In today's post, I'm covering the obligatory scenes of the performance genre.
I’m also going to show you how these key scenes manifest in three popular movies—The Mighty Ducks, Cool Runnings, and The Karate Kid.
Why movies? Why not books?
Well, the simple answer is that movies require less time investment than books. I’m hoping that if you haven’t seen these movies, you’ll watch them after reading this post to help cement these conventions in your mind.
But, before we get into what those key scenes are, let’s go over some basics.
Performance stories center around a character who wants to achieve something specific in order to prove their worth to the world. For example, they might want to win a certain award, climb Mount Everest, be the best in their field, or be famous.
However, achieving this specific thing is not what the story is really about. The characters in performance stories usually lack self-esteem or self-respect. They are searching for external validation, but what they really need is to embrace who they already are. And these stories show just that.
Beyond that, performance stories can have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have various levels of romance, adventure, mystery, or magic. They can include different subplots as long as the protagonist’s pursuit of that specific thing remains the main focus of the story.
People read performance stories because they are extremely relatable. Every day we deal with the pressure to perform on the world’s stage, and we are constantly faced with decisions that could result in success or failure.
Performance stories inspire readers by showing us what life could be if only we learned to embrace our unique gifts and talents. These stories teach us to believe in ourselves and to determine our own worth instead of looking to others for the answers.
Not only that, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to see an underdog character work hard at something and succeed against all the odds. In these stories, hard work does pay off -- usually in more ways than one.
So, how do you deliver these specific emotional experiences readers are looking for? Well, you can start by including the obligatory scenes and conventions of the performance genre in your story. In this post, we’re covering the obligatory scenes. Let’s dive in.
Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They're the things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction, whether they consciously realize it or not.
Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what help to evoke emotional reactions in the reader. And, when coupled with your genre’s conventions, they will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.
Let’s take a look at our three case studies (warning–spoilers ahead).
In every performance story, the protagonist faces some kind of opportunity or challenge to perform in front of others. Usually, this does not go as well as planned because the protagonist lacks the skills and/or confidence needed to succeed. Whatever happens, this moment usually introduces the protagonist to the type of event that he or she will later train to compete in. This scene acts as the global Inciting Incident that gives rise to the protagonist’s story goal.
After the Inciting Incident gives rise to the protagonist’s story goal, he or she will go about trying to make it happen. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, and the protagonist’s initial strategy will fail in some way. Because of this, the protagonist has to come up with a better way forward or a new plan for success. This is usually when the protagonist starts to gather his or her support team and finds a mentor if they haven’t done so already.
Around the midpoint of the story, the protagonist commits to a specific “big event” that raises the stakes of the story. This is something specific that the protagonist is working towards, like winning a prize, a title, or an award. Whatever it is, there needs to be a clear definition of what it means to win or lose.
Before the “big event,” the protagonist usually suffers some kind of defeat. This defeat challenges him or her to change their approach to life or the upcoming event. This could mean changing their perspective, digging deep to find a different source of motivation, or coming up with a new plan.
This is the key moment in a performance story that the reader has been waiting for. It’s the “big event” -- the fight, play, tournament, recital, final round, or solo performance that the protagonist has been training for.
Regardless of whether the protagonist wins or loses, he or she is usually rewarded for having learned the lesson of the story. These rewards could be internal, external, or both. For example, the protagonist might gain self-respect, win an actual award, get a promotion, make a new friend, or gain a new sense of meaning in life.
You're probably thinking, "Some of this stuff is so obvious! Tell me something I don't know!" But seriously, you'd be surprised how many first drafts I see that are missing these key scenes.
And these key scenes are why readers choose performance stories in the first place. They love them!
Everyone wants to see the protagonist train for the big game or event, right? Will they be ready in time? Is the mentor really qualified to teach them? Will they win or will they lose?
Can you imagine a performance story without some of these scenes?
(I bet you can't. And if you have read a book that was missing any of these key scenes, you probably stopped reading it somewhere in the first 50 pages.)
So, don't leave these conventions out!
Instead, find a way to give the reader these key scenes in new and unexpected ways. Give them the pleasure of the form they love, but in a way that they’ve never experienced before. After all, many great stories stick with us precisely because they innovate on these key scenes. And you can do it, too!
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Are you writing a performance novel? How do you come up with innovative ways to deliver the conventions of the performance genre?
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