Sue Campbell: Hello, and welcome to “The Mommy’s Pen Podcast.” And welcome to season two. I’m Sue Campbell, a writer and children’s book author. I’m here with my 11-year-old daughter, Nora. Nora, could you maybe put your book down so we can do the podcast?
Nora: Okay, fine.
Sue Campbell: What book are you reading?
Nora: “The Children of Blood and Bone.” Oh, I lost my page. Oh, there it is.
Sue Campbell: Who wrote that? Tomi Adeyemi.
Nora: I think.
Sue Campbell: I might be pronouncing that right. I’m probably pronouncing it wrong. Is it good so far?
Sue Campbell: Okay, cool. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re not talking about “The Children of Blood and Bone.” We are going to be tackling-
Sue Campbell: Genre for season two. This was Nora’s idea, and as some of you may know, I am a big follower of Shawn Coyne-
Nora: Yeah, we all know that by now.
Sue Campbell: Yes. And he is an editor with over 25 years’ experience who wrote a book called “The Story Grid.” His company, when he was an agent, was actually called Genre Management. He’s huge, huge, huge on knowing what genre … Excuse me. On knowing what genre you’re writing in, and that being crucial to telling a story that works.
Sue Campbell: So we’re going to talk about genre to the best of our ability. We may even call in some guest help, because we know a couple of fabulous “Story Grid” editors. Anne and Rachelle, if you’re listening, sorry I haven’t asked you yet, but I’m assuming that you would like to be on the podcast at some point.
Sue Campbell: But today we’re just going to give you an overview of genre, what it is, and why it’s important. Right, Nora?
Nora: Yeah. It’s not just-
Sue Campbell: Keep going.
Nora: It’s not just important because we say it’s important, but it is that, too.
Sue Campbell: Right. So-
Nora: Because everything we say is important is important, right, Mom?
Sue Campbell: On the podcast, yes, because I always edit out the unimportant parts.
Nora: Everything that comes out of my mouth is important.
Sue Campbell: Yeah. So moving on. Talking about genre, we’ll put a link to this in the show notes, but Shawn Coyne explains this by using what he calls the-
Nora: Genre clover.
Sue Campbell: Genre clover. So we’re going to talk about that-
Nora: Whenever I say something and then you repeat it, you act like I’ve just won the marshmallow test or something. Honestly.
Sue Campbell: That would be super patronizing about it. Very good, Nora. When we’re talking about genre, we’re talking about a number of different things, and Shawn Coyne uses a five leaf clover, and we’ll put a link to that in the show notes.
Nora: Except there are actually hardly ever four leaf clovers, so I’ve never seen a five leaf clover.
Sue Campbell: It’s really just a flower.
Sue Campbell: But Shawn didn’t want to call it a genre flower.
Nora: “Genre flower” sounds better. I’m going to call it a genre flower.
Sue Campbell: Okay, you can call it that. So, will you tell the listeners what each of the five petals of the flower, or leaves of the clover, represent? You can read them off of this handy chart.
Nora: So, there’s like length, because it’s like, I think, I’m guessing that because it says short-
Sue Campbell: Right there.
Nora: Oh, it says “time.” And then scroll down so I can see the rest. Reality, style, structure, and content.
Sue Campbell: Right. So, I’ll go over each one of these in a little more detail. Obviously when you’re writing a story, and you sit down, you need to know how long the story’s going to be. So that’s the “time.” Is this a short story, is it-
Nora: Is it going to take place over a few days, or a few thousand years?
Sue Campbell: Actually, this is more like, is it a novel, is it a short story, is it a micro story? Like that.
Nora: What’s a micro story? Is that like two words?
Sue Campbell: It could be. Some people write like six-word stories. Yeah.
Nora: That’s a story now?
Sue Campbell: It could be. It could be, if it were done well. I’ll show you some of those sometime. So that’s the time clover. Pretty straight forward. You’re either dealing with short, long, or medium in terms of length of your story.
Sue Campbell: And then you have “reality,” so is this a realistic story? Is it-
Nora: That means, does it take place in the real world, or is it just like …
Sue Campbell: Or is it factualism, so is it like non-fiction? Is it absurdism, or is it fantasy?
Nora: What’s absurdism? It’s like when you’re filled in a white void full of bright blue llamas?
Sue Campbell: Exactly. That would be a great example of absurdism. Dang, girl.
Nora: So can I have a bright blue llama?
Sue Campbell: If you can find one, we’ll talk. How about that? I want to talk a little bit about fantasy part of the genre, because when we get into content genres, this will make more sense, because that’s mainly what we’re going to focus on in season two.
Nora: Yes. We don’t want to bore you with the whole thing about the length of a book.
Sue Campbell: Right, but that wasn’t where I was going with that. Thanks.
Nora: I am so sorry.
Sue Campbell: So, in the fantasies in the reality clover, right? So you’re breaking it out, and fantasy is where you would talk about, is it a magical story? Is it a science fiction story? Is it a cyberpunk story? Is it a space opera? All of those types of things are in the reality clover.
Sue Campbell: When we get into the content genres, a lot of people want to put science fiction up there, but it’s not. It belongs in this clover right here, the reality clover.
Nora: And also, in the reality clover, I think in absurdism, is a Marie Antoinette cartoon where you have to smear yogurt on your face to get into it. Which was one of my dreams, actually, and I’m not making that up.
Sue Campbell: Okay, why don’t you tell us about that dream briefly.
Nora: Wow. I just had this dream that I was standing outside [inaudible 00:06:07] and then I fell down into this hole where there was a plastic box, and it was, you know, like a barred plastic box. And so I climbed into it.
Sue Campbell: What’s a barred plastic box?
Nora: It’s like a cage sort of. Except without a top. And then, it was like black and white and was made out of zip ties, except I could fit in it. And there were some really weird people. You know the people from “The Green Glass House” that show up at his house?
Sue Campbell: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Nora: They were in there with me-
Sue Campbell: “The Green Glass House” is another book. It’s a mystery, it’s really good.
Nora: Along with Ruby from sixth grade, Ruby, Thea’s friend, not Ruby, Alice’s sister. We went zooming around when the other people pushed some buttons, and then we went into this huge room. I think it was a theater except there were no seats. There were just bowls of yogurt, you know? And what.
Nora: And then there was a cartoon about Marie Antoinette that was totally judgemental and stereotypical, so I wanted to go into it to change it to make it more historically accurate, but except you had to smear the yogurt on your face to get into it, and then Ruby, Thea’s friend, and I fixed it. And then my dream kind of fizzled out.
Sue Campbell: I’m a little bit sorry I asked that question.
Sue Campbell: So what have we covered so far? We’ve covered the time leaf of the clover, the reality leaf of the clover, then there’s the style-
Nora: And that doesn’t mean where you wear your scarf.
Sue Campbell: No. So the style would be the type of style of the story you’re telling. So is it a cartoon? Is it a dance? Is it-
Nora: A cartoon like a really stereotypical one about Marie Antoinette?
Sue Campbell: Is it a documentary? Is it a movie? Is it epistolary, so like told in letters and things? Is it a musical like “Hamilton?” So that’s style. You need to know what style you’re writing in.
Sue Campbell: And then you have the structure, so how is the story going to be structured in terms of the plot?
Nora: So there’s a mini plot, anti-plot, and arch plot, and mostly there’s just arch plots, and sometimes mini plots, but I don’t really get what an anti-plot is.
Sue Campbell: You don’t want to know. We’ll leave anti-plot for another day.
Nora: No, please tell me, tell me.
Sue Campbell: It’s basically like breaking down all structures and trying to just fly without a plot, and they’re really never very satisfying. You can pull it off if you’re like a complete genius, but.
Nora: I’ll write one.
Sue Campbell: Don’t try it at home.
Nora: But this is home, and I can’t go anywhere else, because it’s summer.
Sue Campbell: And it’s also very smoky outside. We’ve been basically cooped up for days because we’re getting a lot of wildfire smoke blowing out from the wildfires in California, and it’s a little hot and miserable.
Nora: A little hot and miserable?
Sue Campbell: Some of that might be coming out in our energy levels. And then you have arch plot-
Nora: Are you hinting that I’m over energy level?
Sue Campbell: And she’s a little pent up from her creative energies because she hasn’t podcasted for a couple of weeks. So, arch plot.
Nora: Is like …
Sue Campbell: Can you use additional words?
Nora: Well, it’s like an arch, sort of, if you write it out. But it’s like a more conventional story where … Well, first can I explain what a mini plot is?
Sue Campbell: Sure, because I don’t even know. I still get so confused over mini plot. Please take it away.
Nora: They’re not mini. They just are stories where basically at the end, the character … I’m not sure if I’m describing this right … Like, doesn’t learn the lesson and is kind of like unimproved, and sometimes dies or stuff. But, what? An arch plot is where they achieve their goal, and a mini plot is sort of where they don’t, either subtly or not subtly. What’s the word-
Sue Campbell: Not in a big dramatic fashion.
Sue Campbell: Yeah. And oftentimes it’s an ensemble cast, where there’s multiple characters who are sort of each conveying a piece of the main character’s personality. Yeah.
Nora: Okay, let’s just talk about something else now.
Sue Campbell: Okay. So that’s the fourth leaf of the clover. So we have time, we have reality, we have style, we have structure. The final-
Nora: Is content.
Sue Campbell: Petal of the flower, or leaf of the clover, is the content genre, which is what we’re going to focus on for episode two. So after you know all these other things about your story, it’s very important for you to know what your external content genre is. What is the big thing, the big genre that’s happening in your story?
Nora: It’s like that … And then the internal’s like …
Sue Campbell: Right, so there’s external and internal for content genre. You need to definitely have an external, and then oftentimes you also have a complementary internal for one of the characters. These terms will start making more sense when we talk about some of the different context genres.
Sue Campbell: So, for example, external genres. You have a love story, right? Makes perfect sense. We all know what a love story is. Well, a love story-
Nora: And that’s for complete morons.
Sue Campbell: Right, but when you start watching a love story, like a movie, or you start reading a book that’s a love story-
Nora: You’re just like, “Oh, this is a love story.”
Sue Campbell: This is a love story, and you know that because you start to see certain types of scenes, certain types of character interaction.
Nora: Like, “This is a love story.”
Sue Campbell: Right, and so as a reader, you know what to expect from a love story, and that’s why genre’s so important.
Nora: And that’s why you have to be good at making a love story so your reader won’t be like …
Sue Campbell: Right. Oh, gag. Love story. So that’s-
Nora: No, not that kind of gag, but like, that was a terrible book.
Sue Campbell: Let’s not make really gross noises into the microphone. That’s probably not going to win us a whole slew of listeners, I would imagine.
Sue Campbell: Another content genre, external, would be a thriller. So this would be, like Shawn Coyne uses the classic example of “Silence of the Lambs” and totally uses his story methodology to break down “Silence of the Lambs,” which is fascinating. Which Nora has never seen. I just want to be clear. I’m not letting an 11-year-old watch “Silence of the Lambs.” I do have some parenting boundaries.
Sue Campbell: Crime stories. You’ve seen some good crime stories, right? You’ve watched “The Maltese Falcon.”
Sue Campbell: Yeah.
Nora: Because then Dad made me load the dishwasher.
Sue Campbell: You saw “Double Indemnity.”
Nora: Yeah, that was good.
Sue Campbell: Yeah. And then you have the horror genre, so our favorite example which we’ll probably do in this season would be for kids, horror for kids, thank you, Neil Gaiman, would be “Coraline.”
Nora: “Coraline” is really good.
Sue Campbell: So we’ll probably be doing that one. You have the action genre, which-
Nora: In that, basically, the stakes are life and death, like if you lose, you’re going to die. And if you win, you’re going to live, probably until the next book happens.
Sue Campbell: So from season one, for example, we did “The Black Thorn Key” and that was an action story. And then a lot of these external genres have subgenres to them. When you’ve watched action stories, a lot of times you’ve seen different types of action stories. You have like an action adventure where there’s something wrong with the environment, or the characters are caught in a labyrinth, or there’s a doomsday scenario, or they’re racing against the clock. That would be an action clock, and then there are different types of clocks.
Nora: How do you race against the clock? Clocks just stay in one place, Mom.
Sue Campbell: A race against time. It’s a metaphor.
Nora: Oh, I thought you meant you were going to like grow legs on the clock and race against it.
Sue Campbell: You’ve seriously never heard that expression?
Nora: Yeah, I have.
Sue Campbell: Just messing with me? There goes the microphone.
Sue Campbell: Other content genres, you also have the western, the society, the war story, and the performance story.
Nora: The society is just like … Not like that. It’s like … Wait, what is a society story?
Sue Campbell: I don’t know if everything has to be described with a sound effect.
Nora: Just easy for me.
Sue Campbell: Words might be a little more meaningful. So those are the external genres, and a lot of them have subgenres, and we won’t get into each and every one of those, but we do probably want to cover a lot of these main content genres that would impact kids’ stories.
Sue Campbell: And then for internal genres, I love a good internal genre. I don’t think you have a story without one, but that’s not necessarily true, because you can certainly have an action story without having an internal genre.
Sue Campbell: But you basically have status, where the character is going to have a status change in society and rise above. There are a couple of subtypes for that. There’s the morality internal genre, so a good redemption plot, or the character’s being tested, or needs to triumph or surrender.
Sue Campbell: And then there’s the worldview, which is the biggest one, and these are just everywhere, so there are a couple different types of worldview stories.
Nora: Is it like the actual biggest one, or is that just because it’s on the biggest circle on the flower?
Sue Campbell: It’s really, really, really prevalent and common. So those are like maturation type plots, so you have … Well, we can go into those a little later. It probably does. When we do our worldview episode, we’ll talk about the different subtypes of that one.
Sue Campbell: And again, so you need to know what genre you’re writing in, because you need to deliver on reader expectation, so each of these genres has what Shawn Coyne calls “obligatory scenes and conventions.”
Nora: That’s like things that have to happen.
Sue Campbell: Yeah, that the reader really expects, and it’s going to be an unsatisfactory story if they don’t deliver. Now, a lot of people … Not you, of course, get kind of up in arms when you start talking about this because it’s like, “Oh, if you do that, it’s going to be so formulaic, and I happen to be a genius, so I’m going to do this genre mash up.” And they really-
Nora: No one is a genius. Some people just think they are.
Sue Campbell: People need to understand that this is … We’re not talking about an exact formula to write a story, but stories have evolved over thousands and thousands years of human evolution, and our brains expect certain things and certain structures.
Sue Campbell: So if you choose, as a writer or a storyteller, not to deliver on those, you need to be prepared for the fact that people might not find what you have to say interesting.
Nora: I did a foolscap for the first story ever recorded, and it totally works.
Sue Campbell: Tell me about that. I didn’t know you did that.
Nora: Yeah, I told you about that like three months ago when I did it, when were studying ancient Mesopotamia.
Sue Campbell: Okay, so the first story ever told is what?
Nora: I can’t remember it very much. Basically-
Sue Campbell: Is it Beowulf?
Nora: What’s that?
Sue Campbell: Okay, continue.
Nora: Well, it’s like this story about this king, and I think there were some horses, and I don’t really remember much. I wasn’t paying that terribly much attention.
Sue Campbell: You were paying enough attention to write a foolscap story method about it.
Nora: Yeah, but can we just talk about something else now?
Sue Campbell: Okay. When you’re talking about genre, you’re talking about delivering on obligatory scenes and conventions, but you have to do it in a fresh and interesting way.
Nora: Yeah, you can’t just write a story.
Sue Campbell: Right. You can’t just plug in the biggest cliches and tropes for each and every one of these and expect that to work, either.
Nora: Then I’ll just be like, “Oh, I read this book. It works, but it’s not the greatest.
Sue Campbell: Right. And I knew everything that was going to happen ahead of time because it was so cliché.
Nora: Yeah. But even when you read other books, you’re just like, “I know what’s going to happen” and then you tell me what’s going to happen and it totally happens.
Sue Campbell: Oh, me?
Nora: I just feel terrible.
Sue Campbell: I know. I’ve been doing that to you lately, where I’ll be like, “Oh, I bet I know what’s going to happen” and then I’ll say it, and you’ll have read ahead of me and you’ll be like, “Mom, how did you know that?”
Nora: I was like, “You’re not supposed to know whoever whoever is evil. That’s something you’re not supposed to know until the end.”
Sue Campbell: Well, when you read enough of these, you start to be able to guess to a certain extent. But you know what I love? When I guess wrong, right? When I don’t see what’s coming, or I miss an extra piece that happens. That’s so wonderful as a reader to be surprised.
Sue Campbell: I also want to give a big, fat hat tip to another podcast called “The Story Grid Editors’ Roundtable Podcast.” There are story grid editors there who get together and every week look at a movie and break it down using Shawn Coyne’s six core editing questions, and they do a great job of telling you about what genre is, and the obligatory scenes and conventions, and how the movie they’re talking about that week is or is not hitting them. So if you want to take a deeper dive into this than Nora and I are planning on doing, you can check out that podcast. It’s quite excellent.
Sue Campbell: So, we’re excited about season two. Some of us are really excited about season two. And as I said, we’ve been cooped up for several days.
Sue Campbell: Thank you for listening. This has been “The Mommy’s Pen Podcast.”
Nora: Please, what was funny? I can’t remember.
Sue Campbell: Nothing was funny, actually. I’m pretty sure. So thanks so much for listening. If you want to support the show, you can do that by going to iTunes and leaving us a rating and review. Those are extremely helpful, or you could also become a supporter of the show through Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com, and we have several supporters who are helping us do things like offset the cost of creating transcripts for the show.
Nora: And also-
Sue Campbell: Thanks again for listening, and we’ll catch you next week.