Episode 17: How to Match Your Story to Your Genre

“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

And when you’re a novelist, every story idea looks like a novel. And when you’re a screenwriter, every story idea looks like a film.  So how do you tell the difference?

Today we explore how to make sure your idea matches your format. 

We introduce three main “genres” of storytelling–prose, screenplay, and stage play–and then explore what makes each one unique. What does each genre do well? What kind of story does each one struggle to tell? Knowing the genre that best fits your story idea is vital in identifying the pitfalls you may have to overcome as you write.


Several books and films are used as examples in this week’s episode. You can find links to them here:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Book

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Film

Fences – Play

Fences – Film

The Last Airbender – Film


“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

–William Faulkner

One of the ways to get better at understanding the nuances of different story-telling genres is by reading different genres. If you’re a novelist, read some screenplays and stage plays. If you’re a screenwriter, spend some time with novels and stage plays. You’ll not only get a better sense of what makes a good story for your chosen genre of writing, you’ll learn valuable lessons that will translate to your writing.

If you have a favorite quote about writing, we’d love to share it with the show’s listeners here on the podcast. Click the Talk to Us link to find out how.


Our weekly challenge this week is to take William Faulkner’s advice. Read something really terrible! We’ve been studying screenwriting in my Creative Writing class and, along with watching an example of a well-written film, we watched a truly terrible film: The Last Airbender (6% rotten tomatoes). I think we may have learned more about good writing by seeing what NOT to do than we did from experiencing a great film. Read something really terrible this week–even if it’s just an excerpt–and explore what makes it so bad. Chances are you’ll find that you’re doing some similar things in your own draft once they are on your radar. It’s actually a really fun thing to do!

You may also like...

Popular Posts