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.

 

Plot Driven VS Character Driven

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

In The Story Grid, Shawne Coyne takes a moment to discuss the differences between plot driven and character driven stories. In brief, a plot driven novel focuses on external problems whereas character driven focuses on internal problems. It’s very tempting to divide these into hard and fast categories, like saying all natural disaster movies are plot driven because the conflict is external.

That’s just not true. For example, look no further than zombies.

Zombies are Man VS Nature in its rawest form. Replace zombies with forest fires, earth quakes, tidal waves, giant meteors hitting the earth, or insert natural disaster here, and you’ll feel the same sense of hopeless dread against a force that can’t see reason and cannot be stopped.

Some zombie fiction is almost entirely plot driven, like World War Z. In others, the zombies themselves are almost window dressing to large scale, character driven dramas, like The Walking Dead.

Very, very rarely is a story 100% character or plot driven and successful. A viewer/reader/whatever has to care whether the character lives or dies to willingly follow them through the zombie wasteland. How much they care is a sliding scale. But there has to be something, otherwise the entire plot falls flat. Conversely, stories that exist almost entirely in a protagonists head, a protagonist without some kind of external goal, are incredibly boring. (We’ve all had to read those issue books in schools).

All stories balance character and plot as a driving force to pull the reader through the novel. How much of each is going to depend on audience, genre, and the writers personal preferences. But both sides of the equation have a lot to teach an aspiring writer.

Character Goals

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

Every character starts a story with a goal. Example: Rapunzel wants to see the lights, Ralph wants to be a hero, Hiccup wants to prove that he belongs in his Viking village. But what your character wants and what they need are seldom the same, and the thing they want is a misguided attempt to fill a need. In most cases, your characters goal is external, but it reflects an intangible desire they can’t quite say.

Ralph’s external want is a medal, but it’s driven by an internal need for acceptance. But acceptance of others isn’t nearly as important as him accepting himself. Once he accepts and becomes proud of who he really is, everything else falls into place, and he realizes the medal never really mattered.

Shawn Coyne breaks this down into plot lines. Storyline “A” is the external want the character is after, storyline “B” is the abstract need they are trying to fill. The very best conflicts (which drive the story) occur when the two conflict. Example: Ralph gets his medal, but at what cost? He feels even worse about himself than he did when the story starts.

The conflicts can occur on a few levels.

Inner conflict. This is your character’s fight with themselves. Example: Ralph’s inner battle with himself as he struggles to come to terms with the fact that he is a bad guy, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy.

Personal Conflict. This is your character’s struggle with other people. It can be with an antagonist, but it’s often also with those they care about. Example: Ralph and Felix goals are in conflict with each other. Ralph needs to leave the game to get his medal, Felix needs to get Ralph back to save the game. Vanelope and Ralph both need the same medal to accomplish their goals, they resolve their conflict by teaming up, but are soon in personal conflict again when Ralph tries to save Vanelope from herself. King Candy and Ralph have a personal conflict, clearly, and the two fight to the death in the climax of the movie.

Extra-Personal Conflict is a conflict with something larger than an individual or yourself. For example, in Wreck it Ralph, Ralph has a personal conflict with Felix or Eugine, but he has an extra-personal conflict with an entire society that sees him as a bad guy and treats him with disdain. An extra-personal conflict tends to be with society as a whole or a force of nature. A natural disaster or zombie story narrative is an extra personal conflict.

So breaking this down further into the five major conflicts, you’ve got…

Man VS Self- Inner conflict

Man VS Man- Personal Conflict

Man VS Society- Interpersonal Conflict

Man VS Nature- Interpersonal Conflict

Man VS Technology- Interpersonal conflict

Most stories contain a mix of inner, personal, or interpersonal.

Genre Conventions and Obligatory Scenes

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

In the Story Grid, Shawn Coyne talks at length about the conventions and obligatory scenes in different genres. Writing Excuses Season 11 goes into this as well.

Every genre has conventions. “Specific requirements in terms of the story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward” (Story Grid, 47). The crime thriller is going to have a crime committed, a detective to solve it, and a criminal to commit the crime. A romance is going to have two characters fall in love with each other. Those facts are the conventions.

Obligatory scenes are the specific way those conventions are carried out. For instance, in a romance novel, there’s a first kiss scene. In a hero’s journey there’s the darkest night scene.

The fact that genres and conventions have obligatory scenes doesn’t mean that every single darkest night is the same or every conventional character is the same. It’s the way authors take what’s expected, what’s required for a genre and change it to fit their story that makes the conventions and obligatory scenes work. That moment in Inside Out where Joy is stuck down in the pit sobbing over Riley’s memories works even though a darkest night has been done in literally every movie and story ever written before. But you couldn’t take that moment and put it in something even similar. It wouldn’t have worked in Wreck it Ralph for instance because his darkest night had to feature him wrecking something.