Screenplay Concept


"Once you understand the movie genre, then you have the rules of the world you're writing in."

Writing to a standard film genre helps you as the writer in many ways. For the actual writing of your screenplay it may drive the concept, at least making it simpler to define. Genre can also help outline the story and character archetypes. Genre helps attract a producer, especially when it comes to assessing potential market. Casting is much facilitated: many film stars fit one genre or another (even in the post-John Wayne era). Once in the movie theaters audiences go for genre as much as for stars, and genre gives critics a framework for their commentary.

According to Tim Dirks at, the main film genres are . .

Main film genres . .
  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime/Gangster
  • Drama
  • Epics/Historical
  • Horror
  • Musical/Dance
  • Science Fiction
  • War
  • Western

Maybe he sees romance as something that just gets mixed in. Other major genres include . .

Other major film genres . .
  • Mystery
  • Romance
  • Sport
  • Thriller

Some of these may go by different names--such as 'suspense' for 'thriller' or 'detective' for 'mystery' or 'chick-flick' for 'romance'--but the meaning stays the same.

Sub-Genres and Mixes

Often a film represents a mix of genres. Some argue this is always the case as romance is generally mixed in. Common sub-genres include: action-adventure, action-thriller, romantic-comedy, 'dramedy' (drama+comedy), musical comedy, etc. Even when combining types, the benefits of starting from the perspective of an accepted genre apply.

Examples of mixed-genre films include . .

Examples of films with mixed genres . .
  • DIVA (1982) by Jean-Jacques Beineix
  • BLUE VELVET (1986) by David Lynch
  • SOMETHING WILD (1986) by John Demme
  • RAISING ARIZONA (1987) by Joel Coen
  • THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) by Errol Morris

How do I select a film genre to write in?

What genre are your favorite movies written in? Go with that one first time out (no need to overly load yourself up with challenges as a nubie). Once you've got your sea legs in writing for film, you may want to branch out--step out of your 'comfort zone' if for not other reason than to grow as a writer.

Consider the type of story you want to tell: to what extent will one genre over another help tell that story? Westerns and science fiction give you a whole world you can use--an 'altered universe'--which allows considerable freedom (especially when telling a morality tale). Perhaps you'd prefer the paint-by- numbers outline promised by other genre choices.

Your ultimate selection depends largely on the type of person (and writer) you are. Not everybody can (or should) write a film noir or a detective-mystery, for example. Some should simply stick to the character-driven drama.

If you still can't decide, check out some examples of movie genres, and see which ones might match your planned project. Remember that you'll likely be mixing more than one together to hyphenated success.

What are some things to consider when writing to film genres?

Your choice of movie genre for your project drives everything from the concept to the dialogue. Depending on the genre you choose, character archetypes might be clearly outlined; as well how they talk and the things they do. Some genres--film noir and romantic comedies, for example--even come with generally-accepted story structures. And don't forget the 'recurring icons (e.g., six-guns and ten-gallon hats in Westerns)' [Tim Dirks] that can help make your writing both easier and more keyed to genre. The degree to which any of these apply depends upon the actual genre, of course; some have far more established conventions than others.

Play with genre . .

As screenwriter you have the creative power to set the world of film genre on edge, or merely use well-established conventions and 'rules' help you along in your quest for greatness. Many popular films have been made by parodying a given genre; especially, the teen horror flick, or the western. Others take a genre as a starting point before taking it in new directions, thereby redefining the style.

How about setting a western on Mars? Or write a musical war movie, the first melodramatic swashbuckler, a religious martial arts movie. The combinations are limited only by your imagination. But, take care you don't take it too far . .

"More than two genres is a mess."

See also . .

| Getting Help | How to Write a Screenplay | Story Dynamics | Market Your Screenplay | Scr(i)nk blog | Magic Star: Concept | Greatness |

  1. Consider the mix of genres in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000). What can you learn about selecting/creating a film genre for your project?
  2. In what way does UNFORGIVEN (1992) play with the western genre? How might it considered an 'un-western'?
  3. What genres are mixed in THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988)? How successful is this mix in helping to make the point?
  4. In what genre would you categorize THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)? In what way would this film present a challenge to those promoting it?
  5. In what direction does BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) take the western? Should it really be called a comedy instead? What impact did it have on the genre?