What is the Performance Genre?
An external story in the Performance genre focuses on the outward expression of the protagonist’s internal gifts and need for approval. It turns on the shame / respect spectrum while generating feelings of triumph in the reader.
The underlying question in every Performance story is:
Will the protagonist do what is necessary to pursue and fully express their unique gifts, despite physical, psychological, or emotional difficulties?
What is the Controlling Idea of the Performance Genre?
The universal theme or CONTROLLING IDEA of a Performance story is:
We gain respect when we commit to expressing our gifts unconditionally. But shame results when we hold our gifts back for fear of criticism and/or reprisal.
The Four Core Framework of the Performance Genre
The FOUR CORE FRAMEWORK helps us meet reader expectations by bringing the core of our story into focus to create an irresistible, memorable, and shareable experience for the reader.
1. Core Need
The core need of the protagonist in a Performance story is to be singled out as unique and gifted and to be identified as an icon of success or value.
The protagonist pursues mastery in their art, sport, or profession for positive recognition on one or more levels — intrapersonal (self), interpersonal (close relationships), or extrapersonal (third party). The tension comes as the protagonist realizes these three areas are competing and mutually exclusive.
2. Core Value
Shame to Respect
Performance stories show readers that the full expression of our unique gifts, when uncoupled from personal shame and not dependent on respect from others, is the key to personal fulfillment.
3. Core Emotion
As the protagonist expresses their gift unconditionally while attaining respect, the reader experiences the emotion of triumph.
4. Core Event
Big Performance Scene
The CLIMAX of the Performance genre is the final big performance — the big game, the play, the recital, etc. This moment forces a choice between the three levels of esteem while providing the reader with a feeling of triumph.
6 Conventions of the Performance Genre
Genre Conventions are specific requirements for the story’s ALTERNATE WORLD, AVATARS, or circumstances that create conflict and enable solutions. Conventions set up genre reader expectations. Without these, the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored and quit reading.
The Performance genre has six necessary conventions:
- Strong mentor figure. This archetypical AVATAR challenges and guides the protagonist.
- Training. The protagonist must practice to gain or recover the skills necessary to perform.
- The explicit All is Lost Moment. The protagonist must understand that there is no getting around their imminent failure.
- The mentor recovers moral compass or betrays the protagonist to act out perceived victimhood.
- The power divide between antagonist and protagonist is wide and deep.
- Win-but-lose or lose-but-win ending. The protagonist must choose between levels of success, which means sacrificing one for another.
8 Obligatory Moments in the Performance Genre
Obligatory Moments are the must-have events, revelations, or decisions and actions that pay off the raised expectations of the Conventions.
The Performance genre has eight obligatory moments:
- An INCITING INCIDENT performance opportunity.
- The protagonist sidesteps responsibility to perform.
- Forced to perform, the protagonist lashes out.
- The protagonist discovers and understands the antagonist’s OBJECT OF DESIRE.
- The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails.
- The protagonist, realizing they must change their approach in order to salvage some form of respect, reaches an All Is Lost moment.
- The Big Performance Scene is the CORE EVENT of the Performance story, when the protagonist’s gift is expressed. Depending on the context, this could be the Big Fight, the Play, the Recital, etc.
- The protagonist is rewarded at one or more levels of satisfaction: external, interpersonal or internal.
Performance Genre Sub-genres
The performance genre can be further broken down into four subgenres based on the protagonist’s domain:
- Sports: Rocky, The Natural, Breaking Away
- Business/Profession: Big Night, Trading Places, Hidden Figures
- Art: Mr. Turner, The Agony and the Ecstasy
- Performing Arts: Topsy Turvy, Whiplash, Billy Elliot, The Full Monty
“The performance story is a big crowd pleaser because it concerns a life-changing pressure cooker moment…when we must perform on demand and either attain respect or live with ignominious shame.”— Shawn Coyne
Additional Resources for the Performance Genre
- The Four Core Framework by Shawn Coyne (Portions of this article have been taken from this book.)
- Dig Deeper into GENRE.
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