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Society Genre: Stories of Power and Impotence

What is the Society Genre?

An external story in the Society genre focuses the protagonist’s need for recognition in a disenfranchised group. It turns on the impotence / power spectrum while generating feelings of triumph or righteous indignation depending on whether the Revolution succeeds or fails.

The underlying question in every Society story is:

What do we do in the face of tyranny? Do we stand against it or comply?

Society Genre: Stories of Power and Impotence

What is the Controlling Idea of the Society Genre?

The universal theme or CONTROLLING IDEA of a Society story is:

We gain power when we expose the hypocrisy of tyrants. Tyrants can beat back revolutions by co-opting the leaders of the underclass.

The Four Core Framework of the Society 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

Recognition

The core need of the protagonist in a Society story is recognition, which awakens in members of the disenfranchised class as a result of an inciting threat to, or opportunity for, the reigning power. 

The protagonist, an individual or group that has been silenced and oppressed (the disenfranchised or agency-deprived), tries to seize agency to topple the controlling group (the tyrant or shadow agent).

2. Core Value

Impotence to Power

The protagonist’s pursuit of recognition causes change on a spectrum that includes impotence and power. The brand of power at stake in a Society story can be defined by other needs in addition to the core need, including justice, freedom, love, social mobility, or self-actualization.

3. Core Emotion

Intrigue

When the Revolution succeeds or fails because the leaders of the disenfranchised class expose the tyrant’s lies or are co-opted, readers feel the core emotion of intrigue. After seeing the aftermath, the reader experiences satisfaction when “the penny drops” and things finally add up. If the disenfranchised group defeats the tyrant, the reader feels triumph. However, if the tyrant co-opts leaders of the underclass, the reader feels righteous indignation. 

4. Core Event

Revolution

The CLIMAX of the Society genre is the Revolution—when the luminaries’ gifts are expressed or not and power changes hands—a distinct shift in control from one segment of society to another. The Revolution scene requires a revelation of truth about the hypocrisy of the tyrant or a member of the revolutionary class.

6 Conventions of the Society 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 Society genre has six necessary conventions:

  • There is one central character with offshoot characters that embody a multitude of that main character’s personality traits.
  • Big canvas. Society stories explore either a wide scope external setting or the internal landscape of an individual.
  • A clear revolutionary Point of No Return. Power shifts must be clearly defined and dramatized.
  • The vanquished are doomed to exile.
  • The power divide between those in power and those disenfranchised is large.
  • Paradoxical, win-but-lose or lose-but-win bittersweet ending.

8 Obligatory Moments in the Society Genre

OBLIGATORY MOMENTS are the must-have events, revelations, or decisions and actions that pay off the raised expectations of the CONVENTIONS.

The Society genre has eight obligatory moments:

  • A threat to or opportunity for the reigning power incites the protagonist.
  • The protagonist denies the responsibility to respond.
  • Forced to respond, the protagonist lashes out according to position in the power hierarchy.
  • Each AVATAR learns what the antagonist’s OBJECT OF DESIRE is.
  • The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails.
  • The protagonist, realizing a change in approach is required to turn the power tables, reaches an All Is Lost moment.
  • The Revolution Scene. The core event of the Society story is when the protagonist’s gifts are expressed and power changes hands.
  • The protagonist is rewarded at the extra-personal, interpersonal, or personal level.

Society Genre Sub-genres

The Society genre can be further broken down into two broad categories and three subgenres based on the protagonist(s) and their relationship to the reigning tyrant:

All Society stories fall into one of two broad categories based on the protagonist:

  • A single protagonist acts as a force of change in the context. These stories are about how individuals try to upend tyranny, and are structured as ARCH-PLOTS. Examples include Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton,1984 by George Orwell, and the film Selma (2014).
  • Multiple protagonists act as a force of change in the context. These stories are about individuals who come together to upend tyranny, and are structured as MINI-PLOTS. Examples include the play Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill,  Animal Farm by George Orwell, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, and the film Dead Poets Society (1989).

Within those broad categories, Society stories can be divided by the protagonist’s relationship to the tyrant or reigning power. 

  • First Party. First party relationships involve family members or close friends. Examples include Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Ordinary People by Judith Guest, and the play Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. 
  • Second Party. Second party relationships involve members of a tribe or other identity group. Examples include Animal Farm by George Orwell and the film Dead Poets Society (1989).
  • Third Party. Third party relationships involve members of mass groups. Examples include 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.

“The Society Story is an allegory concerning power and lies, a revelatory shift in power from one segment of society to another.” 

—Shawn Coyne

Additional Resources for the Society Genre


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