Saturday, May 27, 2017

It’s the story, not the genre

This past week I’ve been binge-watching Downton Abbey, of all things.

In case you don’t know, Downton Abbey is a British period drama that ran from 2010 to 2015, originally on ITV in the United Kingdom. The series concerns the lives of a family of British aristocrats, and their household servants, during the second decade of the 20th century. (The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is referenced in the first episode.)

As far as the elevator pitch goes, that’s pretty much it. At first glance, Downton Abbey might seem to be relegated to the sort of viewer who thinks that George Eliot’s Middlemarch is the most exciting novel ever written. Downton Abbey also has an undeniable feminine tilt: Many of the series’s plot lines linger on who will marry whom, and the intricacies of female friendship that are beyond the ken of the troglodyte male mind. 

There is little in the way of physical action in Downton Abbey. Yes, there are a few scenes at the Battle of the Somme in World War I. But let’s be honest: There are more gunshots and fistfights in any ten minutes of any Dwayne Johnson movie than there are in all six seasons, all fifty-two episodes, of Downton Abbey

And since I’ve mentioned the troglodyte male mind: I am a little bit defensive about the fact that I’ve enjoyed Downton Abbey so much. (The NHL Stanley Cup finals, which I’m also watching, are currently underway. When I mention that I caught an episode of Downton Abbey, I often feel compelled to mention that I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey immediately afterward.)

Why am I watching the series? Simply put: Because Downton Abbey is that good. Who cares if there are no car chases, no real shootouts to speak of, and only a handful of violent deaths? Downton Abbey achieves what all expertly created film and fiction achieves: It pulls you into another world, makes you care about the characters, and involves you in the story. 

The many elements that make up a good story are beyond the scope of this blog post, of course. But here is the big takeaway: Good stories (and bad ones) can be done in any genre. And what’s more, a good story can potentially appeal to any audience. 

Consider yours truly, as a convenient example: Ordinarily, I prefer television shows with a strong action/physical conflict quotient: Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0, that sort of thing. But I’m open to a strong story in any genre. This, I believe, is the case with all viewers and readers, if you can only get them to try something new. 

There are lessons herein for the writers of romance fiction who would like to have at least a few male readers, as well as action/adventure fiction writers who would like to sell more books to women. 

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