs. Man without question. But the house of horrors he set up was a labyrinth the characters had to work their way through. That was a very tense blend of the two types of conflict.
    • Time. Coyne puts this in a separate category all by itself, but I disagree. Time is absolutely nature, even if it’s imposed by another man. (Then it’s just cross-genre). Time is often used to raise the stakes in pretty much every other conflict story. Want to ratchet up the tension in your Man V. Man story, introduce a ticking time bomb or a random deadline. Or put time on your side, if your characters can just stall long enough, reinforcements will arrive. You can make time an actual antagonist, like in 11.22.63, or Back to the Future erasing people if anything changes.
    • Doomsday. Coyne adds another sub-genre he calls the doomsday plot, where the victim is the environment. He references Independence Day as “the hero must save the environment from disaster.” I disagree with this sub-genre. By my definitions (which do not have to meet yours),  the environment as a victim is a stake, not a point of conflict. The conflict in Independence Day was with the Aliens, not the bits of Earth they blew up. And even then, the character’s concerns weren’t really with the monuments that got blasted, but the people who were left buried in the rubble.
  • Man VS. Society – These are stories in which the protagonist fights against a social structure, not just an individual person. Most dystopian fiction falls into this category.
    • Rebellion. In this plot the hero or group of heroes openly rebel against their society, but most often they rebel against a specific figurehead in that society. The Hunger Games was against the entire system, but it got personal between Katniss and President Snow.
    • Conspiracy. In this plot, the hero or group of heroes fights an enemy that other’s don’t see, but are absolutely a product (and most of the time the price) of the society. There’s generally a sense that if they had just never found out the dirty secret, if they could just forget, they could go back to a perfect life. And unlike in a  rebellion plot, where most often the heroes are driven to rebellion by an evil force, it is arguably a perfect life in conspiracy plots. Uglies is a great example of this.
    • Vigilante. One person is, for one reason or another, the only bastion of goodness left in a society that is so corrupt it cannot fight crime through normal measures. There’s often a hefty bit of Man V. Man in this as well, but society is also to blame for allowing this to brew. Batman and Daredevil are both good examples of this.
    • Savior. Again, I disagree with this definition. “The hero is against someone who wants to destroy society.” That’s a stake, not a conflict. And if the thing that wants to destroy society is society, then it probably fits better into one of these other genres.
  • Man VS Man. Your character VS. Another character. Most stories eventually personify the villain in the shape of a person (think President Snow in an arguably Man V. Society plot arch). But they tend to stand in as a symbol for all that’s wrong. In straight Man V. Man, they aren’t the symbol of what’s wrong, they are the thing wrong.
    • Rivalry. This is your Man V. Man played straight. One can be good, one can be evil, or they can both be ambivalent. Man V. Man applies just as much to Batman and the Joker as it does to Suitor A Vs. Suitor B in a love story. Suitor B doesn’t have to be evil, just working against you.
    • Revenge. The hero chases the villain to right some wrong. “You killed my father, prepare to die.”
    • Hunted. The villain chases the hero to right some perceived wrong. “You were somehow inadvertently and sympathetically responsible for killing my father. Prepare to die.”
    • Machiavellian. Two villains duke it out while all the little people run for cover (Freddy V. Jason).
    • Collision Plot. Two sympathetic, heroic characters duke it out while all the little people run for cover. (Batman V. Superman).

Enjoy action stories? Action is definitely a subplot in the Aphrodite Trilogy. Now that Venus Rising is live and Aphrodite is on sale for .99 cents, you can get the whole trilogy for under $10! So if you haven’t caught up on Aphrodite’s trilogy, now is the time to do so.