Summary of this month’s movie:
Here come the spoilers! We start with a young Michael Jordan telling his father he wants to go to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to play in the championship team, then go to the NBA. A highlight reel of his basketball career plays during the opening credits, followed by an excerpt from the press conference in which Jordan announced his retirement from basketball to pursue a career in baseball.
Meanwhile, in outer space, the amusement park Moron Mountain faces decline. Its owner sends his minions to Earth to abduct the Looney Tunes in order to develop new attractions. When the aliens arrive, the Looney Tunes challenge them to a game of basketball. The aliens go around various basketball games, stealing the talents of NBA players, and transform into the large, muscular, and talented Monstars.
While golfing with Bill Murray, Larry Bird, and his personal assistant, Stan, Michael Jordan is lassoed down a hole and into the Looney Tunes' world. Bugs explains the situation, and Michael Jordan organizes the Tunes into a team, the "Tune Squad". We get the obligatory training montage.
The game between the Tune Squad and the Monstars eventually begins, and the Tune Squad eventually wins, using old-school gags and Acme weaponry, and a last-minute appearance of Bill Murray. The Monstars are reprimanded by the park owner but put him in a missile and send him back to his amusement park. They give up their stolen talent and join the Looney Tunes. Two years later in 1995, Michael Jordan returns to the Chicago Bulls to resume his basketball career.
Jeni: This is the first movie we’ve watched for the podcast that I really didn’t like. To be fair, I don’t like slapstick comedy or sports. So there wasn’t much hope. Haha The 90s’ nostalgia was a lot of fun for me though, and it was also fun to see that early CGI animation. This movie is like Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s athletic cousin, with the blending of animation and live action. But, yeah, overall for me, this was like one of those movies I had to sit through because my kids really wanted to see it but didn’t really hold any appeal for me. Or I guess like my little sister. (that’s you) What about you?
Carly: I actually really liked it. Maybe I just have more nostalgia for it. But I really enjoyed how it didn’t take itself seriously. It was in on the joke and happy to make fun of itself. I laughed quite a bit at some of the lines. I did forget how exhausting the Looney Toons can be, but I still loved it. It knows the movie is ridiculous, and it leans into it. So what’s something this movie does well that writers can use in their own work?
Jeni: Kinda like the animation and live action blend, this movie also blends genres. We get a nice combination of a sports movie and an alien movie. Which I have to admit is not a blend I would have thought of so I give them a lot of credit. Genres in general are hard sometimes, but they’re really important to help your reader figure out what kind of book it is. Publishers know this and want to work with authors who understand their genre so they can employ the conventions readers will expect. In self-publishing, this is similar but also a little more flexible. However, if you’re too far off your genre in self-publishing, that can hurt your ability to utilize promotions and advertising to find new readers. Typically a book only has one big genre like mystery or romance. Genre blending is when you add elements of other genres to the story. As with so much writing, doing this well is all about doing it with intention. What’s really cool about blending genres is that some blended genres have become so popular that they’ve become standard subgenres: romantic suspense, urban fantasy, historical mystery, science fantasy. I’ve been reading a lot of gaslamp fantasy lately.
Carly: What makes for good genre blending - you still have to pick a main genre and use elements of a second (or third!) genre. The most important thing to do is to know the tropes and conventions of both genres. Then employ them both intentionally. How do the tropes of each genre either complement or conflict with each other? If you are writing a fantasy romance, a lot of the tropes lean into each other really well. But if you are writing a sci-fi gothic you’re going to have to get more creative with how the conventions interplay. If the tropes line up nicely, you can easily weave them together, but it can be really interesting when they don’t line up perfectly. How would an intergalactic war lend itself to a dark and brooding English mansion? Could the mansion be an alien planet that tries to influence the war maybe? Or is your protagonist an alien visiting 19th century England? When the genres don’t naturally fit together you need to find points of commonality that will relate them in some way. That is how you make sure the mashup feels organic. Once you find that commonality you can find ways to merge the tropes intentionally. What does each genre bring to your story that makes it better and more engaging? How do they conflict with each other in new and interesting ways that exposes the genres and their pitfalls? At the same time you need to strike a balance between the two genres. Which will be your main one and which will be the support? How do they aid each other in telling the story you want? What elements do they each bring to the table that couldn’t be lifted out of the story entirely? Make sure they each bring something to the table beyond “flavor.” You want each genre to be integral to the story, even if one is slightly stronger. Genre blending can be extremely interesting when done well because it shines a light on both genres, has something to say about the conventions, and brings something new to the table that we haven’t necessarily seen before.
Jeni: So how do we see all of that in this movie? Well, the movie really has two storylines--the Looney Tunes plot and the NBA plot. We focused the summary on the Looney Tunes plot, but the NBA plot has its share of screen time too. We see the players going to doctors and a spiritual medium to try to get their talent back. We see the world freaking out because the players have come down with this mysterious problem. But what’s really interesting and why I think this was done well even though, subjectively, I didn’t enjoy it is that the elements of the sports movie and the elements of the alien movie are intricately related so that you can’t really separate them. So even though you could argue that one is a subplot of the other, really, they’re so interwoven that you couldn’t tell this either story without the other plotline. For example, if you were telling just the basketball story, you’d have to come up with a completely different reason for why the characters suddenly lose all their talent. And if you were telling just the alien/Looney Tunes story, there would need to be a completely different conflict. Another smart choice the writers made was to up the stakes toward the end of the game by having Michael Jordan make a deal to get the players their talent back. This really brings every element of the story back to Michael Jordan, the main character in this story and the one thing that really ties the two plots to each other the most.
Carly: Age category matters too! This movie is the equivalent of a chapter book because it’s intended audience is really 7-9, although it definitely did try to throw in moments for the adults forced to watch it. Tropes vary based on target audience, so it is important to know who you are gearing your book towards. If you are aiming for a younger audience like this movie does, you want to make sure to capture the conventions and voice of middle-grade or chapter books. How does your genre mash-up lend itself to the age group? What is different about the genres within the age group of your audience? I don’t specialize in chapter books, but when I was a kid Sci-fi in chapter books tended to be more light-hearted and take place on Earth instead of in space. When writing YA sci-fi/fantasy is a more common blend and has conventions all its own. Learning the balance for each genre in regards to who your target audience is, is really important. So basically take everything I said before, and apply it to age category as well. . Jeni: I talk to a lot of writers who struggle with identifying their main genre, and this can be especially hard when you blend genres. The main genres we typically use are romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, historical, contemporary, and crime fiction. Within each of those genres are sometimes dozens of subgenres so it’s important to know the differences. How do you decide? Ideally you’ll know this before you write your manuscript because if you wait until after, it can cause problems for you, which I’ll get into more in a minute. This is where knowing the tropes and conventions for the genres is super important. But when you’re taking about blended genres, it adds another layer of complexity. For example, what’s the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy with a romantic subplot? So, either way, identify the elements of your story that will determine genre. Is there a romance? A mystery? When and where does it take place? Are there elements of magic or the supernatural? Does it focus on technology or problems caused by it? You can also use comp titles to help you identify your genre, but be careful because it’s easy to pick comps that aren’t actually in your genre!
Carly: So how can you learn about tropes and conventions for genres you aren’t as familiar with? Read. I know we say this all the time, but it is important to read widely in the genre you intend to write in. The more you read within it the more you’ll understand the tropes and conventions. You’ll see how others have leaned into or strayed from the tropes. How they have been upended in interesting ways, and how you can apply that to your own writing. If you don’t know the conventions already you may either fall into the trap of writing something that is so basic that avid readers find it boring. Or you may write something so far out of the genre that you disappoint readers looking for the genre style. Everything needs to be done with intention and you walk a fine line of utilizing conventions and upending tropes. You can also watch movies within your genre, as is obvious by the entire theory behind this podcast. Genre tropes vary slightly between movies and books, but a lot of the conventions are similar. You can always also just… Google it. You’ll find tons of lists of tropes if you search for sci-fi romance tropes on Google. Or even check out TVTropes.com which lists out common tropes in TV, which again, is the same thing. Basically, immerse yourself in the genre.
Jeni: Okay, so I mentioned that there can be problems in genre blending, especially if you don’t know the genre before you start drafting. This mostly comes back to conventions and tropes. If you don’t know the genre before you write, it means you can end up with a lot of stereotypes, cliches, and other overused elements for that particular genre. If you’re a pantser, it’s totally okay to figure it out as you go, but be prepared that this is something you’ll definitely need to watch for and plan to nail down the genre blend after your first draft. And remember you may have to do some research to make sure you take reader expectations into account when it comes to genre too.
This month our query is also an adult science fiction. And it has perfect 90s themes too! Carly, what are your thoughts on this query?
Carly: Umm… I need to read this book. I think the query is honestly really great. I hate that. I have almost nothing to say about this one. If I’m being really really nitpicky, I’d maybe want to understand more of the MC’s current world. It is a little vague on how old she is and why the conflict of this story is so alluring to her. She is grieving and the temptation of a virtual world makes sense, but I think understanding the timeframe would help me understand this story a little bit better. But honestly, this is nitpicky and maybe not even necessary. So… dang.
Jeni: Umm … the bio is a little long and mentions taking general writing classes, which isn’t really relevant, I’m afraid. I’d take that out. But otherwise, this query looks great to me. And the premise absolutely breaks my heart.