Genre Conventions

The conventions of a genre are the usual elements that you see used in texts of that genre. Indeed, conventions are elements that we have seen so often that we come to expect them when we’re reading or watching a text of a certain genre.

For example, a convention of the romantic comedy genre is the “meet-cute” scene where our protagonists meet early in the film.

As you will see in the above video, while meet-cutes are conventional and often occur at a similar time in the narrative, film directors can be quite creative in how they make their film’s meet-cute different from those that came before it.

Sometimes conventions are used so regularly that they become considered to be clichés. For example, in romantic comedies, it is conventional for the two characters to experience some conflict that means they will spend some time in the middle of the film separated from each other. At the end of the film, it is also conventional for the characters to get back together and imply that they’ll live happily-ever-after. However, it is considered ‘cliched’ to have the climax of the romantic comedy to be the guy running through an airport to reveal his love to the girl at the last minute.

Clichés can, of course, be used for laughs:

Some texts might choose to challenge the conventions of a genre by including something that the audience are not likely to expect to happen in a text of a particular genre. This might include an important character dying in an animated film, or the central characters of a romantic-comedy not getting together at the end, or an ogre like Shrek actually being a likeable hero.

All literary and media genres have conventions. On the BBC’s ‘Newswipe’, Charlie Brooker put together a skit showing the conventions (and, at times, clichés) that are usually incorporated into a tv news report.

Even movie trailers have conventions that mean that they are all quite similar:

When you are learning about genre conventions, it can be useful to create a list of some conventions that you’re aware of:

  1. Choose a genre that you are really familiar with – and make sure the genre is really specific, such as ‘Marvel superhero movie’, or ‘inspirational sports film’.
  2. Write down a list of the most conventional plot points you would expect to see in a movie of your chosen genre.
  3. Put these plot points on a ‘tension map’, where the left axis is the amount of tension at a particular stage in the story.
  4. Write down, and even sketch, the traits and appearance that are conventional for the major characters in a text in your chosen genre.