Earlier, we looked at a simple way of looking at storytelling. You can boil down the Four Basic Genres of Fiction into these analogies:
The protagonist digs a hole, but fills it up at the end.
The protagonist digs a hole, but is buried in it as we move on.
The protagonist digs a hole, ends up stranded at the bottom.
The protagonist digs a hole, but gets rescued out of it at the end.
Epics form probably 90% of fiction. They are the stories with which we are all familiar: a central character sets out on some kind of quest, journey or other adventure, which, if the story is skilfully written, draws him or her into deeper and deeper trouble. But at the end, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, the protagonist resolves the core issues of the tale and order is restored. Examples are too numerous to mention - just about any Hollywood movie follows this pattern, for instance.
In Tragedies, we watch enthralled as a protagonist gets into more and more strife, but at the end he or she perishes while the world of the story moves on. Shakespeare’s tragedies are the best examples. Some characters in Epic stories follow a tragic arc and end up dead - usually the bad guys.
In Ironies -- a form of tale most prevalent in the last hundred years or so -- we see the central character descend into crisis after crisis but not emerge, often ending up in insanity. Examples range from some of Conrad’s tales to modern movies like Fight Club or Brazil. The horror sub-genre fits neatly here.
In Comedies or Romances, we are positioned as an audience watching what might have been a serious and impactful descent of a protagonist into disaster after disaster, except that everything is rescued at the end. Comedy is all about that 'rescuing' punchline; Romance tends to be about a heroine getting married at the end.
Books could be written about all this, and my book How Stories Really Work as well covering many other important things, goes into much more detail about how this is all constructed, including explaining the chief mechanisms used to bring about the effects created.
But my point here is to point out how this all transfers across to marketing.
There’s a difference, of course, between the two. In storytelling, the effects of each of the Four Basic Genres are welcome and each has its place in its respective fictional world. But in marketing, you really want only Epic or Comic patterns — you don’t want Ironic or Tragic outcomes, though these may well be what you have managed to achieve so far.
Ironic Marketing could be called ‘never ending marketing’. This is where you work and work and work to try and attract attention and nothing happens, so you work some more. You end up feeling lost and abandoned at the bottom of a deep hole.
Tragic Marketing could be called ‘failed marketing’. You try and try and try to attract attention, fail, and move on. Your book is ‘buried’ and forgotten. Maybe you even give up writing, which is the real tragedy.
Ironic and Tragic Marketing are the two most common forms of marketing of which new writers complain.
The ideal form of marketing follows an Epic pattern: you have a book, it digs the hole into which attention pours, and then you fill up the hole by selling the book. Everyone wins, order is restored, and, if you have done your job well, the readers want more holes.
That brings us to the exact point you may well be in right now — Comic Marketing, or what might be termed ‘realisation marketing’: you’ve been digging holes for quite a while and now you need rescuing.
These articles — and my book on marketing for writers — are designed to rescue you. They do so primarily by analysing the nature of the ‘holes’ you’re supposed to be digging, and helping you to find out both where to dig them and how to dig them efficiently, using all the tools at your disposal.
More on this soon.