Story Genotype


This way of classifying a story is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked items. It’s easily confused with genre…probably because there are a few common genres which actually double as a genotype. Yet there is a distinct difference. Genre is best understood as the designation of the story’s setting, style, and audience. Essentially, it is how the story relates to the reader. (See the previous article in the series on Genre.) So root that firmly in your brain as we go forward.

Genotype is how the story relates to the characters in the book. The characters aren’t experiencing a genre of setting, style, and audience. They are experiencing life…their lives. Genotype helps us to understand what aspect of life that they are experiencing. This has a TREMENDOUS effect on how plot and characters are developed, because plot and character development are directly related to the experiences of the characters. Let’s look at a few examples.

Coming of Age. The Coming of Age genotype is generally about an adolescent who goes through a very grown-up experience. As a result he/she develops a new outlook on life. They’ve grown up. They’ve “come of age.” Themes like the mortality of human beings and selfishness are often there. Also expect a character to learn to cope with heartbreak.

Gateway Stories. The Gateway story involves the main character leaving everything behind that they know and love. They have to learn a whole new worldview. They have to relearn life. In the end there’s usually a choice either to stay in the new reality or to go home. Almost always their new-found perspective on life makes them choose to go home, in order to better their own world.

Underdog Stories. The underdog dynamic is something most everyone recognizes. It’s about a character who never gets it right or is just behind the curve. They struggle throughout the book to find some measure of success. The audience roots for them. Eventually, they succeed, having learned something about themselves and about life.

Self Discovery Stories. The self discovery genotype shows up in many stories. The essential element is that the main character doesn’t really know who they are or realize their true potential. They doubt themselves in many way. The journey in the story is to bring them to a full realization of who they are and to instill confidence in the main character.

I said earlier that some genres also double as genotypes. That’s because the genotype usage has become so prevalent that they began to be classified by that type. One such genre/genotype is romance. Romance both relates to the characters in the story and to the audience. But if you look carefully, not all romance genre stories are actually a full-blown romance between the characters. Sometimes the characters mostly hate each other. In this case, you might have a romance genre book without the romance genotype! And some books have the romance genotype without being a romance genre book. Adventure and mystery books often do this. So don’t be confused by the double duty of romance in both categories. And the same goes for horror. Something can be horror to the characters, but more comedic to the audience. Or horror to the audience, but the characters are mostly oblivious. Double duty.

Genotypes can be mixed and modified just like genres. There are no definitive rules. But every story has at least one genotype. Often they have several that work together to build complex dynamic plots and characters. Understanding the genotypes you want to build into your story can help you decide how to build your story. So learn how to recognize genotypes and don’t forget them in your planning.

——–> Continue to Next Article – Character Development

For more tips on becoming a master of story building, click HERE.


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