Secrets of the Society Genre

Are you a bad-ass writer ready to start a revolution? Or are you harboring an ideal worth pursuing while preferring more subtle change? Take a journey with me into the Society Genre and unlock the code that will improve your writing, help you shift power from the oppressors to the oppressed, and embolden others to seek equality for all. Together, we’ll discover an intriguing world where self-respect meets external validation, where characters overcome fear, risk, vulnerability, and impotence to rise up against their subjugators. A world of exhilarating rebellion you can deliver to your readers in the form of entertaining stories.

Together, we can make some trouble.

But how? We start with a basic premise:

Stories are powerful, if they work.

And structure makes stories work.

So let’s start with structure. It’s dependent upon our genres. As a writer, the key to creating change is learning what kind of story evokes the change you wish to see and learning how to tell it. Should you want a refresher on the Story Grid’s categorization of genres (they’re not the same at your local bookstore), you can find it here.

We write better Society stories when

we have a deep understanding of the genre.

Gaining a full understanding of your genre might feel like a hurdle but it’s not insurmountable. For me, working on my current manuscript, it felt like a year-long barroom brawl, though I was the only one fighting. The body of the story was doomed to remain a malformed embryo because I couldn’t settle on my Core Event. My story was disjointed because there was no single clear Value Shift. Sure, I knew I’d benefit from taking Shawn Coyne’s advice and comparing my story to the masterworks in my genre. I knew the genre was either Society or Status but which story was I trying to tell? I didn’t know how to tease out the differences between the two genres. The dilemma was sucking my creativity and time into a cesspool of Resistance. I decided to fight the Resistance devil before it pulled me under. I slipped on the metaphorical boxing gloves and completed an in-depth study of the Secrets of the Status Genre. Still, I wasn’t sure I had the right genre for my manuscript. So I dove into the Society Genre and learned everything I could from Shawn (In brief, see The Story Grid book, pgs. 84-88, 96-97). I found my solution. Ultimately, I chose Status as the genre for my current manuscript and now, as a bonus, can share the basics and benefits of a Society story with you.

What is a Society Story?

A Society story, at its heart, is a story of rebellion. It’s a story of subjugated people confronting their subjugators. While these groups can be political or socioeconomic, they may also be within a family or other smaller social grouping. The characters in a Society story represent aspects of the protagonist. “The Society Story is an allegory of power and lies…a mini-plot (multiple characters) external genre that culminates in the revolutionary event when power shifts from one segment of the social order to another. Society stories, like War stories, use tightly confined story trajectories in sharply-focused subgenres to represent global social power struggles. Even the epic Society stories focus on deeply personal and specific human conflict.” —Shawn Coyne “This genre identifies problems in society—poverty, the education system, antisocial rebellion…then constructs a story demonstrating a cure.” —Robert McKee

We’re drawn to Society stories because

we want to see wrongs made right.

Readers choose Society stories because they want to experience fear, intrigue, and the exhilaration of rebelling against a system without the risk and real-life consequences. For example, after watching the movie Thelma and Louise (or after a single episode of the television series Mad Men), I didn’t drive myself off a cliff or devote myself to overthrowing the patriarchy on Madison Avenue, but I felt compelled to fight for women’s rights.

What are the Values at Stake in a Society Story?

Values in a story shape your protagonists’ arc. They are the result of the characters’ actions or inaction. The Global Value describes the protagonists’ primary change from the beginning of the story to the end. The Global Value of a Society story rides between impotence and power. Of course, you noticed there’s something worse than impotence: The “negation of the negation” in a Society story is impotence masked as well-being. Pro Editor Tip: If a character pretends to have power for personal gain, it’s worse than pursuing real power and failing.

What’s the Controlling Idea of a Society Story?

The Controlling Idea of a story is the “lesson” you’d like your reader to come away with, the meaning you hope they apply to your story. Also called a Theme, it’s the single sentence summing up the argument your story attempts to prove. The Controlling Idea of your Society story may be either positive or negative. Broadly speaking, if your Society story is positive, it will have a Controlling Idea something like: We gain power when we expose the hypocrisy of tyrants. If your story is negative, it will be more like: Tyrants beat back revolutions by co-opting the leaders of the underclass. Pro Tip: There’s nothing wrong with using stock ideas or phrases for your Controlling Idea. Your audience will never see it but its essence will guide their understanding of your story with continuity and purpose.

What are Obligatory Scenes

and Why do They matter?

Shawn describes Obligatory Scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations as set up by the conventions of the genre…. If you leave out a scene, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work.”

Obligatory Scenes of the Society Genre:

  • There is an inciting threat or challenge to the reigning power. Pro Tip: Power is usually embodied in an antagonistic character. Even if your antagonist is a force, there is someone enforcing the rules and doling out the consequences of that force, preventing your protagonists from getting what they want.
  • The protagonists (subjugated persons) deny responsibility to respond or to rise up against the antagonist (reigning power). Pro Tip: This doesn’t mean you have to create an anti-hero or reluctant leader. More on this when we look at subgenres.
  • Forced to respond, the protagonists lash out according to their positions in the power hierarchy.
  • The protagonists’ initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails.
  • The protagonists learn what the antagonist’s object of desire is and sets out to achieve it for themselves. Pro Tip: The object of desire is what the characters view as the “key to power.” The answer is usually external, worldly power rather than personal power.
  • During an All-Is-Lost Moment, the protagonists realize they must change their approach in order to shift power from the antagonist to themselves.
  • The protagonists’ gifts are expressed in the Revolution Scene. This is the Core Event and Climax of the Society story where the power either changes hands from the subjugators to the subjugated (protagonists succeed) or the subjugators remain in power (protagonists fail). The winner and the loser are made clear.
  • Whether the protagonists win or lose in the Revolution Scene, they are rewarded in the Resolution or Climax on either the internal, the interpersonal, or the external level.

What are Genre Conventions

and Why Do They Matter?

Here’s how Shawn explains Conventions: “They are elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled or so bored out of their skull that no matter how beautiful the sentences, they’ll quit reading. Conventions are not obligatory scenes…they are specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be weaved into the story at the writer’s discretion).”

Conventions of the Society Genre:

  • Each subgenre (detailed below) of the Society Genre has its own conventions but here is what they all seem to have in common:
  • There is one central character with offshoot characters that embody a multitude of that main character’s personality traits (like all the protagonists in The Wizard of Oz are aspects of Dorothy’s character or how Michael Corleone is represented in the supporting characters of The Godfather). This is what Shawn describes as the mini-plot, distinct from arch-plot.
  • There is a “big canvas:” Either a wide scope environmental setting (such as the broad historical social setting of Ragtime or Amistad) or the interpersonal landscape (like the intense single-family world of Long Day’s Journey into Night or The Big Chill).
  • The power divide between those in power and those disenfranchised is large and evident to the audience. (A small group of slaves in juxtaposition to the three national governments involved in the courtroom drama of Amistad.)
  • There is a clear revolutionary Point of No Return: The moment when the power shifts is clearly defined and dramatized. This is the big event, the climax. (Slaves win their freedom in Amistad or Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff.)
  • The vanquished group is doomed to subjugation, exile, or death. (In The Godfather the competing New York dons, Moe Greene, and Tessio are murdered and Michael extracts Carlo’s confession.)
  • The ending is paradoxical and bittersweet, either a win-but-lose or lose-but-win for the protagonists. (Thelma and Louise die but they don’t lose their freedom, they defy the patriarchy.) Pro Tip: An easy way of executing this is have the protagonists win in the primary genre and lose in the secondary genre or vice versa. If they win in both, the losses are more subtle. Either way, what they lose is specific to the sacrifices they made in attempts at gaining power and well-being.

What’s Really Driving the Society Story?

Another way to view the Society Genre is via the Story Grid Gas Gauge of Need, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The Gas Gauge helps us visualize the full range of characters’ needs as fuel tanks whose levels rise and fall as a result of change. Let one of the tanks drop near E, and your character must act. Notice that the Society genre is tied to the Esteem tank, where the dual human needs of self-respect and external validation reside. All the external genres, including Society and Performance, are driven by conflict from outside the protagonist. The internal genres, including Status, are driven by conflict within the protagonist. The Esteem tank forms both the dividing line and melting pot between the external and internal genres (I’ll elaborate on this in future posts). The external conflict in the Esteem tank comes from society’s judgment of the protagonists’ worth or value.

What are the Subgenres of Society?

There are five subgenres of the Society Genre.

  • The Domestic story focuses on family problems in which the external social judgment and power divide are within the family: Long Day’s Journey into Night (biological family) and The Big Chill (chosen family) are good examples.
  • The Women’s story focuses on feminist issues in which the external social judgment lies in the power divide between women and patriarchy: Anna Karenina, The Turning Point, and Thelma and Louise are good examples.
  • The Biographical story has a variable focus which depends on the subject matter but the historical individual chosen is a key figure on a large political canvas, subject to social judgment and a power imbalance because of such forces as race and class, or the negative judgment of history: Lincoln and Burr are good examples.
  • The Political story focuses on corruption and/or ideological change in which an actual or figurative revolution takes place and the formerly subjugated become as corrupt as those they’ve overthrown: The Godfather, Howard’s End, Brave New World, and Animal Farm are good examples.
  • The Historical story focuses on major social power imbalances such as slavery, class conflict, and/or colonialism: Ragtime, A Tale of Two Cities, and Amistad are good examples. Pro Tip: Any of the other four subgenres could take place in a historical setting.

Okay.

But It Still Looks a Lot Like a Status Story.

What’s the Difference?

This confused the hell out of me for a while because I thought a Society story was a tale that served as a commentary on society. A Society story isn’t every, or even most, stories that are commentaries on society. Those are usually Status stories. Status stories are about people making their way in society, establishing or maintaining their rank, and attempting to rise to a higher place within society. Think of those John Hughes movies of the Eighties (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, and The Breakfast Club). They taught us that white middle-class teens are people too. In those movies, the teens may have changed their personal position within their high school microcosm of society but they didn’t take power from one segment of society and transfer it to themselves. The characters themselves shifted in their Internal Genre (Status). While the adults, the societal norms, the entire world of the External Genre (Society), stayed the same. In a Status story, the Core Event is when the protagonist chooses to do what’s necessary to attain higher status or reject the world they strived to join. There is no revolution, no power shift. Unlike Society stories, Status stories can be mini-plot or arch-plot. They arc between success and failure instead of power and impotence.

Go Ahead, Be a Rebel.

Now you have some basic keys to the Society Genre and many of the tools you’ll need to write better Society stories. Even though you’re likely already a rebel, I’d be remiss not to mention that the way to put this all together is to read as often as you can. Compare masterworks in the genre and hold your own work up to them. Check your work with the Story Grid book and against the Society Genre Secrets here. Use your rebel enthusiasm to get through the long slog of editing your work. Writing is an act of revolution because of the massive power the written word can conjure. Successful rebels use their knowledge of societal frameworks and human psychology to create change. Every one of us wants to see a societal change of some kind and there is no better way I can think of than using the Society Genre when your intention is inciting a revolution or simply calling attention to a problem in need of action. The world is ripe for your story. Engage your inner rebel and finish your Society story. The fate of the world depends upon it. Need some extra help completing your manuscript? Grab a spot on my calendar for a free half-hour consultation so we can determine how I can best help you meet your story goals. Interested in other articles I’ve written on genre? Check out these links: Secrets of the Performance GenreSecrets of the Morality GenreSecrets of the Status Genre, Secrets of Writing MemoirSecrets of the Crime GenreSecrets of the Worldview GenreSecrets of the War GenreSecrets of the Action GenreSecrets of the Thriller, Part One and TwoSecrets of the Horror Genre , Secrets of the Western Genre, Secrets of the Love Genre, Secrets of the Big Idea Book, Part One, and Part Two. I wish you the best of luck and hard work with your story.
Special thanks to Anne Hawley for creating the Global Value Infographic and genre comparison chart and for editing this post. Special thanks to Diversity Computers for technical assistance.

About the Author

Rachelle Ramirez helps writers develop their stories and believes stories are our most important catalyst for change. She received an MA in psychology from Goddard College and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Masters in Creative Writing Program on merit scholarship. Rachelle served as the executive director for a national writing community before becoming a Certified Story Grid Editor. She is honored to have edited the award winning fiction of some amazing authors but her favorite work is with first-time novelists and memoir writers. She is easily bribed with promises of iced coffee drinks, piles of puppies, and long walks in thunderstorms. She is currently on contract, writing a Story Grid guide to a masterwork. Her forthcoming novel is White Grrrl, Black Sheep. Contact Rachelle to schedule a free 30-minute consultation on your story at rachelleramirez.com.
Comments (39)
Author Rachelle Ramirez

39 Comments

Sperry Editorial says:

It’s like Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Society Genre all in one place! Terrific post, Rachelle. I’ll be sending myself and clients back to it for tips and your excellent Status vs Society graphic! Do you think Heathers was the exception to the usual Status teen comedy–seemed like maybe it was actually a story of revolution? Need to watch it again. . . Thank you for writing this!

Reply
Doug says:

I read this and thought of “Caddyshack” as the archetype Society story.
Is there another scene? The protagonist wins, but rejects the power, showing themselves to be a whole person without the need for external validation.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

One of the things Shawn pointed out to us at the Certification course was that a revolution story isn’t a 360 turn. It’s a 180 turn. So, often, the stories we think of as Society are actually Status Stories that ride on Success and Failure. One of the conventions of the Status Story is the protagonist making a choice between pursuing Status at the expense of their values or rejecting the world they strived to obtain. I haven’t seen Caddyshack since I was a kid but from the plot I’m reading about on a couple of different sources, it’s Status primary with a Performance secondary Genre. Why? Because the story seems to focus on success and failure (prestige vs. dominance, financial reward and scholarship) and leads up to one big event/performance in which they win. There isn’t a revolution and power doesn’t change hands. The battle is internal, they’re fighting their egos. No one is truly subjugated in the beginning. No one is truly in power in the end. Am I off on that? Should I go and watch the movie?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

I’ll rewatch The Heathers again this weekend and let you know. Geeze. We could probably do a whole post on The Heathers and writers would love it. How whacked was that movie? But it resonated with all of us.

Reply
Peter Adamson says:

Great post, Rachelle! Would you please clear up the confusion I have that specifically relates to ‘Status’ with regard the Internal Genre. With rebellion stories, is ‘Status’ always the ‘Internal Genre’ and is it the sub-genre that specifically underpins the aspect of status being dealt with in your story? For example, in my story the Internal Genre is ‘Status > Pathetic’, the sub-genre ‘Pathetic’ denoting that my story ends ironically, i.e. my protagonist loses but wins.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Great question. I addressed this question in the comment section just before I saw your comment here. Answer is below. Basically, they are a great combo of genres. An external Society story (A story) and an internal Status story (B story) are an excellent mash-up in creating a global story (A+B).

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

One of my clients just brought up a good point, where he was confused by this article. I stated that a Status story does not have a revolution (that is true) BUT one can combine an external Society Story with an internal Status Story and there is a revolution in the global story. But the revolution is in the Society through line of the story. Remember, any good story (flash fiction, many jokes, and very short stories perhaps excluded) have an A story and a B story. Best case scenario is an external story and an internal story in one global story, interwoven seamlessly. I love the combination of Status and Society, especially if Society is the primary genre. Think about Black Panthers. This combo is going to be huge in the coming years. Keep writing, my fellow story rebels!

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

I haven’t read the book but the Gone With the Wind screenplay would be a Status and Love Story with a strong Disillusionment Worldview trajectory for Scarlet. There is no power to overthrow and no revolution scene where the subjugated attempt to take power from their subjugators. The war is fought by others and in the background compared to Scarlet’s focus on her internal genres and her love life. The Climax of the story collides Status (How does Scarlett maintain her belle status in the face of the oppression of the war and patriarchy) with the Love Story (Scarlet’s obsessive Love Story with Ashley and her Courtship and Marriage Love Story with Rhett). Ashley and Rhett dump Scarlet and she retreats to her status roots of home. She grows up the long hard way. The screenplay is set up as a arch-plot, the characters connected by the protagonist rather than the oppressive force. Maybe the book meets the Society requirements of mini-plot. I can see how it could easily have been written as a mini-plot. I guess the best best way to summarize is that our protagonist is not in a group of people fighting against oppression and they do not overthrow a force. Scarlet’s focus is love and status. Was this helpful or more confusing?

Reply
DAPelican says:

In the article on the line below there is a DOUBLE THE
Still, I wasn’t sure I had the the right genre for my manuscript.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Have you read the SG book and pitted one genre against the other? I started with the most obvious ones I could rule out for my work in progress and narrowed it down from there.
All of the Story Grid Editors do free 30 minute consultations for potential clients. A call could really help you gain clarity. Also, they are available to read entire manuscripts (Diagnostic) for one time hourly and monthly coaching (contact editors directly). Now might be a good time to start building a relationship with an editor, even if you’re not ready to invest financially in your work.

Reply
Lynette Willoughby says:

Great post Rachelle – if the protagonist is in a society like a cult and it is only the protagonist who rebels against the antagonist (leader with the power / brainwashing etc) – then is this a psychological thriller rather than a society genre? The antagonist wants power and the prot. wants freedom (and redemption) and from her actions the others who are trapped in the ‘society’ will be freed. However it is not a ‘revolution’ in the sense of a mass revolt.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Excellent question! By the Story Grid definition, a Society story is a mini-plot. However, a single protagonist can stand in as the main representation of all the characters. Different personality traits and external options would be demonstrated in the cast of characters.The protagonist’s personal rebellion could stand in to free the others but there needs to be a power shift from the antagonist to the protagonist. You could argue that the external power shifts from antagonist to the protagonist’s internal power; cult leader owned their personal power and now they do but that’s a tricky one. Why? Because you’d be shifting an external story to an internal one. What you likely have, especially with an arch plot (if that is the case) and story that is a microcosm of society structures, is a Status story. If the focus is on the internal process of the protagonist gaining enough self-respect (which she previously sought through external validation which is likely why she fell prey to the cult in the first place) it’s an internal genre. So, maybe a primary Status and secondary Society story? What’s the climactic event? This often gives a good clue. I can’t wait to see how Anne Hawley (SG Editor) weighs in on this one because this is exactly the kind of story she loves and is currently working on herself (our resident expert). I’ll be happy to keep the conversation going. This could be fun.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hi Rachelle
I posted the question yesterday about the protagonist in the cult – now I can’t respond to the chat for some reason – it comes up with a blog error?? Maybe you can add this to the thread to keep the conversation going, as I find it fascinating.
You asked about the climatic event. I am still trying to ‘outline’ my idea for a novel, but I think that the prot. rebels and she is sent away from the society by the antagonist who is furious.
He sends her to ‘Z’ who appears to be onside with the antag. and it seems certain that she is being sent to her death (or something just as bad). But ‘Z’ does not kill her (another sub-plot) and the antagonist arrives unexpectedly and there is a final showdown.
This is why I asked whether it is more of a psychological thriller ………… I don’t have the feeling that the protagonist feels like she now has the power – it is more about finding the inner strength to do something that she would previously have run from.
It would be great to clarify, as I need to know what are the ‘must-have’ scenes in my novel, and I can’t do that until I am certain of my genre(s) !!

Cheers
Lynette

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Lynette, It does sound like a Thriller with the life and death component. “Life is preserved when the Protagonist unleashes her special gift.” Remember the best stories have two genres, one as a subgenre and one as primary. This last email/comment reads like your primary genre is external: if the focus is her staying alive. Here are some of the conventions of a Thriller: An Inciting Crime indicative of a master Villain. There must be victims. Speech in Praise of the Villain: speech by a character, or a revelation, that praises the cunning/brilliance of the villain. The Hero/Protagonist becomes the Victim. A scene reveals that the Villain makes his crimes personal to the Hero and the Hero becomes the primary Victim. The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain. The core event of the Thriller, the All is Lost Moment when the Hero unleashes his or her gift.
False Ending (there must be two endings). “The thriller is the story form of our time because it concerns the individual coping with omnipresent and often difficult to even comprehend antagonism. The external becomes internal, forcing the protagonist to make fundamental choices to unleash critical gifts..” —Shawn Coyne
However, if the focus of the story is on her internal change and how she learns to stand up for herself, you might have a Maturation Story. “The Worldview Maturation Story is essentially the hero’s journey.” It would be a primary internal genre, “showing the process by which cognitive dissonance upsets the balance of a character’s life, requiring a shift in their view of reality.”–Shawn Coyne
The controlling idea might be something like: “Wisdom and meaning prevail when we learn to express our gifts in a world that we accept as imperfect.” In which case you might want to look at these obligatory scenes: During an All Is Lost moment, Protagonist realizes they must change their black/white view of the world to allow for life’s irony. The climax is when the Protagonist’s gifts are expressed as acceptance of an imperfect world. The protagonist’s loss of innocence is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the universe. A shift in worldview from naiveté to sophistication. Did you read the article I wrote on Secrets of the Status Genre? That might be helpful in eliminating or choosing Status. Then you can pretty much focus your internal genre (whether primary or secondary) on Maturation if you rule out Status.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

A suggestion I have, for when you’re still not sure what your story is and you’re hesitant in the outlining process, is to start writing. Write your way into the story, get a beginning, middle, and an end in text. Then look at what you have for an inciting incident, crisis question, climax (the answer to the crisis question in action), and resolution. Then you can see if it’s more of an internal or external story. Knowing your primary genre is big for editing a book into readability but sometimes you need to get a shitty first draft on the page first.

Reply
Debbie L. Kasman says:

I recently had a 30 minute consultation with Rachelle. She was AMAZING! She quickly helped me sort out which genres I’m working in and what my A story and my B story are. I was extremely impressed with her storygrid knowledge. I highly recommend her!

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thank you so much, Debbie! I enjoyed our chat and I can’t wait to see where you book goes. The world needs your story and in a timely manner so keep crackin’ the whip on that baby. Best of luck and hard work to you.

Reply
Amy S says:

My heart stopped when you posted this…Imagine two women in 1950, one almost 30, the other from the hills of Kentucky driving/hitching to Las Vegas. I bookmarked this page. Thank you, thank you.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Thelma and Louise might be a great Masterwork to study. Thanks for commenting. Keep us up to date on how the story comes along.

Reply
Mark McGinn says:

A terrific article. I think this helps my motivation to write a society story based on the sexual assaults of staff in a law firm (based on a true story) who rise up and challenge their oppressive owners, senior partners and others. Perhaps a courtroom drama as secondary genre. Any thoughts about what might be a good masterwork here, Rachelle?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

I’m going to put that question to the editing group and get back to you. I expect we can help narrow it down.

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

I haven’t received any answers on suggestions for masterworks. Hidden Figures comes to mind. Also prison movies where the subjugated group must band together against all odds to prove that the people in power are actually the bad guys. Sleepers (1996) and perhaps some of the books on other types of whistleblowers. Think insider trading. Any story that has the subjugated rising up against the subjugators via legal action rather than violence. You might want to post on some Crime writer sites to see what they suggest. Because, you’re right, it’s a Society story but others (those not familiar with SG) might put it in courtroom crime.

Reply
mcginncrime says:

Thanks Rachelle – I’ll be working on the C & OSs of Society foremost. What’s appealing about a courtroom drama for the story I have in mind is the force of the patriarch opponent and that both the offending law firm and the protagonist want the same mcaguffin – the verdict! An an internal genre – world view education maybe? Young female lawyer learns what it takes to succeed in a high stakes situation. Make sense?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Makes sense. After a draft or two I might re-evaluate the protagonist’s arc for Status and make sure you’re still on track. The nature of the crimes is that the abuser is using his status via dominance over those in a lower status position. Perhaps she learns that Status and real power come from earning prestige. The criminal and the protagonist may have also been after the same thing and she hadn’t realized it. The victims may have initially kept quiet or failed to participate in the investigation because they were afraid of losing the status they worked so hard to gain. A Worldview arc would work fine as well.

JW says:

Great post! Two quick questions about obligatory scenes.

1. For the first obligatory scene listed here, does the threat go against the subjugated people (who are already pretty low, meaning that the threat is that they’re going to have even less power), or does the threat go against the people in power (meaning, the subjugated people make an initial attempt to take power away or a neutral force threatens their power)? I’m assuming the former, but can’t be sure.

2. Do the obligatory scenes necessarily go in order?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

“There is an inciting threat or challenge to the reigning power.” This means that the subjugated people are seen being subjugated but there is a crack in the system. The subjugated people have a chance to rise up and exploit the crack but they don’t based on fear of retaliation and further subjugation. As a response to the crack in their system or breach of some sort of norm, the oppressors (those in power) then lash out at the subjugated people in some way. It is generally that lashing out that cues the subjugated people to rally and rise up. So, forced to respond, the protagonists lash out according to their positions in the power hierarchy.The protagonists’ initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails. During an All-Is-Lost Moment, the protagonists realize they must change their approach in order to shift power from the antagonist to themselves.
The protagonists’ gifts are expressed in the Revolution Scene. This is the Core Event and Climax of the Society story where power either changes hands from the subjugators to the subjugated (protagonists succeed) or the subjugators remain in power (protagonists fail). The winner and the loser are made clear.
Whether the protagonists win or lose in the Revolution Scene, they are rewarded in the Resolution or Climax on either the internal, the interpersonal, or the external level. So, those are all in order of appearance in a story. The convention you play with a little more is where the protagonists learn what the antagonist’s object of desire is and sets out to achieve it for themselves. As long as that comes before the all-is lost moment, and after the subjugated people initially fail to respond, you’re good. I hope this answers your questions.

Reply
Emma Nordlander says:

So I’ve been really helped by this article, thank you ever so much! I’ve hit some snags in my story. It’s about a woman who is for various reasons an outcast in her family. In the beginning of my story, she is back with her family to see her son who she hasn’t seen in several years (he is 5 years old). The main plot of my story is how she is trying to regain a relationship with her son but at the same time, is faced with having to be close an old friend of the family who has in the past sexually molested the protagonist. The family friend is for me, the obvious character “in power” who she is trying to rebel against. This is a fantastic way to see just how my story works. In my story, the threat of this family friend is very much internal (the protagonist asks herself if she really can be a mother and if she really can protect her child, she is plagued by memories etc) and the family friend shows up in maybe 5 scenes overall. I’m thinking I have to get this “threat” closer to the protagonist and maybe have the family-friend actually try to be a threat in the present towards both her (by in a way trying to take her son from her/denying acess to her son) but also to the child’s safety, which is why the protagonist acts (all-is-lost moment). This outline really is a great way of making you think even about non-conventional stories. Thnk you again and sorry for the rant 🙂

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Emma, Sounds like you might be trying to combine the Society and Worldview Genres which is a particularly difficult combo. If you’d like to chat about your story, you can contact me (or any Story Grid Editor) for a free half-hour consultation call to discuss the specific challenges you’re facing. None of us should be on our own in this process. I’m excited to read that you are telling this story because the nature of the misuse of power is of extraordinary importance. These are the stories of our times. These are the stories women and other subjugated persons want and need to read ight now. These stories are how we will change the world.

Reply
Jeremy Clark says:

Hi Rachelle, your and Emma’s exchange on November 28th& 29th November has intrigued me. Firstly, Emma your plot sounds great. Secondly, Rachelle, why is it particularly difficult to combine the Society and Worldview genres? What are the pitfalls and how can they be overcome?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Jeremy,
When most writers think they have a Society/Worldview story, it’s really a Status story. The Society story is an epic rebellion. It turns on Freedom and Tyranny. The Status story is about realizing that Society doesn’t matter as much as your view of yourself. Status turns on success and failure. The Worldview story is the backbone of every story and it isn’t always the primary internal genre. When a writer tells me they have a Society/Worldview story, I walk them through the Status Genre to rule it in or out. The Status Genre is easily misunderstood. So is Society. If you’d like me to go through the summary of your story for genre, you can find me at rachelleramirez.com. One call usually sorts it all out.

Reply
Jeremy Clark says:

Thank you, Rachelle. I have a story about a white young boy (about 6) and his black nanny (about 60) in South African under apartheid in the 1960’s. The nanny is a mentor figure and the parents, though loving and attentive, are more in the background. The supposedly genteel white farming society is rife with racism and violence, rather like the American South in Harper Lee, William Faulkner etc. There are acts of rape of a young farm worker girl, flogging etc.
The conventions of the Status genre mini-plot are in place: (1) strong mentor figure (nanny), (2) large social problem (racism); (3) threshold guardian (friend of the parents); (4) clear point of no return (boy is disciplined for his own racist act and forced (all is lost moment) to grovel and apologise to the victim) and (5) an ironic or bittersweet ending (protagonist loses but wins).
I also have the obligatory scenes, but there is no real antagonist, other than the racist and violent white society that makes particular demands/expectations of even very young children – so I don’t have an antagonist’s object of desire, unless it is the becoming of a model white South African of the 1960’s. The boy does not leave home to seek his fortune, but is sent to boarding school in the big city, partly because his parents don’t like the atmosphere and ideology in the small farming town. The boy adopts some of the more liberal city viewpoints and – after the all is lost moment/core event – rejects the apartheid world he strived to join.
I suppose the subgenre is pathetic, or perhaps tragic because the action ends only a short while later when the boy is only 7 years old, so personal growth/maturation can only really ensue in a sequel. The society (antogonist) has status via dominance (harsh laws, fascist police etc.), so the boy must seek status through prestige, but what kind in a boy of only 6 or 7?
OK, so the boy learns that society doesn’t matter as much as his own view of himself and that suggests the Status genre.
My question is, what are my external and internal content genres? I thought they were Society and Worldview/Disillusionment, but now you are suggesting that is not the case. Are you saying the external genre is Society and the internal is Status? But there is no epic rebellion for a Society genre. And what about morality?
Thank you so much for your ideas.

Reply
Jeremy Clark says:

I will make a call to you, but first I’d like to get my ducks in a row. At p60, the five-leaf genre clover shows Society as an external genre, while both Status and Worldview are internal genres. I can only characterize my external genre as either of the Domestic or Biography subgenres of the Society external genre. (But to what extent does a 6- or 7-year old really get involved in an epic rebellion against the family or society?) What is my external genre, really?
On the other hand, my internal genres could be any of the three, i.e. Wordlview, Status or Morality. (p100) Certainly, even a 6- or 7-year old can mature or become disillusioned (Wordview), try to change social position (Status) or undergo a change of moral character (Morality). Maybe the above outline is a redemption story, a subgenre of Morality?
But that still leaves me puzzled about the external genre.
Your thoughts?

Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Jeremy, Sorry it took me a few days to respond. I am just now seeing this post. You’re in a gray area here. I like the detail you gave above but I have several questions for you that will help me answer. I don’t want to give you a quick and definitive answer for the sake of sounding smart. Your story sounds really important. Can we chat on the phone or Zoomchat for a half hour? I do free consultations for writers and I think we could nail your primary and secondary genre in that one free call. That’s my favorite kind of consultation, a big win for you and an energy boost and happy day for me. You can find my calendar at rachelleramirez.com

Jeremy Clark says:

I wonder if the external narrative is not Childhood Narrative? I’m thinking along the lines of James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, Hugo Hamilton’s “The Speckled People”, Roddy Doyle’s “Paddy Clarke HaHaHa” and “A Star Called Henry”, Claire Keegan’s “Foster”, Patrick McCabe’s “The Butcher Boy”, Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot”, Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes”, John McGahern’s “Memoir”, Proust’s “A la Recherche du temps Perdu” (early years), George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”, Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, “Oliver Twist” & “Old Curiosity Shop” and Henry James’ “What Maisie Knew”.
Is Childhood Narrative an external genre? Shawn Coyne could include it in his five-leaf clover of genre. Do you have any source materials on it?

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hello Jeremy, I’m not sure what the Childhood Narrative would look like. Let’s look at Angela’s Ashes, for instance. He grows from boy to man, the whole story doesn’t take place in childhood. It’s a Status story to the Nines. By Childhood Narrative, do you mean a maturation story, where the protagonist moves from naivete to sophistication, or ignorance to wisdom, or meaninglessness to meaning, or belief to disillusionment? Here is a post I wrote on those stories: https://storygrid.com/secrets-worldview-genre/

Reply
julekucera says:

Rachelle, thank you so much for the clear explanation and—ta da!—the chart. I thought I was writing in the Society genre. I’m not. It’s Status!

Reply
Rachelle Ramirez says:

Hooray! It’s a common misconception. I was there myself and I still find myself trying to smash my story into the domestic society story. Glad you found your tools.

Reply

Leave a Reply to JW Cancel reply

Story Grid has helped thousands of authors tell better stories.

Now it's Your Turn

I’d like to send you a FREE 5-day video course on how to tell better stories with Story Grid.

The Book

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

First Time Writer

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.

Resources

Is this your first crack at writing and finishing your book? Are you lost on how to tackle this project? This is the place to start.