Writing Excuses 11.1: Introduction to Elemental Genre

The word “genre” has a lot of weight to it. Arguments about whether a particular work is, or is not, part of a given genre are long, and tedious. Season Eleven will not be engaging in those arguments. We’re giving all that a wide miss by adding an adjective, and defining a new term: Elemental Genre.

During 2016 we are going to explore what we write, why we write, and how we write in much the same way as previous seasons have, but our guidepost this year will be this concept of Elemental Genres. In January we’ll stay high-level and firm up the framework. Starting in February we’ll drill down on each of the Elemental Genres, and explore the writing process.

Here’s what the year will look like, month-by-month:

WX-11-Cover-PaleGradient4January: Introduction
February: Wonder
March: Idea
April: Adventure
May: Horror
June: Mystery
July: Thriller
August: Humor
September: Relationship
October: Drama
November: Issue
December: Ensemble

We’re really excited about this year’s format, and we’re confident that by examining our writing in this way we’ll learn (and perhaps even teach!) some new things.

Note: 2016 is a leap year, but this episode was recorded in 2015. When we said “it’s not a leap year” we were confused. 


Take three stories (books, films, whatever) you love, and explore the emotional impact those stories have on you. Strip away the “bookshelf” genre, and try to identify for yourself the core elements that make those stories work.

Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray, narrated by Pierce Cravens

23 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 11.1: Introduction to Elemental Genre”

  1. NOTE: You’ll probably have lots of questions about the concept of Elemental Genre, and about the new look of the website.

    1. It’s going to take us an entire year to explore the Elemental Genres. Your questions will eventually get answered! Ask away, but know that a great many of them are beyond the scope of this comments section.
    2. Head over to “Please Pardon the Dust” if you want to comment about the new writingexcuses.com website.
  2. Excellent, I can tell this is going to be another great year for the podcast.

    This is such a useful framework for talking about distinctions within “bookshelf genres” as you call them, and getting people to talk about books in a way that distinguishes really fresh stories from thematically fresh stories that just do things a little different. You can look at Asimov and say the element of his foundation stories that’s critical is the idea story- what if we could turn social science into a “hard” science discipline and more perfectly predict movements of societies?

    Wheras in your classic space opera it’s more of a wonder element to the story where we’re telling the audience to look at all the space things.

    Look forward to you drilling down into what you’re trying to do here a bit more over the coming months. :)

  3. Love the new cover art. And the new logo.

    Since I need to update my tags on my personal archive (funny how many errors one can find by changing the layout of the information [@Howard: these are ones I corrected before sending them to you. You have the eighth revision or more.]), I think I shall borrow that BW logo to add cover art to the first nine seasons.

    Also, this season’s subject sounds amazing. I was just thinking again how I wanted to ask for genres to be discussed in light of reusing their archetypes of plot and character in other “bookshelf genres”. And the genre I was particularly wanting is in your list. Now to restrain my enthusiasm until October. . . .

    1. I’ll probably mess around with some of the old cover art (Seasons 1-3, Season V, and Seasons 7 & 8 all had covers of some sort or another) by adding the logo and a more prominent season number.

      So, you know… your meta-data project may get re-meta-data’d again.

      1. I can live with with being re-meta-data’d. Let me/us know where said art can be found when it becomes available.

        Managing WX meta-data has been a weekly project of mine since season 6. Besides, if the software I’m using can be trusted with processing the 2500+ files in ocremix.org’s catalog (They acknowledged the developer; I followed the link), I think I can do a few bulk edits of 430+ podcasts.

  4. I’m really looking forward to season 11! The periodic element inspired logo is delightfully nerdy. :)

    Also, love the addition of the links to the casts’ most recent blog posts in the sidebar. I’m sure they will make for hours of distraction this year.

  5. Wx Gang –

    Stupendous. Great new look for a new beginning (not A New Hope), not that I’m not hopeful.
    I love the idea about the Elemental Genres and, as a linguist, I think it’s interesting that you have listed it this way. I think this verbiage is a great way to harness what it is about stories that grab us and keep us.
    Looking forward to it.

  6. Howard, I have never listened to WX before. This sounds so so interesting. I’m one who has never been interested in sci-fi as a marketing genre, but wonder, mystery etc. those are things I am interested in. Once again, your grey matter is gooshing out. Thanks.
    Anita Davis

  7. I’m so, so excited for this format! This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been thinking about lately and I can’t wait for all you have in store.

    Minor issue, though — I’ve been unable to listen to Writing Excuses on my iPhone (4S, running iOS 8.3 but has been updated a few times during this issue) through the original or any other podcast app since May or so. It just freezes and crashes the app, and sometimes the whole phone, no matter what I do. I’ve taken to listening to it online, but it’s good car fodder, so if you happen to have a solution for this I would be much obliged!

  8. I’m very excited about your plans for this year! I couldn’t help but think of Joe Abercrombie the entire first episode. Revenge story, or western, or war story all wrapped up in fantasy.

  9. Yes! I did like season 10. And was wondering what you were going to do for season 11.
    Looking forward to it.

  10. I’m kind of annoyed by this because after hearing the first episode, I just want to sit down and binge-listen to the entire season, but it doesn’t exist yet. Oh well, it just means yet another year of something to really look forward to every week, woohoo!

  11. This episode:
    Bookshelf genre: self-improvement/writing help
    Elemental genre: mild horror at roughly 16:09 when Brandon says some weeks have 5 mondays! Ahhhhhhh!

  12. “Elemental, my dear Dan,” the genre writer said as he turned and pointed at the emotional resonance dripping down the reader’s cheeks…

    Okay, here we go with a new season. Time for a transcript? Sure, available now in the archives and over here


    52 weeks of wonder, idea, adventure, horror, mystery, thriller, humor, relationship, drama, issue, and ensemble coming up! Because it’s not a leap year, and we probably don’t have too many weeks with five Mondays in them… Just a new website, and podcasts galore!

  13. This is going to be awesome! Season 10 was amazing, but I’m even more exited about your plans for Season 11. I can’t wait.

    Is it Monday yet?

  14. Looks like another awesome year! I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for the time and effort you put into the podcast, enlightening and entertaining. I may not comment much but I am soaking up your wisdom.

  15. Hi. I’m excited by the new season, but after listening to the podcast twice I’m still not getting it. Are these elemental genres like templates? My example would be Firefly: a science fiction show that uses a western template.

    Am I close or am I way off base?

    Thanks for your help.


    1. The elemental genre is how you name the feeling you get when you pick up a specific story. For example, star wars ep 4 is mostly an adventure feeling but the bookshelf genre is space opera which tells us what kind of a world it takes place in and what the characters will be like, etc. but adventure is the feeling you get when you pop the video into your home entertainment system.
      However star wars ep 5 while stilla scifi or space opera is not much of an adventure feeling – it is more of a drama or horror feeling. it still belongs solidly in the series though but you expect something bery different to happen inside you when you watch it despite it having all the star wars stuff in it exactly as it should be.

      with Firefly you have a different elemental genre every episode, actually. the “space western” is actually a mix of book genres and not the elemental genres. some episodes are thrillers, some are humor (like A Man Named Jayne), some are horror (reavers, man. yeech) but they are all tied togetger strongly by the continuing theme of space western

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