Skip to main content

The Power of Genres

THE STRUCTURE OF GENRE PLOTS

Genre stories are about power. Or at least, that’s one way to look at their plots. Each genre has a typical way of discussing power. Not every story follows these guidelines, and sub-genres switch things up, but this can be a useful way to start thinking about the broad tropes of a genre, and how to play with them.

SUPER HERO

Set up: An average or weakened individual (or tight knit group), gain a great power.

Resolution: They discover that the power is also a curse, and that they may have been better off without it, (since heroes use their powers for the benefit of others, rather than for themselves).

power-super-hero--

SCIENCE FICTION

Set up: A large part of society (a planet, a socio-economic class, a country) gains a great power (through a new technology) and things are thrown into turmoil.

Resolution: Someone (or the technology itself) either democratizes or destroys the technology so that the elites are not the sole keepers of that power.

power-scifi--

HORROR

Set up: A group of normal people encounter something with great, terrible power, that kills them off one, or a few, at a time.

Resolution: One of the normal people discover the powerful evil has a weakness of his own, and exploits it, either destroying it, or putting it into some sort of stasis before it can wreak havoc again.

power-horror--

FANTASY

Set up: Power is in the hands of an indisputably great evil. An unlikely group of normal people and heroes journey together to defeat the power in its weak spot/throne.

Resolution: The evil power is destroyed. What power takes it’s place is either not explored, or power is restored to a rightful ruler that everyone agrees will be just.

power-fantasy--flat

ROMANCE

Set up: The hero wants to give power over themselves to someone who will do the same in a respectful, loyal, loving way, but isn’t sure who. They try opening themselves up to different people.

Resolution: After the hero’s big mistake, or miscommunication, things seemed ruined. But the lover uses their power of judgment fairly and lovingly, forgiving the mistake and accepting them warts and all. It ends in a wedding (or accepted proposal), showing both want to enter into an equal partnership, sharing power over each other.

power-romance

ACTION/MYSTERY

(Note: These are the same plot depending on how the hero solves problems: brawn or brains)

Set up: A criminal act creates chaos, and a hero who thrives without rules must find a way to snatch power back from disorder.

Resolution: Order is restored, so that the establishment (police, government, patriarchy) is back in charge, and the loose cannon hero can go back to the fringes of society until they are needed again.

power-action--

CASTAWAY/POST-APOCALYPSE

(Note: These two genres are the same plot but vary on where the heroes are castaway, on uncharted land, or ruined land being rediscovered (see here for my argument on why it’s true))

Set up: People are thrown into a world with no human power structures, only the power of nature to contend with.

Resolution: Those who have enough self-power to maintain civility among savagery are rewarded with some sort of rescue or salvation for themselves or their loved ones.

power-castaway