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"Understand the conventions of the genre you're writing for," says screenwriter Susannah Farrow. "There are certain things moviegoers expect to see in a comedy and other things they expect to see in a thriller. Make sure you include those things."
Audiences have their favorite genres and are well versed in genre conventions. If they've come to see a comedy, they want laughs. But they also want original situations, not something they've seen a hundred times. To write successfully within a genre, a writer must study and master its conventions while avoiding its clichés.
The choice of genre may impose conventions on:
• setting (the West in a western, a battle in a war film)
• roles (detective and criminal in a detective story)
• events (boy-meets-girl in a love story)
• emotional expectations (in an action/adventure, will the hero save the day? In a horror movie, will the axe murderer strike again?).
Some genres have many conventions. Let's take a crime story as an example. The audience expects: a crime to occur early on; someone to investigate; twists in the form of false clues, multiple suspects, or the revelation of hidden layers; and a showdown (physical, intellectual, or both) between the criminal and the investigator.
The hardest part of writing within a genre is avoiding its clichés. The first writer who revealed that the criminal was really a corrupt cop found an exciting, new twist. But by now that device has become an overused gimmick. Find ways of meeting audience expectations without resorting to clichés.
Watch as many movies in your genre as you can, and study their scripts. Ask the following questions: What are the conventions of settings, roles, and events? What emotional expectations are the films fulfilling? What's been done to death? What's original? How is your script like these movies, and how does it differ? Can you give the events that have to happen in your story a fresh, contemporary twist without committing any genre sins or falling into formulaic writing?
Understanding genre is an essential element of good writing. If you master your genre and its conventions, you'll be able to pay off audience expectation with skill, originality, and elegance. And if you wish to write a genre-defying script, your knowledge of genre will only make your experiment bolder.