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Genre Recap Part 1 of 2

Over the past few months, we have examined fourteen story skeletons based on genres and expanded the options with subgenres.

Story skeletons are not limiting. They can be dressed up, bent, and twisted in a hundred different ways. Fifteen people could be given the same seed and subgenre and you'd have fifteen different stories. Your unique voice, imagination, and use of language cannot be replicated.

Why choose genre first?

Choosing a skeleton for your story helps you keep your promise to readers by choosing elements a reader expects and avoiding elements they dislike, which leads to bad reviews. It provides layers of conflict to supply the satisfying S-curves readers enjoy traveling.

A story idea can be translated into any of the genres. Sometimes it helps to run them through the gamut to see which idea appeals to you. You may have characters you love or a plot idea that intrigues but not know what to do with them. That is where the story skeletons discussed in Story Building Blocks are valuable.

Let's take four basic characters: heroic Dick, love interest Sally, complicated friend Jane, and villain Ted.

1. If you choose a Comedy story skeleton and subgenre, you can send the foursome on any type of journey from road trip to murder mystery. The emphasis is on humor. Dick can be a bumbler or a straight man. Ted can be the opposite or equally silly. Sally and Jane cause funny complications or bring the two men back to earth by alerting them to serious consequences.

Check out the Comedy Build A World Workbook in print and e-book.

2. If you choose a Con, Heist, and Prison Break story skeleton, Dick can be a falsely convicted hero attempting to prove his innocence, but his incarceration strains his relationship with Sally. Jane could be the lawyer intent on gaining Dick's release. Ted is the prosecutor determined to keep him behind bars.

Dick could be a master thief working with Sally to steal a valuable painting. Jane is the security official tasked with keeping that from happening and Ted could be a partner in crime or a competing mastermind determined to steal the same treasure.

Check out the Con, Heist & Prison Break Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

3. If you choose a Fantasy story skeleton and subgenre, Dick becomes the wizard tasked with saving the magical world. Sally can be a distraction (or endangered maiden) in Dick's battle with Ted (the threat to the magical world). Jane helps or hinders the hero or villain.

Check out the Fantasy Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

4. If you choose a Gothic story skeleton, the foursome move to a remote manor house. Dick is the secretive Lord, Sally is the love interest forced to unravel his secret. Jane and Ted are invested in helping her or hindering her endeavor to get to the truth.

Check out the Gothic Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

5. If you choose a Horror story skeleton and subgenre, Dick and Sally must fight off an evil Ted. Jane is usually collateral damage.

Check out the Horror Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

6. If you choose a Historical story skeleton and subgenre, the foursome travel backward in time to any point on the globe and struggle with the limitations and challenges of the period. Dick can be a Prince destined to be King. Ted becomes the villain determined to steal the crown. Sally is the princess caught between the two while Jane secretly longs for Dick or plots with Ted.

Check out the Historical Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book

7. If you choose a Literary skeleton and subgenre, the foursome are embroiled in a life and death drama. Dick can be a researcher determined to find a cure for Sally. Ted represents the evil politician who is against genetic tinkering. Jane could be Dick's assistant or Ted's minion.

Check out the Literary Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

Next week, we continue to explore plot options.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Thriller and Suspense Skeleton

Last week, we explored Suspense and Thriller subgenres. This week, we look at the building blocks for the Thriller and Suspense skeleton.

The overall story problem is catastrophic danger that must be averted. 


The reader asks: How will they, and by proxy we, survive such an event?

Something comes along to threaten someone or everyone. The protagonist may have brought it upon himself or may be a completely innocent target.


In Thriller & Suspense stories, the protagonist is the person who eventually saves the day.


The antagonist is the person who poses significant threat to the life and limbs of one person or an entire community. It could be a terrorist who plans to blow up the White House. It could be a mad scientist bent on testing an Ion pulse bomb. It could be the leader of a counter espionage team or a rogue soldier.


The audience may or may not know the identity of the antagonist up front, but they are aware of the source of danger. Someone or something is out to get the protagonist and/or her loved ones. The villain may be a virus, a monster or a serial killer, either way it must be strongly developed and truly menacing to one or many to make us fear it. The reader often knows, or thinks they know, what the threat is at the beginning of the tale. The main character is usually in jeopardy. 

Thriller frameworks involve solving crises that lead to bigger, scarier crises. The hero prevents the villain from achieving his goal, but does so at his or her own peril. You really have to convince your audience of the life and death danger or emotional life and death danger. There are twists on the ending of these stories, but the audience prefers the hero to live.

External Conflict scenes escalate the central conflict. The protagonist finds out the terrorists attacked, has a shootout in a shopping mall, finds and detonates the bomb. These are the key turning points in the overall problem and involve the protagonist, often the love interest and the antagonist. The girl is tied down on the tracks and the hero saves her.

Antagonist Conflict scenes can follow the protagonist as he corners the terrorist leader, loses him, and finds him again. They wrestle over the detonator. The doctor confronts the ethically challenged clinic director and prevents him from injecting lethal bacteria into test subjects. Or, these scenes can follow the antagonist scheming with his cohorts depending on the POV. The antagonist should have equally valid reasons for his actions. It is best to avoid cardboard villains.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show the friends and foes interfering and taking sides in the central conflict. The protagonist is caught by the henchmen. He is seduced by the pretty spy who really wants to search his house. A kooky scientist tells him crazy theories about aliens. A waitress slips him a note telling him where to find the key to the deposit box with the money in it. If you are following their points of view, you can explore their agendas and side stories.

Internal Conflict scenes explore the hero’s dark night of the soul. He wonders if he should tell his partner about his AIDS. The doctor struggles with pulling the plug on his comatose father. The heroine struggles with her deep wound or dark secret that complicates the external situation. Stay or go? Fight or flee?

Do I have what it takes to do what needs to be done? Is it ethical? Do I care? Do the ends justify the means?


Check out the newly released Thriller Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Thriller and Suspense Subgenres

We have been examining different genre story structures. This week, we look at Thriller and Suspense subgenres.

1. Conspiracy Thrillers  unravel the mystery of an organization or powerful group of enemies. The hero is the only one who sees the pattern.

2. Crime Thrillers are a hybrid of Mystery and Thriller that offers suspenseful crimes that either failed or succeeded. They often focus on the criminal instead of the police side of things. They are more action-themed, high octane tales that don’t  follow the “sleuth solving crime” framework.

3. Disaster Thrillers can explore threats such as nuclear threats, genocide, or world war, or natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, horde of locusts, or disappearing ozone layer.

4. Erotic Thrillers combine the Thriller structure with an explicit or twisted romance structure. Usually the protagonist unintentionally invites the crazy person into his/her life by having an affair, striking up a friendship, or hiring them to be their nanny.

5. Legal Thrillers usually have a lawyer-protagonist who confronts enemies both inside and outside the courtroom with life and death stakes.

6. Medical Thrillers feature doctors or other medical personnel facing a medical threat such as a rogue virus, organ harvesters, evil pharmaceutical companies, or a mad scientist bent on genetic experimentation.

7. Political Thrillers have protagonists who must save their government or thwart the corrupt government that hires them.

8. Psychological Thrillers offer subtle, psychological mind games of cat and mouse.

9. Religious Thrillers feature sleuths that are religious figures or plots surrounding religion, religious figures or religious objects. Often a big secret is revealed that twists accepted knowledge. There can be paranormal elements to these stories.

10. Supernatural Thrillers feature otherworldly elements are mixed with tension, suspense, and plot twists. They often explore topics such as ESP, ghosts, and super-human capabilities.

11. Techno Thrillers feature threats surrounding technology, particularly technology gone awry: computers that decide to take over, people lost in computer programs, hackers, or war games gone wrong.


Next week, we explore the building blocks for the Thriller and Suspense skeleton.

Check out the newly released Thriller Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Western Story Skeleton

The overall story problem pits man against self, other men, or nature to survive in an unsettled land. 

The reader asks, "How will they overcome the difficulty and will they stay or go?"

The conflicts weigh the morality and challenges of survival. These stories are usually set west of the Mississippi and before 1900, but could be set in space, Africa, New Zealand or any place before it was settled and “civilized”. 


In Western stories, the protagonist is usually the pioneer trying to save his ranch or the sheriff intent on saving the town.

Villains are often rogue cowboys, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans or plagues, storms, floods, etc. They are whoever stands to gain the most if the pioneer is driven from his land. Sometimes in a Western, there is an antagonistic force such as man against nature more so than an actual human antagonist. It can be about a flood, or a drought, a horde of locusts, or a potato blight. If there is a human antagonist, they are usually the corrupt sheriff, the robber baron intent on driving the pioneers from their land so he can push through the railroad, or the native Indian tribe that begs to differ on who actually owns the land in question.

Part history and part myth, they explore the people who are courageous enough to explore new frontiers and the obstacles they must overcome to do so. 

External conflict scenes show the protagonist putting out the fire in his barn, catching the Indians on his land, spraying lye on the locusts eating his crops, or he tries to prevent his house from flooding. This is when the wagon train is attacked. This is the overt battle against the crooked law enforcement or the evil land baron, his efforts to tame the land. He is plowing his field and the mule dies. The gunslinger strolls down Main Street and shoots up the town. This is the shootout at the OK corral, the bar brawl, the Indian attack. The final confrontation that decides his fate, does he stay or go?

Antagonist Conflict scenes are either scenes where the pioneer faces down his enemy or scenes that show the antagonist plotting the pioneer’s demise. The protagonist is warned by the evil boss to get out of town. The rancher catches up with him and warns him to leave his family alone, or else. This can also follow the evil ranch boss or corrupt sheriff as he plots and schemes. It can show a meeting of the Indian chiefs who want to drive the white man from their land.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show the protagonist meeting the saloon girl with the heart of gold. Someone tells him about a new kind of seed that will grow in clay soil. He talks to the sheriff who would like to see the evil boss run out of town. He encounters an Indian brave who tells him the chief wants his land because it used to be theirs. This can also follow the friends and foes as they meddle and scheme. The girl with the heart of gold confesses her love for the pioneer to the bartender. They show the pioneers rebuilding the barn, quaking before the evil land baron, or the harlot with the heart of gold defending her saloon without the hero present. These are scenes where the hero learns the laws of the land, or learns the history of the fight. These are the tender moments with the saloon girl, his wife, or his child.

Internal Conflict scenes are where the rancher wrestles with whether to stay or go while re-plowing the locust-stripped field. He may think about his father telling him he had to make it out west while watching his wife sleep next to him. Or debate doing something immoral to keep the ranch while grooming the horse. How far will he go to survive? Is it worth the price to stay?


Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook 
to help you develop your Wild West.

Next week, we will examine Thriller subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Western Subgenres Part 2

This week, we continue a rundown of Western subgenres:

16. Mormon Westerns explore the settlement of Utah by the Mormons during the 1840s and 50s.

17. Outlaw Westerns explore the attempts of law enforcement to deal with some of the outlaws and their gangs of the time such as Jesse James, Billy The Kid, and The Dalton Brothers. They can combine the Con and Heist formula with the western if the outlaw is the protagonist.

18. Prairie Settlement Westerns combine the Literary structure with the Western and focus on the difficulty of taming of the vast flat plains of the Midwest during the 1800s. The protagonists can be Europeans who decided to try their luck.

19. Prospecting/Gold Rush Westerns are set in California during the 1860s or Alaska in the 1890s and explore the quest for gold and silver by panning or mining.

20. Quest Westerns use the hero’s quest structure set in the untamed frontier. The protagonist has something he has to find, prevent or obtain.

21. Railroad Westerns focus on the Central Pacific and Union Pacific companies’ efforts to stretch railroad lines from the east coast to the west coast from 1807 to 1912. They faced difficult terrain and employed indentured Chinese workers as well as Native Americans, chain gangs, and many others.

22. Range War/Shepherd Westerns focus on the homesteaders fighting with the cattle ranchers over grazing lands. Some of these stories focus on the battles between shepherds, mostly Basque immigrants, and the wool merchants who owned the flocks.

23. Revenge Westerns feature a protagonist who storms into town to exact his revenge on a criminal that escaped justice or someone who injured him or his family.

24. Revisionist Westerns portray the Native American in a more positive light. They go from being villain to the vilified. The themes question the morality of violence and whether might truly makes right.

25. Romance Westerns fuse the romance structure with the Western structure. They don’t necessarily end happily. This is often the “mail order bride” or “marriage of convenience turns into true love” format.

26. Town-Tamer Westerns feature a protagonist, sometimes with his own posse, who is, sometimes reluctantly, forced to step in and take on the bully running the town.

27. Trapper/Mountain Man Westerns focus on protagonists who head west before the mass arrival of pioneers. He is typically a loner and is forced to live in Indian territory. He has to adapt to their ways and often takes on a Native American bride.

28. Wagon Train Westerns follow the wagon trains heading west. The protagonist is often the leader of the wagon train and must defend his charges against extreme hardships and sometimes savage Indians or bands of outlaws.

29. Women Westerns feature gutsy, female protagonists who are determined to triumph over the west. She sometimes sets out alone or is widowed or orphaned and must survive on her own along the way.


Whew. That is a whole lot of Wild West.

Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook to help you develop your Wild West.

Next week, we examine the building blocks that make up the Western story skeleton.
For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Western Subgenres Part 1

Last week, we explored the Suspense and Thriller skeleton. This week, we look at Western subgenres.

1. Australian Westerns are set in the Australian outback and replace Native Americans with the indigenous aborigines. The protagonist can be an American dissatisfied with the rapidly-filling western United States who settles in Australia's vast outback. It could also be a protagonist from somewhere else who decides to try his luck.

2. Black Cowboy Western (aka (buffalo soldier) is inspired by the US Army’s 9th & 10th Calvary, and use the western frame with an African-American protagonist.

2. Bounty Hunter Westerns focus on a bounty hunter tracking down a criminal.

3. Cattle Drive Westerns focus on the challenges of moving a herd of cattle from one location to another, usually fighting off an antagonist who wants to steal them. Can also be a coming of age tale of a youngster who participates in the cattle drive.

4. Civil War Westerns are set during 1861 to 1865 or just after the war. The battles were waged as far west as New Mexico. The battle between Blues and Grays continued to simmer long after the war was declared over.

5. Classic Westerns feature normal cowboys trying to tame the frontier. There are shootouts and saloons and harlots with a heart of gold. There is usually a hero who is either a cowboy or a lawman who steps in to save the town from an unscrupulous foe.

6. Cowpunk Westerns borrow their title from science fiction's 'cyberpunk,” combining Science Fiction or Fantasy elements with the Western structure.

7. Doctor and Preacher Westerns feature either a doctor or a minister who try to civilize the wild west by bringing either medical or spiritual enlightenment.

8. Eurowesterns are set in Europe and include the spaghetti westerns from Italy, but there were also western motifs used in Germany, Russia, and Spain.

9. Gunfighter Westerns have the lone gunman who drifts into town and has to use his unique gun fighting abilities to overcome a brutal antagonist threatening the town. He sometimes has a posse with him, but he is the one who ultimately saves the day.

10. Humorous/Parody Westerns combine the Comedy structure with the Western in a lighthearted way or to poke fun at the genre itself.

11.Indian War Westerns explore the battles of the white pioneer against the native Americans. Earlier tales portrayed the Indians as savages who needed to be tamed. Later examples explored the plight of the Indians in a more sympathetic light, exposing the cruelty on both sides.

12. Land Rush Westerns explore the drive of pioneers to claim new lands as they “opened” out west and the difficulties they faced on the journey and their success or failure once they arrived.

13. Lawmen Westerns focus on the honest lawmen (Often a Texas Ranger) bringing order and justice to the outlaw west.

14. Mexican War Westerns are set in Texas during 1845 to 1848 surrounding the time of the Alamo and the battle over the border between Mexico and the US.

15. Modern Indian Westerns are set in the current era, usually on a reservation, and focus on protagonists dealing with the realities of the Native Americans' plight or the clash of ancient heritage with modern technology. They usually feature a Native American protagonist who is a policeman or tribal leader.


Next week, we will finish the list of Western subgenres. 

Check out the newly released Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and ebook to help you plan your showdown. In addition, lookup the Build A World Workbook in print and ebook to help you develop your Wild West World.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

The Team Victory Skeleton

Last week, we explored the Science Fiction skeleton. This week, we explore the building blocks for the Team Victory skeleton.

The overall story problem is an underdog who needs to win or achieve something. 


The reader asks, "Will they win?"

 Usually they should. If they don't, they have to still feel really good about it: almost was good enough. Usually the other coach or team needs to be taught a lesson.

These are mostly action and plot-centered tales that make people feel good. These stories are usually about athletic events: tennis, baseball, football, soccer, cheer leading, skiing, etc.

People like to root for the little guy. Like the con or heist, there is typically an assembling of a team. The coach or leader of the team is considered the protagonist. The
 coach often has something to prove or to regain his winning streak.

In the Team Victory story, the antagonist heads up the opposition. There can be additional antagonistic forces at play, but the antagonist is the owner, sponsor, star, or coach of the opposing team.

External Conflict scenes are all about the competition. These are the games or events that lead up to the final face-off. They will win some and lose some. These are the cheerleading competitions, the dance recitals, the school debates, or the spelling bees. The climax is the final confrontation, win or lose.

Antagonist Conflict scenes, depending on the points of view, are the exchanges between the two coaches or team leaders. They follow the opposing team coach as he fuels the flames of competition or the opposing boxer who is being blackmailed into throwing the match. The antagonist’s POV can be explored in this story. These are the scenes where we see him urging his team toward victory or where the head coach or player brags about his prowess. It can also be scenes where the antagonist and protagonist face each other alone to exchange threats.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes reveal how the individual team members succeed, fail, fight, and work at crossed purposes. The underdog shows his talent. The friends and foes manipulate and undermine and cheat to win. The opposing team member throws a game on purpose to help the other team.

Internal Conflict scenes show the coach wondering why he is being punished this way. We find out about his drinking habit. Or we find out why the head cheerleader is so insecure. We find out about the fight he threw or the relationship he destroyed by his need to compete. We watch him struggle between what is right and wrong. How far is she willing to compromise her integrity to win? She struggles with the abusive parent or the overachieving sibling. Maybe he wants his wife back or to win the respect of his father or his child. Maybe he needs to overcome low self-esteem or repay a gambling debt.

Next week, we explore Thriller and Suspense subgenres.

Check out the newly released Team Victory Build A Plot Workbook available in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.