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Content Genre: Objects of Desire and Values in Story

What is the Content Genre?

Each of the twelve Content Genres sets the tone for what the audience will experience during the story. Content genres can be external, focusing on change from forces of antagonism outside the protagonist, or internal, focusing on change within the protagonist. A story’s Content Genre is one of the five components of the GENRE FIVE LEAF CLOVER and it’s helpful to remember that GENRE is a label that tells the reader what to expect.

When people use the term genre, they typically refer to many different elements of genre or the sales category (for example, literary, young adult or fantasy) that a book could be put into. Genre, when used outside of Story Grid, does not necessarily define what the content of the story will be.

Story Grid defines each section of the GENRE FIVE LEAF CLOVER to help the reader better understand the genre of the story and audience expectations that go with them. The Content Genre focuses on the unique OBJECTS OF DESIRE defined by each genre’s CORE NEED, the CONVENTIONS, and the OBLIGATORY MOMENTS. Stories of a particular genre turn on the spectrum of the CORE VALUE AT STAKE while generating the CORE EMOTION in the reader.

Content Genre: Objects of Desire and Values in Story

What are the external content genres? 

The external content genres are: 

  • ACTION: How do I overcome powerful external forces intent on killing other innocent victims and me? 
  • WAR: How do we secure our group’s survival while maintaining our humanity in the process?
  • HORROR: How do we secure and maintain the safety of our lives, our homes, and our grip on reality when we are victimized by a manifestation of our deepest fears?
  • CRIME: How do you expose defectors from society’s norms, laws, and codes and then punish wrongdoing?
  • THRILLER: How do we deal with ever-present and often incomprehensible forces of evil in everyday life?
  • WESTERN/EASTERN: Is the autonomous, self-reliant individual in society dangerous to law and order or necessary to protect the powerless from tyranny?
  • LOVE: How can we attract a mate, avoid heartbreak, and maintain a lasting relationship through a lifetime?
  • PERFORMANCE: Will the protagonist do what is necessary to pursue and fully express their unique gifts, despite physical, psychological, or emotional difficulties?
  • SOCIETY: What do we do in the face of tyranny? Do we stand against it or comply?

What are the internal content genres?

The internal content genres are:

  • STATUS: Will the protagonist find satisfaction and achieve society’s definition of success, or will they discover and embrace their personal definition of success and stay true to their values?
  • MORALITY: When given a chance to behave selfishly or altruistically, which will the protagonist choose? Will they apply their unique gifts of knowledge, ability, and strength of will in service of others or only themselves?
  • WORLDVIEW: How can we solve problems we don’t yet understand and cope with events our existing belief structures cannot process?

Content Genre Subgenres

Each Content Genre can be further broken down into subgenres based on the protagonist’s problem. The subgenres show a deeper relationship between the protagonist and the controlling idea of the story and add new reader expectations to the story.

Subgenres may show the protagonist’s relationship to another character in the story (ACTION, WAR, HORROR, LOVE, or SOCIETY), delineate a protagonist’s social or physical position in the ARENA (THRILLER, WESTERN/EASTERN, CRIME, PERFORMANCE), or their perceptions, moral understandings, and agreement (or disagreement) with ideas in the ARENA they inhabit (WORLDVIEW, MORALITY, STATUS). 

“The only way to write a story that works is to know exactly what Genre(s) you are exploring and deliver exactly what is required from those Genres. You must know what your reader is expecting before you can possibly satisfy her. And yes, if you are writing a Story, you must think of your audience. A Story means nothing if it is not experienced. If you do the work exceptionally well, you’ll do that thing that we all dream of, you’ll overdeliver on audience expectations. You won’t just satisfy them, you’ll shock and invigorate them. And the reader will have an experience that she will never forget.”

— Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know

Additional Resources for Content Genres


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