KATIE WRITES: When I started writing superhero fiction no one was more surprised than me. Why? Because I was probably the biggest hater on superheroes that ever had the audacity to criticize. It took Joss Whedon to get me to even care about the new movies and I still picked them to death. And then one morning I woke up and realized that I didn’t have to keep pointing out what everyone else did wrong–I could do it right. I don’t write superhero fiction–I write superhero parody fiction. I was, in essence, genre tweaking–taking something I loved to hate and turning it into something I actually liked. It’s a very valuable lesson–and Jordan Smith is about to tell you how to tweak your own pet peeve into a brilliant project.
My wife enjoys old musicals. There’s just something about movies like Funny Face and Summer Stock that make her happy. I, on the other hand, have a difficult time getting into the two above films and others like them. (Sorry, dearest.) They’re fun, I enjoy watching them with her, and I usually get to eat popcorn… but I haven’t walked away from any of them with a new favorite.
The problem is that I want to like these films. They sound like the perfect combination: Singing and dancing! Great actors! And I get to spend time with my wife! But for some reason, these movies often don’t work for me.
I’m sure you have something in your life that’s similar. Maybe it’s a genre of book or movie, a style of music, or a particular plot device. Whatever it is, you wish you could just make up your mind to like it and be done with it.
Well, today I’m going to show you how to use those pet peeves as idea generators. How? Through a process I’m calling genre-tweaking.
We first need to set a very important rule that I consider essential to choosing something to genre-tweak: Whatever this thing is, you can’t absolutely hate it. There must be some amount of enjoyment in it for you, or you’re not going to get very far. You can’t just walk into genre-tweaking with the knowledge that you dislike something. Okay?
With that out of the way, what we’re going to do is define this thing, the figure out the good and bad points, and finally plot a way forward to making it what you like. To help you do this more effectively, I’ve made you a handy worksheet that you can download. It has four questions for you to work through to create a genre-tweak that will inspire you.
Let’s go through the questions on the sheet one by one. I filled it out for the old musicals I mentioned at the start of this article. If you want to follow along with my example, you can download my results.
Question 1: What Is It?
This is where you define the genre or story type that you’re going to attempt to tweak. Avoid being negative about it, but also avoid positive traits in this section. Try to be objective as you describe what it is, list some of the usual conventions, and then give a few example titles.
Question 2: What’s Good About It?
I know, you wanted to be negative next, but a key part of genre-tweaking is knowing what’s already good. Think of it like revising one of your own stories. You need to know what to keep, right? Then rewriting is easy (okay, easier) because you just have to polish around the edges.
So in this section, detail what draws you to this kind of story. (No fair putting something like, “Because my wife makes me watch it.”) What elements make you keep trying it, even though you know you’re likely to be disappointed? If there’s an example that you enjoyed enough to make you overlook the pet peeves, jot that down in this section.
Question 3: What Bugs You About It?
Here we go. I know you were waiting for this. Be nice, but get down what keeps you from fully enjoying this type of story or genre. Consider yourself a story consultant who’s trying to improve something so it will be a best-seller. That means you come at this with the intent to root out the problems, but not to destroy the work itself.
Question 4: What Would Make You Enjoy It?
This is probably the most difficult question on the worksheet. Take what you noted you enjoy about this thing, keep in mind what you dislike, and figure out how to fix it so that it would make you start a fandom and create Pinterest boards.
Finished with your worksheet? Now comes the greatest challenge of all: You’ve done the work, you’ve analyzed your pet peeve, and you hold in your hand everything you need to start creating something original and fresh. Will you follow through? Can you make this happen?
The ball is in your court.
Jordan Smith is a storyteller who generally works in the realm of film, though he often branches out into other forms of narrative fiction. He’s always picking stories apart to see what makes them tick. He is the author of Finding the Core of Your Story and the producer/director of the Month of the Novel web series.