Building Genre into a Story
By James Hull
December 1, 2021
0:00 / 14:07

Welcome to another edition of Building Subtext. Today, I want to introduce a brand new feature that I just installed into the Premise Builder, and that would be Genre.

If you're familiar with Subtxt or the Dramatica theory of story, you know that the Four Throughlines, the arrangement of the Four Throughlines within a narrative sets the personality of that story. And that different genres have different narrative personalities. So it's not just a label that's added on afterwards. It's actually an integral part of the structure of a story.

So in the past, I left that up to you to rearrange and move the Throughlines around to set what it is that you want to do. And you can still do that here in the Premise Builder. But now I've added this new feature where you can just set the genre and then Subtxt will move the Throughlines for you so that you don't even have to think about it.

So here you can see I'm on the first page here. And it's set to the default genre of action adventure. And there's nothing particularly special about this genre, except that it's the most popular structure for Western American culture type storytelling.

So anything like superhero, Marvel, all those kinds of things. This is the typical arrangement for that narrative personality where the objective story plot is in the domain of Physics and the main character through line is in Universe.

So we have these four Domains in a complete story: Universe, Physics, Psychology, and Mind. And these four Domains take into account all the different ways that we can see conflict within a narrative. And then these perspectives each take a corner. They each take a certain Domain and explore what conflict looks like in the story from that point of view.

So in most action adventure, Marvel superhero comic book movies, the objective story plot is in the Physics domain, which means everybody comes into conflict over punching and kicking, fighting, controlling, typical action adventure stuff. And the main character is personally dealing with some sort of Universe situation. So either they're the king. Or they're the one, or they've got some kind of special ability that sets them apart from everyone else. And they have to personally figure out their place in the "universe". That's why you get this arrangement.

And then the other two Throughlines, the Influence Character and the Relationship Story Throughline which I'm not really going to go over in this video, help balance out the narrative.

The influence character through line is always across from the main character through line. And the relationship story through line is always across from the plot Throughline.

Changing Genres

If you want to try a different genre, all you have to do is come up here, click this button here and let's see what a courtroom drama looks like.

Here you can see that it has shifted and pulled the objective story plot and the main character through line down into the more internal domains. And that's why a film like A Few Good Men feels completely different than a film like Black Panther. If I come back up here. Black Panther has the main character in the Universe, the plot in Physics. Whereas the courtroom drama has the main character in Psychology and the plot in Mind. And that's because most courtroom dramas are about whether or not somebody is guilty or not guilty. And it's all about people's fixed attitudes over the relative innocence of whoever it is that's on trial.

To help compliment that the main character through line has to move out of Universe and into Psychology because you can't have a main character Throughline opposing the objective story plot, just wouldn't work that way.

So here you have the main character down here in Psychology. If you think of Tom Cruise's, Daniel Kaffee character, he has a very dysfunctional way of thinking. He's very lackadaisical, he's chewing the apple, he could care less about things.

And at the end, he grows into somebody who actually cares and actually fights for something. That's his personal domain. That's his personal Throughline. What he's dealing with is this dysfunctional psychology which helps to compliment the objective story plot.

Now not all courtroom dramas have to have a main character in Psychology. They have to have a plot in Mind. And that is signified by this anchor here.

If you're going to go ahead and choose the genre right up top. Then what Subtxt is going to do is help you tell that kind of story. So here this anchor means, if you want to maintain the integrity of a courtroom drama, then you have to keep the objective story Throughline in Mind, but you can move the main character out of Psychology, and into Physics. And now all of a sudden you get something like 12 Angry Men.

This is why 12 Angry Men, even though it's a courtroom drama, has a different feel then A Few Good Men.

A Few Good Men is down here. It's a little heavier. It's a little more serious. And up here, there's a little more air to breathe. Henry Fonda is more able and he's actually out trying to change other people's minds. He's out there trying to physically teach people. It's not so much that he has a dysfunctional psychology that he has to get over. Instead, he has to keep up that fight of keep teaching everybody, let's look at it this way. He's on the right path and his Domain, therefore, his personal thing that we get to become a part of is in Physics.

You do have leeway there and yes, you can totally break out of this courtroom drama plot here and maybe do a courtroom drama where the objective story plot is in Psychology and that may be the main character is up here in Universe. You could do that. But that's going to be very much off of the trend. It's going to be something completely wacky and completely out there.

And obviously you can do whatever you want. But the audience might be coming to this story with some kind of expectations. They'll expect the plot to be in Mind.

Breaking Genre

If you do pull the Throughlines off the Domains, then what Subtxt does is give you an idea of what kind of story you would be telling if you kept up this relationship.

With the objective story plot in Psychology and the main character Throughline in Universe, it's closer to films that are fantasy romances, historical identity dramas, which I'll get to later. Psychological thrillers and sci-fi satire. So if you want to do a courtroom drama, that's a sci-fi satire, you absolutely could do that. You just have to pick which genre, which personality is more important to you. Is it the courtroom drama part? Or is it the sci-fi satire part?

Variations of Genre: Conventional or Atypical

There's one other thing that I want to show you that I added in there. And that's, if let's go to something like a war drama here.

As opposed to something like Black Panther, where the plot was in Physics. Now the plot is about universe. It's about the war itself. People stuck in a war time situation and how things have been, how things are changing, what the future looks like. Everybody's dealing with being stuck in a state of war. And the main character typically is then in the Physics domain. So it's not so much that they're the One or they have special abilities, but that they're engaged in some kind of warfare that personally is causing him a lot of trouble., A lot of conflict.

And you can see over here, the examples Beasts of No Nation and Braveheart are very similar in the fact that they have an objective story plot in Universe. So they're both about the situation, this one's about child soldiers in Africa and Braveheart is all about Scotland versus England.

The main characters in each of those stories, they're doing things that are causing them a lot of trouble. If they would just stop doing what it is they're doing, then they would be able to resolve some of their personal differences.

Down here below the arrangement of personalities, I've now added in this extra variation of genre where you can find out what type of war drama this is. And it's split between either a Conventional war drama or an Atypical war drama.

What I've done is I've gone through the 500 premises plus that are in Subtxt and I'm going through and finding out what are the typical conventions of that genre, and what's a little bit off the beaten path.

Whereas Beasts of No Nation and Braveheart are the conventional storytelling when it comes to a war drama, something that's a little more atypical would be something that's like Platoon.

And you may be asking yourself, "Okay. So what's the difference between the conventional and atypical?", besides just me saying that's what it is.

If you go into genres here In Subtxt, this is the complete master list of all genres. Not all the premises are in here yet.

If I go down to war drama, which should be down at the very bottom. Here you can see. All right. The key feature of a war drama is that the objective story plot is in Universe. And then we have a list of conventional war dramas here, and a list of atypical ones here.

Again, Braveheart, Beasts of No Nation and Crimson Tide is in here as well. And then an atypical one would be something like Platoon.

If you look under these words, conventional and atypical, you'll see what is being measured to figure out whether or not it's conventional or atypical. The two different options are spirited and driven. Or dramatic and principled.

The idea behind that is when you look at the personality of a film, like you almost look at it as a person or a novel or whatever kind of story you're trying to write, you can tell whether that person is a very spirited individual who's driven and is more externally motivated.

Or it's something that's a little more heavier, a little more serious, thought provoking. Dramatic and principled.

That's what separates Platoon from something like Braveheart. One of the many things that separates it from Braveheart, but this idea that when you look at the war drama, that is Braveheart, it's a very spirited and driven type person. Whereas platoon is a very dramatic, serious toned, principled story.

And it's not always that every conventional one is spirited and driven. If I go back up to courtroom dramas, you will see that the conventional courtroom drama is dramatic and principled. It's not spirited and driven. In fact, there are no atypical ones yet that I've found that are more in that area. This one is more dramatic and principled in that it's all about the thought provoking nature of what's going on and actually knowing what is at stake here? It's more serious, a little more internal in nature. That would be a conventional courtroom drama.

What happens in the Premise Builder is I just do that all automatically for you, so that if you switch over into courtroom drama, It'll switch over and it'll say, okay, this is a conventional one, and now it's made it more dramatic and principled, as opposed to spirited and driven.

Identity and Idealistic Genres

Finally the last thing I want to say, it's something that I discovered as I was going through this, is this idea that when you have the plot and the main character on the left, It seems to have something more to do with Identity. And when you have the plot and main character on the right, in a vertical relationship. It seems to have more to do with Idealism.

And so that's where I came up with these unique genres of the Historical Identity Drama here. And the examples that are in there now are The Caine Mutiny, and Roma where the main character is in Universe. So they're trying to figure out where they fit-- they have some sort of status or reputation issue. And the objective story plot is very much about the psychological implications of the politics of the day. What's actually going on in the manipulations that are going on there. And you'll notice it's very much to do with identity. And I think that has everything to do with the fact that you have the main character separated from Psychology, and this makes it a Historical Identity Drama.

Whereas if I just went into a straight Identity drama, you would get films like Moonlight, Luca, and Ida. All three of those are very much about the main character trying to figure out their own personal identity. They have dysfunctional psychologies just as much as Daniel Kaffee did in A Few Good Men, but it's more about who am I and where do I fit in? How can I figure out where I fit into the universe?

It's almost like these ones on the left are all about identity. Whereas the ones on the right are more about idealism.

If I come in here, and I do a Historical Idealistic Drama, Forrest Gump is a great example of a story where it's all about the idealism of the main character trying to integrate into the fixed attitudes and prejudices that surround people that are driven in a certain way and have a certain set way of doing things.

And this would be a conventional Historical Idealistic Drama. Another one that would be more atypical would be Hamilton.

So Hamilton and Forrest Gump share the similar sort of thing where the objective story plot has to do with people's attitudes and their prejudices and what they actually think. And then the main character is someone who is driven to take action and is trying to figure out what they can do based on their idealism. It's not so much their identity, like it was in the previous examples, but it's much more about what can they do from this idealistic point of view and it's all about the things that they're doing that are creating trouble for them, as opposed to something that's less historical in nature, although it is somewhat historical, and that would be Casablanca.

It's a little more fictional in this case. That would be the difference between the previous one and this one. But here you can see again, it's the idealism. The main character has a really bad attitude, "I don't stick my neck out for anyone." And meanwhile, the people in the story are trying to figure out what can they do to escape based on their idealistic notions.

It's just something that I've discovered that I'm working through this, the idea that the vertical arrangement of plot and character, when it's on the left-hand side, seems to have more to do with the identity, which would fit in nice with Psychology. And then on the right has much more to do with idealistic notions of virtue, and what it means to stick to your values and your principles. And that fits nicely in with Mind.

That'll cover it for the new genres in Subtxt. If you have any questions, you can leave a question or a comment below. And I will see you next time.