Genre conventions

… and no, I’m not talking those fancon get togethers.

The conventions of a genre are the things that a reader comes to expect.

So, for instance, if I were to pick up a mystery novel (which I’d NEVER do, btw), I would expect to start off with the victim and perhaps a shadowy hint of a villain. I would expect the crime to be solved somewhere toward the end of the book, and that the investigator does the work and figures it out (rather than being handed the answer deus ex machina style).

Conventions are hard to deal with as a writer because:

  • They aren’t very well defined – readers might have varying opinions on how important a particular convention is, or even if the convention is needed at all.
  • They aren’t static – conventions change over time. Third person omniscient used to be the convention for science fiction and fantasy novels and today the third limited and first person povs are much more common
  • They become the cliches – what was a beloved convention can become the tired old dog in the blink of a publisher’s eye. In certain forms of fantasy, a clear division between good and evil is becoming less and less desired by readers who want more difficult choices, more human characters, more realistic action.
  • They can be hard to find – if you aren’t well read in a genre, you may not pick up on the subtler conventions at all, and even if you are widely read, if your reading isn’t current, you might miss key points.
  • You have to have something to compare them to – how can you tell something is a convention of your genre, if you don’t know what is expected from other genres?

This all points out how very important it is to keep reading when you are a writer. Reading widely will help you recognize the conventions of your genre and others, and help you innovate new and creative ways to approach those conventions and perhaps even to crossbreed them with the conventions of other genres.

What genres do you read and write, and how do the conventions of your genre steer your writing?

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