Genres are important. Simply put, they’re categories– but each genre has conventions with story elements such as archetypes, formulas, or structures. These conventions characterize each genre and define the audience's expectations. What are some examples? Well, I’m glad you asked! For instance, a character archetype you might see in a fantasy-adventure movie is an orphaned boy who for some reason is the only one who can defeat the terrible tyrant. You might be familiar with the plot convention in horror movies where the bad guy just won’t die. Or my personal favorite genre convention: when characters in crime-thrillers zoom in and enhance things.
On the inside cover of the Storyclock Workbook, you’ll find an incredibly convenient list of genre variations showing you some of the tried and tested common story-structures. But that’s the great thing about storytelling– there are rules of structure in place that help and inspire you to make a well structured story and characters– but it’s okay for those rules to be broken.
In today’s post, we’re recapping all of our research logs broken down into genres. Ready? Let’s go.
An action masterpiece led by an empathetic protagonist with an objective that evolves through several clear and defined stages. When you remember the movie, you remember it as a "John fighting the bad guys and saving the hostages" movie, but it takes the whole movie to get John to commit to that.
An action-heist-musical about that One Last Job™️.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Want to learn how to write a successful sequel? Look no further than one of the greatest of all-time.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
A great staple in action movies is giving your characters obstacles. Ghost Protocol teaches us that you shouldn’t be afraid to give your hero as many obstacles as possible. Need to put your face to a scanner to unlock a door? Let’s put the scanner on a moving train. Climbing the world’s tallest building with sticky gloves? Let’s have the gloves slowly break.
A perfect thriller that moves like a mother****er. A great study in pacing! We analyzed this movie's efficient and urgent pace, complete lack of subplots, and more.
Steven Spielberg's 1971 TV movie about a truck that either loves murder or hates Dennis Weaver. Fear is the driving force...
Back To The Future
There's a lot to learn from studying the crap out of this perfect movie. All of the story symmetry, Murphy’s law as an antagonist, and setups and payoffs just to name a few.
Because it’s structure is so lean and efficient, it has room to let moments and ideas breathe, soaking this thing in mood, atmosphere, Silver Surfers, and Nightbears™.
If you’re looking for a great film to study when it comes to building distrust and paranoia in an ensemble cast, mixing genres like black-comedy + sci-fi + horror, or groundbreaking visual effects, look no further.
M. Night Shyamalan's Signs
All of the horror films we’ve researched follow the common four-act structure of
- Things are normal.
- Something weird might be going on.
- Something weird is definitely going on, what are we going to do about it?
- Doing something about it.
Coming of Age
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
John Hughes throws the storytelling rules out the window in “Ferris” and chooses to give all the character growth to the supporting character instead of the protagonist. And hey! It works!
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
There are very few movies that we can confidently recommend to everyone. This is one of them. It's hilarious and heartwarming and something else that starts with h.
In this research log we talk about lovable rogues, internal journeys, the challenges and perks of having a protagonist and antagonist that love each other, and the genius of our blessed saint Greta Gerwig.
Adventure (aka Epic Thing)
Raiders Of The Lost Ark
One of the first films we ever analyzed using a Storyclock. It introduced Seth to the idea of symmetry in storytelling, and how well-told stories with great structure and pacing have rhythm and rhyme.
Very few screenwriters on Earth possess Whedon’s mastery of both structure and execution. You feel it when you watch this movie and the chemicals rush through your brain screaming, "this is the most fun I will ever have in this life!" (execution). Then you see it when you break this movie apart and look at the thousands of specific choices he made in putting it together (structure).
We head to Wakanda to Storyclock Ryan Coogler’s superhero film Black Panther, a movie structured with some beautiful symmetry and packed with incredible characters.
We created the Storyclock Notebook as a research and development tool for screenwriters, but we've boasted since day one that it works for all kinds of storytelling mediums– including video games! A medium that allows fresh challenges and approaches to storytelling, leading to fresh story experiences.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
An adventure movie about a ragtag group of aliens, humans, and racoons saving the galaxy with the power of FRIENDSHIP– that follows the traditional hero’s journey to a t.
A bold, irreverent movie that takes itself the perfect amount of seriously and pushes the material to the fringes of its world -- putting the focus on its weirdest parts and celebrating them.
What I love about this movie is that it’s not doing anything new with story structure. It’s the tried and true formula, but everything about the execution -- the script, the characters, putting a family of superheroes through the ringer -- it makes it feel fresh and exciting and fun. Sometimes it’s frustrating how good Brad Bird is at his job.
The Lego Movie
“The only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it's true.”
As verified purveyors of cat posters, we approve of this message.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Sometimes you’ve got a perfect plan for the structure of your film… and then that structure totally changes in the 11th hour. In our Research Log for Spider-Verse we learn from Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Peter Ramsey that that’s okay!
Dialing scope with a blunt instrument, this movie may be the gold standard for the "CUT TO: THE PRESIDENT" genre. With little regard for nuance or subtlety in its relentless pursuit of the next scene, this film moves fast and it moves shamelessly, unwilling to go quietly into the night.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
An animated film that just oozes with Wes Anderson’s live-action style– a great case for why “animation” shouldn’t be considered a genre.
We analyze an episode of the police-procedural comedy!
Middleditch & Schwartz
Here’s the thing with improv– you would never use a method like this to develop an outline or a story. Because improv. But you know what you can use it for? Research. And this research is Ben Schwartz approved baybee!
When you’ve got action, adventure, horror, comedy, and drama elements and you do them all to perfection, you get your own category.
We investigated the story structure of Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s genre-subverting whodunit, and dove into interesting behind the scenes writing tidbits.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
This is an intentionally small story, and Spielberg and Mathison get SO much out of it. Every look, every line of dialogue, every inch of movement MEANS something and pushes our story forward. The smaller your story, the more you can potentially get out of it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This story is freakishly simple, as it should be. A lot of what's particularly special about it is in its execution, and a pitch-perfect tone. Also Vader in the hallway. Because Darth Vader in the hallway.
Stranger Things (S1 E1)
What interesting is that on paper Stranger Things is not all that interesting. So much of its success is in its execution: the casting, the acting, the production design, the music, and -- maybe most importantly -- the long game. This show takes its time. It doesn't beg for your love in the first episode, it just focuses on beginning the story, trusting that you'll stick around.
Fleabag (Season 2)
Looking at the entirety of Season 2 in the form of a clock, it’s amazing to see how well the story of Fleabag fits into the “hero’s journey”, while simultaneously upending so many tropes of the traditional love story.
You've Got Mail
For romantic-comedies, we gave an example of a simple 4 act structure:
- They don’t know each other
- They hate each other
- They hurt each other
- They love each other.
Now we’re not saying that all stories have to fit into this preconceived mold... but this movie totally does.
So there you have it! A recap of all of the research logs we’ve done so far. As you can see, some follow the formula like gospel while others make their own rules. As a challenge, go pick up a Storyclock Notebook, clock one of your favorite movies, and see if you can notice any similarities in a different movie within it’s genre. Is it a horror movie that follows the common 4 act structure? Maybe an action movie where the hero’s one last job goes wrong? Let us know the genre conventions it follows and which one it breaks! Or better yet, why not develop your own story?