Craft of Writing: What feelings do you want your readers to experience? (poll/discussion from Writing Excuses podcast)

The excellent podcast Writing Excuses (which I would recommend all writers listen to during commutes) spent last season discussing 11 “elemental genres.” Basically “elemental genre” gets to the heart of “what feelings do you want your reader to experience reading your story?” The elemental genre drives the narrative.

These are NOT “bookshelf genres” like YA or Urban Fantasy. A bookshelf genre generally gives the reader the “trappings” of the story (like setting, types of characters, level of tech, etc), but the elemental genre describes the story itself. So a bookshelf genre Science Fiction novel that could focus on any of the elemental genres. You could have a Sci Fi story about Wonder, or Issue, or Thriller, etc. (see list below)

So, writers, if you’d like, read the below list, vote on the poll, and comment with the TWO main elemental genres of a story you’ve written. (I say two because most stories have bits of MANY elemental genres, but list the two that really drive your story). Talk about if that was a conscious decision you made at the start, or if they developed into the main story drivers as your wrote your story.

For CCH1, I would say it is “Ensemble” and “Humor.” Yes, I am limiting myself to two, as I ask everyone to do, to make the discussion manageable and to force yourself to really consider the heart of your story. With CCH1, in a school setting, it was natural to explore how all the characters would interact and (slowly) grow. I also wanted a lot of humor, because all the mix of characters gave me a lot of opportunity to mix different combos, situations, stakes, etc. I wanted the story to feel “realistic” in a way, meaning that the characters were NOT “superheroes.” They were just regular kids who happened to have powers, and going to school together, there is naturally going to be a lot of banter in that environment.

I think it is very helpful to consider the elemental genres before setting off to write a story. I think it gives you focus without tying you to an actual plot, or bookshelf genre. For example, the story I am working on as a side project is: 1) Issue, and 2) Drama, so I want readers to experience very different emotions from what i was gunning for with CCH.

Elemental Genres

Wonder: Making your reader say, “Wow! This is just awesome to visualize/explore”

Idea: Making your reader say, “Wow! This is just an awesome concept to think about/ponder!”

Adventure: Making your reader say, “Yes! We’re going to find the treasure/rescue the prince!”

Horror: Making your reader feel deep emotions of dread; that something horrible is going to happen, perhaps something worse than death.

Mystery: Making your reader wonder who killed the dead body on the floor! Red herrings! Plenty of suspects!

Thriller: Making your reader feel deep emotions of anxiety! MC can either be chasee or chaser!

Humor: Make the reader smile, laugh, smirk…this is a very basic human emotion. Can you puns, wordplay, classic comic drops, etc.

Relationships: It’s all about the shipping. (Wait did I use that term correctly? I am old) Doesn’t HAVE to be romance though. Can involve deep friendships with no romance at all.

Drama: It’s all about how the main character changes/grows over time. Think coming of age stories, rags to riches, etc. The MC is a VERY different person than they were before the story.

Issue: It’s all about an issue, and making the reader deeply consider the different sides of the issue. It is NOT preaching the author’s position. The author will use multiple characters to represent different views.

Ensemble: Making the reader adore/admire/be entertained by a group of characters, how they work together, overcome obstacles, interact with one another.

These are VERY basic descriptions. Again, I’d HIGHLY recommend the podcast for complete discussion of these.

Okay so what TWO elemental genres most drive your story? (just pick one story obviously, and please discuss it below)

  • Wonder
  • Idea
  • Adventure
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Humor
  • Relationship
  • Drama
  • Issue
  • Ensemble

0 voters


And here comes a rule breaker who voted for all options. :smirk:


I had to vote for all but 1 as I think I can slip UnNatural into any combination. Only issues is one I don’t think suits as issues are not a major point currently.

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Good ensemble and Humor can turn any story into a good read even if it is linear interactive fiction or sluggish literature as those two grips the reader and makes them want to read (but not necessarily complete it unless there’s compelling mystery or intrigue)


If I had to boil Supra down to just two it would be: Idea and Thriller. There are a couple ideas that will be floating around like: “What is man?”, “Should man create new life?” and “How would we interact with it?” (To name a few.)

In my thread I like the debate of ideas like science or my characters or whatever concepts are interesting at the moment. So it is natural that it bleeds into my writing.

Thriller is the vehicle to keep the story fun and not totally a philosophy/religious class. In short, like the original Matrix. I will have some romance in there and maybe a bit of humor but they are minor in my mind.


Dammit people! I said TWO!

-counts characters-

Okay that’s all

EDITED TO ADD: Everyone who follows the rules gets a Like from me!


Paradigm City: Horror/Issue.


Yup I agree. Even “superhero” movies like GotG are basically Ensemble/Humor or Relationship/Humor moreso than adventure, although there is obviously adventures, the humor and interactions drive the story more than anything else.

And I would put Suicide Squad as a FAILED Ensemble/Thriller because I didn’t feel anything for the group of characters, and I wasn’t all that anxious about what was going to happen, but I think they were going for that. Or maybe Ensemble/Humor but then that would just be viewed as an even bigger fail in my eyes.


@IronRaptor, I applaud your focus! Did you start off with those in your head before you even started writing the story?

@Rhodeworks, And that is Exhibit A as to “How all ‘superhero’ stories are NOT alike!” And I can’t speak for Zach, but I’d put Heroes Rise as Issue/Thriller maybe? Especially Part 3, because the pacing was so tight and I felt anxiety as things built to a head.


Yes. Supra’s world and arc is a concept that I have played around with for a year before I started to write anything.


I’ve written some stories of my own (not IF, just other things) in the past and I guess that what I try to focus on the most is in Idea and in Relationships.

However, sometimes I feel that the inclusion of the genres you are describing come as something more intuitive rather than something that is entirely planned out.

Currently, I’m considering writing a story of my own, and since at this point it’s merely a concept is hard to me to focus on one specific thing, as I’m still trying to get into account and discarding new ideas. And there are a lot of things that overlap with each other even if it’s just a little, I feel that even CCH adds some Drama elements once in a while.

But in the story that I’m currently working on I think I could narrow it down to Issue and Ensemble. I don’t want to give too much away but I can say that it’s about a group of people being part of a community that is a little distant from the rest of society. And great part of the character development, backstories and interactions with each other are somehow related to that theme.

As you mention, I feel it’s important to represent different views, as it helps to give depth to subjects that are rarely black and white, but I think that sometimes it’s natural and even appropriate that some stories tend to incline to certain views, as long as it serves to impart a certain idea. I’m being a little bit too vague since I don’t want to give too much away. Hopefully, I’ll be able to discuss these things further in the future.

By the way @Eric_Moser, I feel that the last chapters of CCH1 and what we’ve seen so far of CCH2 are inclining to a darker tone, so have you ever intended to include more of these genres besides the two you are most focused on?


With my upcoming WIP game ‘The Scholar’ the focus is on Relationship and Drama. Relationship in the sense that the MC has to interact with his friends and others to build bonds. The Drama comes out from the fact that the MC has to grow up. Being sent back in time during the Joseon period forces someone to grow up and be more responsible, no more luxuries that we take for granted such as smartphones.

But admittedly when I began writing the story my first thoughts were how cool it will be to go back in time and impart knowledge from the future. But then the story evolved to include friendship.


I think the Heroes Rise series is firmly Adventure/Relationships. For example: You’re going to go through the Hero Project and do Cool Things and-- oh no, are you going to end up with Black Magic or Lucky? I don’t think it was really exploring thoughts like, say, what price power or do the ends justify the means?

As for some further stuff for Paradigm City. With PC, I was sort of motivated by two big thoughts:

  1. People with superpowers would create a horrifying world, given that your typical villain is proactive and your typical hero reactive. We see enough horrible things in a world where people can’t control fire, shoot lightning, control minds, build giant robots or shatter mountains. Some people picked up on this in comments and reviews, about how the world felt like it was one or two bad days from just falling to pieces and everyone in power was trying to keep the wheel turning for just one more day. If heroes become too proactive, do they become villains? Is Hero just a political term for Heroes We Like and Villain is for Heroes We Don’t Like?

  2. The old historical tension between the idea of ‘Great Men’ changing history and the idea that those same great people result as a product of the world (‘the times’, you could say). Influence of individuals VS influence of forces outside our control. This, for example, is built entirely into PC’s protagonist and the options I gave them. Given their upbringing and early history, the control they can try to exert is limited in ways they might not even know about.
    (The barely-in-production sequel is about realising those limitations and moving beyond them).

So, it slots very neatly into Horror/Issue.

It doesn’t go as far as it might’ve with some of them – that’s the domain of my forthcoming ‘sidequel’ web serial Not All Heroes which will sort of give me more space to discuss the various perspectives in depth – but, yes, I definitely set out to envision a ‘serious’ take. It’s not just about the people with powers, but it’s about the normal people, the institutions, the fact that the world would be so irrevocably altered…

Less so horror in the sense of scaring the reader, more so in the sense of the intellectual horror of just extrapolating something simple and ‘fun’ (“What if superheroes and villains were real!”) out to, what I hope, is a fairly logical endpoint.

I blame the fact that I teach history. I can’t just sit down and go, sure, it would be fun. My brain goes straight to WELL, ACTUALLY… AND FURTHERMORE… GEO-POLITICAL COMPLEXITIES…


Since the rule is just two, I choose Issue and Mystery, that what I found intriguing


Alright, you got me. I want to vote about 3/4, but I want the like. So, give me the like :angry: :grimacing:

Anyway, I voted for Idea/Adventure 'cuz… it pretty much sum the rest of my story’s “elemental genres”.

Idea for… something that I can’t explain due to its nature of spoiler :sweat_smile:, but it should includes a philosophical “thriller/mystery”, I think :thinking:

No! No spoiler, I’ve told you!

And adventure for… well, adventure.
Rescuing the princes(ses), finding treasures, meddling with other ppl’s business, wondering the wonderful scenery, etc. etc.

And I’m held back with the itch of going through editorial mode and revamping those weird and cringy prose again :sweat_smile:

Is there any tips how you write (at least) an understandable and readable text?
I tend to type down what I’ve on my head at once. And if I don’t hold myself back, it’ll be a total mess :weary:


Warning Beginner’s Advice

Write it in a bullet form first. When you’re done, you can now arrange it in ChoiceScript? :thinking:

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Hmm… I don’t know :frowning_face:
I mean, how to specifically avoid the “you walk to blablah. You turn your head to blablah. You see blablah.” :thinking:
Those “you-you” hurt my eyes.

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Well, kind of unrelated but since you ask…
The term ship comes from relationSHIP, which can be romantic but can also be a friendship. The act of shipping consist in supporting that relationship, but it’s something that comes from the fandom rather than the work itself, even when the relationships are canon.

And believe me, you are never too old for shipping.


Well yeah I don’t think it’s possible to be totally balanced in representing different positions on an issue, but at least making the attempt is important, I think.

And the Writing Excuses crew emphasized with Issue stories, focus on making them entertaining above all else! The more entertaining the actual story is, the less “preachy” it will feel, even if the author takes a strong position on an issue through the voice of a character.

Oh and yes I would view CCH2 as more Ensemble/Mystery as the whole story is a slow reveal as to the entire landscape between Prestige, Savior and the Dozen. It’s “Knowledge is Power”, after all. Yes I could swap Mystery for Humor (there’s still a lot of it), or Drama (MC finally starts a self-improvement path), but I am a rule follower!! Especially when I made up the rule in the first place.


It was too hard to whittle it down to just two… :confused: