For as long as there’s been literary analysis, there has been an effort to determine just how many variations on plot there are, and to codify them accordingly.
Your high-school English teacher no doubt taught you that all conflict can be boiled down to four types: “man versus man,” “man versus society,” “man versus nature,” “man versus himself.” Remember that one?
For my money, none of them quite “cracked the code” until screenwriter Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! identified ten types, or “genres,” and delineated the specific criteria (three apiece) that distinguish one from another—and they’re not what you’d think. Rather than vague categorizations like “horror,” “comedy,” and “action,” Snyder classified his genres like so:
- Monster in the House (Alien, Jurassic World), the conventional requirements of which are Monster, House, Sin
- Golden Fleece (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mad Max: Fury Road): Road, Team, Prize
- Out of the Bottle (Mary Poppins, Groundhog Day): Wish, Spell, Lesson
- Dude with a Problem (Die Hard, Gravity): Innocent Hero, Sudden Event, Life-or-Death Battle
- Rites of Passage (Ordinary People, Her): Life Problem, Wrong Way, Acceptance
- Buddy Love (more on this in a minute)
- Whydunit (Chinatown, Basic Instinct): Detective, Secret, Dark Turn
- Fool Triumphant (Forrest Gump, Birdman): Fool, Establishment, Transmutation
- Institutionalized (American Sniper, The Godfather): Group, Choice, Sacrifice
- Superhero (The Dark Knight, The Imitation Game, Dracula): Special Power, Nemesis, Curse
It would be impossible for me to overstate how crucial these categories are to the storyteller’s toolbox; I’ve spent years testing them against every story I encounter, and time and again I’ve found that all successful, classically structured narratives (meaning those in the Aristotelian–Joseph Campbell mold) definitively adhere to one of them. (How these genre classifications apply to postnarrative works is a thornier issue, one that I am still studying.) For writers looking to learn genre, there’s no better, more cogent system of codification than the one Snyder compiled. I’ve written at length on this blog about its versatility, illustrating how it’s been used to subvert formulaic writing rather than enable it in long-running movie series like The Hunger Games and Rambo.
This week, I’ve published an exclusive article at Save the Cat! in which I elaborate on the narrative requirements of Buddy Love, a genre that can be further refined into five subcategories: “Pet Love” (The Black Stallion), “Professional Love” (Lethal Weapon), “Rom-com Love” (When Harry Met Sally…), “Epic Love” (Titanic), and “Forbidden Love” (Brokeback Mountain). I’ll illustrate what makes Buddy Love unlike other genres that happen to incorporate a romantic subplot, and conduct a thorough deconstruction of one of the most popular—and polarizing—recent examples of the BL story model: Twilight (2008).
Please take a moment to read the article here, and feel free to leave a comment on either site—this one or that one; I will reply regardless. I welcome your reactions. And let love rule!