Comedy, Tragedy, & Romance 109-02

Commercial fiction is written to entertain, but audiences can be very picky about the type of story they want to read or watch. Most genres engage the same issues as literary and mainstream, but they engage the issues within the genre framework, disguising a familiar topic in the trappings of their genre.

Of course genre conventions are no excuse for bad writing. Instead think of a genre like a musical instrument. A flute can be light-hearted or serious, happy or sad, depending on how it’s played. When in doubt, start writing, and save the question of genre for the second draft. What’s important is understanding and managing audience expectations.

Combining Genres
It is possible to mix genres, if they share a common aspect, and the shared aspect is central to the story. Romantic comedy is a common genre combination because budding relationships can easily include strange and absurd situations, which are often funny.

Science fiction and horror are another example, as both horror and science fiction explore the unknown. However, a writer should not simply combine two genres because they like them. Any two genres can be combined, but it has to be done right, by recognizing and focusing on where the two overlap.

Comedy & Tragedy
Comedy and tragedy are one of the oldest distinctions of literature. They both begin with a status quo and a disruption. The disruption is either an opportunity for the protagonist to grow and achieve more, or a threat of losing what they currently have. Both stories end in a culminating moment when the protagonist realizes what truly matters. The distinction lies in whether the outcome is perceived as a positive or negative change. However, most comedies and tragedies rely on patterns and conventions to help establish which type of story they are.

Comedies generally begin with an unwanted intrusion or complication, and end when the protagonist learns to appreciate and welcome the change. They feature many self-contained misunderstandings and absurd situations that keep things lighthearted. Midsummer Night’s Dream is a classic example. But not all comedies are light-hearted and silly. Merchant of Venice is a very serious play, but it is a comedy. The main character, Shylock, is forced to convert to Christianity, but in the long term this could be a beneficial change. Similarly, most people would see a divorce as a negative change, but what if the protagonist was unhappy in the marriage, but lacked the courage to end it. In that instance the initial loss would become a new opportunity.

Tragedies are about consequences and loss. A character may start out with everything and then fall from grace, or they may pursue a goal, only to realize too late that they’ve sacrificed too much to achieve their goal. The key is the character doesn’t recognize the right choice until it’s too late. Othello is a classic example, where the character begins with everything. The Godfather is another, where a character works to achieve power, sacrificing everything else.

Relationships & Romance
A relationship story is one where two characters meet and form a strong emotional bond. The two characters want to be together, but any time they spend together is brief and incomplete. Something gets in the way, separating the two before or preventing them from consummating the relationship. In some cases the obstacle may be the characters themselves, as is the case in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, where Benedict and Beatrice fail to recognize their underlying feelings for each other.

Of course not all relationship stories are romantic. Sometimes a relationship story is about two siblings, a parent and child, friends, or a teacher and student. The key is that the two want to be together in some form of partnership. For example, Homeward Bound is a relationship story about pets trying to reunite with their owners.

Next Time…
Mystery, Thriller, Horror, Scifi, & Fantasy

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  1. Pingback: Labeling Your Story 109-01 | Write Thoughts

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