The Biggest Reason Why Writers Fail At The Premise by John Truby


Film Courage: Why is understanding genre so
important? John Truby: Genre really is the key to understanding
screenwriting today and it comes from what I call the First Rule of Hollywood, which
is Hollywood doesn’t buy and sell movie stars, directors or writers, it buys and sells
genres. Now genres are story forms. And more importantly they are the all-stars
of the story world. They are story forms that have been told over
decades, centuries and in some cases like with myth, thousands of years. So they have already been worked out. They’ve been worked out in very great detail. And they know exactly how their characters
work, what their themes are, they know how the plot is going to work and so on, so it’s
very, very tough. Now in order to sell to a worldwide audience
you have to use these different genres because this is what the audience is really buying. When an audience goes to see one of the big
summer blockbuster films, they may not know in their head “Oh, that’s a myth-based
film.” or “That’s an action film.” or a combination of the two but they know
what they like. And that’s what is underneath each one of
those stories (AVENGERS, DARK KNIGHT, so on). Those are all just basic story forms, basic
genres, with a unique skin placed on top. So it’s very important for the writer to
understand what genres they are working in. It’s also very important for them to understand
minor genres because almost every film that gets made is not a single genre, that was
decades ago. Now almost every film that gets made (not
just in Hollywood) but in worldwide cinema, is a combination of two, three and sometimes
four genres. Now a lot of writers know this. What they don’t know (they usually don’t
know) is that combining genres is very difficult because each genre has its own hero, it’s
own opponent, it’s own desire line, them and so on. So when you start combining these, typically
you end up with chaos. You end up with so many story elements that
are connected that the script doesn’t work. So it’s very important to understand how
to put these genres together. One final point about this, when a writer
is developing a story idea, right at the beginning of the writing process they come up against
the biggest decisions that they will have to make which is “What genre is this story?” The biggest reason that writers fail at the
premise, and by the way, 99% of scripts fail at the premise line, right at the biggest
decision in the writing process. The biggest reason is not that it wasn’t
a good idea. It’s that they used the wrong genre to develop
the idea.

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