Screenwriters often wonder whether they should write screenplays in the same genre or if they should write in different genres to show their range. I can tell you for sure, up front, that writing to show your range has very little value. That is not a reason to write in different genres in the world of screenwriting.
The fact is that writers are “typecast,” just like actors. If you write great action screenplays, you are not going to be thought of as someone who also writes comedy. Especially early on and maybe never.
Very few writers who get established ever transcend their association with a given genre or set of related genres.
The good news is that if you do, in fact, establish yourself in association with a given genre, you are much more likely to be thought of for rewrite work. Establishing an identity is very powerful and highly recommended. In marketing terms, this is known as “positioning” yourself.
Here are 5 Ways to Establish Your Identity As a Screenwriter:
1. Have at least 2 very strong scripts of one genre.
If you have just one script of a genre, that’s a start, but if you have two, then you start to develop your voice in that genre. The people you pitch to also start to associate you with that genre.
If you’re speaking with execs who are interested in that genre and you make a good impression, they will start to associate you with that genre and at the right time may come to you for rewrites. Or when you send your next script to them of the same genre, they now have a sense of what they will be getting from you.
In that way, you are establishing your identity in their minds.
2. Become super excellent at a particular area of screenwriting.
To be successful, you need to develop your screenwriting skills overall. However, to really get noticed, choose an area to become a real stand-out in and become known for that.
Maybe you are great at creating the most interesting, oddball characters. Maybe you are super good at witty dialogue. Or maybe you become great at creating intrigue in the plots you create.
Standing out in one area will also help you establish an identity for being hired as a rewriter.
3. Find a role model to model yourself after, then establish a way that you are slightly different.
Not only should you know screenwriting, but you should study great screenwriters. Download free scripts or buy them online and study them. Some great screenwriters to study include: Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, Henry Jaglom (thematic), Quentin Tarantino, Nora Ephron.
Check out this blogpost that lists the 100 greatest screenwriters of all time. Study them, then pick one to model. Figure out how you will be slightly different and go to work on that.
4. Be well-read on the classics and great contemporary work – movies and literature.
Study great literature, be well-read, and draw from your inner well-spring of references. Great writers have many life experiences to draw from and tend to be well-read.
You deepen your work when you use allegories, allusions, and other references. It adds interest and depth to your work. (If you don’t really know what those are, look them up at dictionary.com.)
Most of the time, allegories and allusions will come out in your character’s dialogue. However, when you study great literature and the great movies, you will also have many more images and ideas to draw from.
5. Develop at least 5 pitches, treatments or outlines in the same genre.
To establish your voice and your identity in a given genre or set of related genres, you don’t have to just write screenplays.
Expand your offering by having at least 5 more pitches (1-page), treatments (4 – 5 pages), or outlines (10 – 20 pages) in the same genre.
6. Write with a particular a throughline in your films.
Another possible way to establish your identity is to write with a particular throughline. Maybe you focus on the hero story. Or perhaps you focus on writing working man stories. Or strong women. Or movies with children in them.
One more way to create something for execs to associate with you as a writer.
7. Develop a Pod of work in a given genre or set of related genres.
The above tips will help you create what I am calling a “pod” of work. To get around being stuck in one genre, you can develop a pod of work in more than one genre.
The idea is that if you have several projects in one genre or set of related genres then you can be thought of for that genre. Start with developing one pod of work first. Then if you want to go to another genre, develop a pod in it. Just don’t write one script in this genre, one there, and so on.
Of course, these are not 100% hard and fast rules. Many writers want to write in different genres just because they find it to be more interesting. If you do that, when you talk to execs who are interested in your drama, only talk to them about your dramas or scripts in a related genre. Likewise, if you have low-budget horror scripts, don’t tell the action film execs about those.
In marketing your job is to establish an identity for yourself. If a brand tries to be all things to all people, it is becomes less desirable to any of the more specialized markets. Imagine you created a new drink and you described it as “a super energy diet drink that tastes good and is for both children and adults.” It doesn’t make sense, and neither does the idea of you trying to sell yourself as a writer of all genres.
If you would like a consulatation on what genre may be best for you to write in, you may want to consider a one-hour pitch consultation in which we review various script ideas you have to offer or are thinking about.