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Screenwriting: Is Sticking to One Genre the Best Approach?

Updated: Jul 11, 2023


Guest Blog written by Cannon Rosenau. Sign up for our newsletter!


You’ve studied all the screenwriting books and know all the technicalities of writing an awesome screenplay with a compelling story and your formatting is impeccable. Perhaps you’ve saved the cat more times than you can count so you’ve got your storytelling down pat. But as a writer, what is your brand? Should you as a professional writer stick to one genre?


The simple answer is no, but also yes.


Let’s start with the “no” - You do not need to stick to just one genre. As writers, we just want to tell stories. Otherwise, we are forced to live with these characters in our heads. Which is fine, there are meds for that, but these characters are desperate to get out and onto that page to tell their story. These voices in our writer-heads are no respecter of genre.


For instance, take Star Wars by George Lucas and compare it to American Graffiti also by George Lucas. The two movies couldn’t be more different. Star Wars being a sci-fi action fantasy and American Graffiti considered a Comedy Drama, a high school one nonetheless. The closest thing to a Storm Trooper in the latter would be the shiny T-birds. Both are iconic films, however, American Graffiti was a story that Mr. Lucas had in his head; it wanted out. He wanted to tell a story that highlights the struggles of the transition between graduation and adulthood.


On advice, he did it as a “normal movie” instead of what was his weird-norm gaining the backing of Francis Ford Coppola, thus gaining confidence in the studios...paving the way for all the nerds’ beloved Star Wars movies.


And what if Jordan Peele just stuck to only comedy, which he is really, really good at? You wouldn’t have arguably some of the most popular horror/thriller films in the last five years (just look at his box office numbers). Or if Steven Spielberg stuck to the feel good films of the 80s? We wouldn’t have one of the most important films of our time, Schindler’s List. The list goes on.


(No matter your genre, here’s a great place to upload your logline or if you’re a filmmaker searching loglines: SS Logline Board.)


So, let those ideas out, get them on the paper and eventually to the screen. But, and there is always a but, do so in your voice. A voice that is authentically your own. What does that mean, your voice? As a Christian writer, I would never write a raunchy comedy or a graphic horror. If I can't even watch them without shielding my eyes, how on earth could I write every little detail in each action line? It would sound so totally inauthentic.


Not sure if your voice sounds authentic, consider SS Pro Coverage.


It's unnatural for me to use obscenities in real life, let alone write them into natural sounding dialogue. It would be like hearing my goody goody grandmother say the D-word that one time – it was so weird, like being in the Twilight Zone (yet she raised my dad who has the mouth of a pirate trucker). Or reverse that, can you imagine Quentin Tarantino writing a Christian faith based film that doesn’t have some sordid theme? Pulp Fiction anyone? Quentin has a very distinct voice, his style of films are unmistakably his own. I’m not saying he couldn’t cross over to an overly dramatic PG character drama with no blood shed or curse words. He’s very talented and experienced. Which brings up my next point...

Jordan Peele and Steven Spielberg were able to cross over to totally different and unrelated genres. And do it successfully.

Generally, we already write in several genres, but they are interchangeable or relatable. It’s not a far stretch to write a light-hearted PG RomCom and then do a sort of PG-13 Dramedy. How did they leap from Comedy to Horror and Fantasy to Gritty Historical artsy drama?


And this is where we explore, the “yes” stick to one genre.


Literary Agent, Lisa Simpson, owner of Elevated Artists, brings up the good point of honing ones skills:

“I believe that a writer should stick to, and master, one genre. First. This is to build up his/her skills, thought processes, forms, and even their following (fans!)”

Let’s camp out there for a second. Back in the day, if someone said “Let’s go see a Nora Ephron film” and we went to the theater only to find a shoot-em-up cop thriller, I’d be sorely disappointed. One went to Nora’s films to fall in love, through happy tears and laughter! Simpson continues, “Now if, per se, a writer has a following that may be waiting for the next story in the preferred genre, and then the writer zig-zags from Romance to Sci-Fi, or from Faith Based to Horror, then the fans of the writer’s work may begin to dwindle, and the writing itself may lose heart.”


Producers and investors typically have a specific script they are looking for. And it comes in trends and waves. Over the last five years, a lot of the screenwriter job sites were full of requests for horrors, contained horrors, horror/thrillers. This will never go away as they offer a reliable ROI as they’re cheap to make and audiences gobble them up. But that’s not what I write. I had to wait it out and just kept writing what is in my wheelhouse.


Now, just look at the rise in popularity of the Christian film with the box office success of Jesus Revolution along with the 40% increase of viewership last month on the Christiano Brothers free movies on YouTube:


And the growth of Pureflix merging with Great American Media, there will be and already has been an increase in requests for Faith movie scripts. Which means, there are now more homes for my scripts. It pays to wait it out.


SS just posted a search yesterday (7/9/2023)for faith-based scripts: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/premium-listings


Oftentimes, writers will give into those market trends. And that’s great, if you have a secure (and hopefully forgiving) fan base. If you write in your own unique voice and tell the story in such a way that only you can tell it, you can join the ranks of Peele and Spielberg. Voices change, just like how our voices physically changed in middle school. Those poor kids still retain the same voice, they just became more mature and refined. Evolving is okay and is a natural process. But think back, and ask yourself what type of stories made you want to tell stories? Did you love a particular type of movie or show? Stay true to that passion and that will shine through in your writing – even if your passion is writing fart jokes and potty humor.


A final nugget from Simpson:

“With that being said, [about keeping your fan base] I think jumping off into the deep end is what keeps our imaginations open to limitless possibilities and our heads in the game.”

Go with your gut, friends. If you feel you can write authentically, let it flow. Either it works or it doesn’t. Just keep writing. Afterall, you can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write!


PS. I’m still waiting for that Quentin Tarantino feel good family film.

Join the 100s of screenwriter success stories who have found their authentic voice through SS!

 

Cannon Rosenau is a mother of four adorable teenagers and wife of one handsome dude, she earned her MFA in Script and Screenwriting from Regent University in 2015 and right away optioned her final project from the program. She's repped by Simpson Literary Agency and has also written scripted ads, collaborates on the Cuzzins team and has a published stage play. When she’s not writing smutless comedy for various projects (contracts and spec), you can find her slangin’ Girl Scout Cookies, Cheer Raffles and burning holes in the sidewalks walking her four dogs where she lives in North Idaho. www.imdb.com/name/nm11007680, https://simpsonliteraryagency.com/cannon-rosenau

 

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