If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I believe genre guides every decision you make while writing your story. This is especially true when it comes to fulfilling the Five Requirements and finding your controlling theme. Have any of these go off-genre, and your story feels a bit wonky.

And you don’t want that.

Characters are also shaped by genre. Their flaws and the things they need to learn are unique to the conflicts presented. While you technically can have a character from one story go through different lessons in another, it’s the trials that shape them.

You’ve heard of conventions, tropes, clichés (yes, some are useful), and must-haves of a fill-in-the-blank. To cut back on confusion, let’s give them a short definition.

Conventions are facets of the story, big or small, that readers expect when picking up your book. These aren’t full Essential Scenes, but instead are elements, such as multiple murders for a serial killer mystery. One of these mysteries also includes a professional detective, usually a partner, and a police chief. These stories are also based on reality and are set in contemporary times.

That’s not to say that a serial killer mystery can’t happen in outer space, but it does change the genre (or subgenres). Reader will expect different conventions.

Tropes are slang for convention, and the two terms are usually used interchangeably. Typically, you’ll find me using “convention.”

 Some conventions are so strong that they’re sometimes considered clichés. If you’ve ever read Harlequin Romances, you know that a lot of the characters and situations are cliché. For Harlequin, that’s fine, that’s why they’re practically a genre in themselves, and why readers keep going back to them.

In other genres, though, clichés are boring and predictable. The conventions haven’t been twisted in new ways. The protagonist is always the grizzled detective who’s seen so much death that he’s become jaded. To challenge this convention, the detective could be an upbeat, glass-half-full baby face.

A lot of children’s stories, whether for preschool, middle grades, or even teens, include little to no twist on the convention as well. That’s because the intended audience needs to be exposed to those clichés before they can appreciate a twist. They don’t know that it’s been done before, so it’s all fresh to them.

The fun part for adult fiction is taking conventions and changing them so they’re still recognizable but feel new. If something feels like it’s missing in a story I’m working on, but the Five Requirements and Essential Scenes are met, I’ll look closely at the conventions. Are they all there for the intended genre? Are they cliché or presented in a unique way?

There are lists and lists of must-haves for specific genres. While it doesn’t hurt to check them out, make sure you’re doing so intentionally. If you’re writing a serial killer murder mystery, be sure you’re researching more than “murder mystery.”

Even better, read several well-written books in your genre and make a convention list of your own. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What common threads do you see throughout?
  • Do they present themselves in any sort of order?
  • How did the author use it in a unique way?
  • How can you twist them in your writing?

Conventions don’t have to be boring. The point is to have something familiar yet new for your readers. Get creative! This is part of the fun.

Have you noticed a trend in conventions in your genre lately? Usually, those are relevant to the times (tough chick clad in black leather screams the ’90s; absent-minded detective hollers early 2000s). What trends do you love or hate? Let me know!

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