Now that we have some idea of Jane’s and Joe’s wants and needs, let’s get back to genre.
“Genre” is a dirty word to many writers. Even though you might get more than a few begrudging acknowledgments about the utility of The Hero’s Journey, woe to thee if thou useth that foul French word too freely among those who write their Muse.
But, hey: I’ve found Shawn Coyne’s arguments about genre’s necessity (and its value) quite convincing. Say what you will.
I hope that by keeping my eye on my story’s genres and their conventions, I’ll not get too far off track. I’m a psychotherapist at heart, after all, and a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic one at that (although, I’ve got to say, I’m sort of a fan of Dr. Jon Allen’s “Plain Old Therapy,” but that’s for another time, another blog…). When one spends one’s days moving (for the most part) where the Spirit leads, that can “lead” to some pretty confused storytelling if one brings that into one’s writing habits. Whether or not good therapy is about good storytelling (intersubjectively [as they say] edited, of course), good storytelling has to be edited far more quickly—and ruthlessly—than good therapy.
(Good Lord: can you get any more parenthetical than that sentence? Or this parenthetical? I know, ruthlessly edit, ruthlessly, ruthlessly…)
So here’s the deal: as Shawn (and many others)(!) point out, there’s always an “outside story” to a tale, i.e., an external content genre. Mysteries are about “who did it?” Romances are about “will boy/girl get boy/girl?” Action adventures are about “will the victim be saved from the villain?” Easy enough.
Many of the best stories, though, also have an “inside story,” or an internal content genre. Such stories are less about what the lead character does and more about who the leader character becomes. A smarter person? A better person? A worse person? Richer? Poorer? In wealth or in soul?
So, I’m a psychiatrist, right? I’m telling a story about combat veterans trying to feel and to become better, right? Let’s start out with internal content genre, then.
The “Outer Stories” of “Beam Me Home, Scotty!”
Shawn divides internal content genres into three types: status (change in one’s social position), worldview (change in one’s experience), and morality (change in one’s “moral compass”). In his book, he divides them further, and it is one of the worldview plots that is the genre I’ll be using at this point for Story Two (and One): the Education Plot, where the change in the protagonist is from Ignorance to Wisdom.
It’s easy enough to see how an Education Plot works with the Hero’s Journey: the protagonist (here, primarily Jane) finds the elixir that will soothe her unsettled soul via epiphany, i.e., Love will conquer what it can. She then applies that epiphany in her ultimate confrontation with her personal pain of War.
So far, so good.
The “Inner Story”
But remember: as I said in a the last post, what she wants (knowledge of how to get rid of the mess of War) is not ultimately what she needs: the experience that will allow her to move forward into her future. Experience requires more than knowledge. It requires the body and all its emotions, felt, non-felt, not-yet-felt, the whole bit.
Something like that, in other words, just might well change your moral compass.
Ultimately, the inner content genre of Jane’s story is a Redemption Plot.
Now, I’m not so sure that Shawn would agree with me on this. I can’t say that it wouldn’t be for good reason.
For as Shawn and his fellow-podcaster-in-crime Tim Grahl discussed in their Holiday 2015 podcast “The Martian Carol,” a true Redemption Plot, like that of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, should show a protagonist moving from selfishness to altruism, with a theme that, per story guru Robert McKee, goes something like this:
The compulsive pursuit of contemporary values will destroy you, but if you see this truth in time and throw away your obsession, you can redeem yourself.
Now I can assure you: as written there, that ain’t the Jane I’m hoping to present to you.
But if I change the wording a bit…
It would take too long to explain here, so let me show you over the coming posts. Remember this. Keep me honest. And if I mess it up, tell me.
I know you will. Good for you.
So if those are the basics of the inner content genres, what of the outer content genres? See you next time.