Most movies can be characterized as being one genre or the other. If the plot involves a love triangle, that’s most likely romance. If the plot is about a space marine, it’s most likely science-fiction. If the plot involves a group of kids running away from a monster, that’s probably horror. The things that make up the conventions of a genre, also known as genre conventions. What are genre conventions, you ask? You’ll soon be getting an answer via definition, along with plenty of examples.

Genre Conventions Definition

Defining Genre Conventions

We want to provide a brief genre conventions definition before really digging into what they mean and how they are utilized. Conventions of a genre can be used in a lot of different ways, so a straightforward understanding of the basic concept is a must.

GENRE CONVENTIONS DEFINITION

What are genre conventions?

Genre conventions are elements, themes, topics, tropes, characters, situations, and plot beats that are common in specific genres. Genre conventions are what make certain stories the genre that they are. This is why conventions of a genre are made up of specific elements, as these are used to create and identify the genres in question.

What are genre conventions characteristics:

  • Plot beats and narrative turns that must almost always occur in the genre the story is set in.
  • Characters and settings that are staples of the genre (either directly or subtly).
  • Tropes and themes that are almost always part of the genre they are being featured and used in.

What are Conventions in Film

Explaining Genre Conventions

Genre conventions work best when you are working exclusively inside the genre you have chosen. This means no mixing or blending of other genres and just focusing on what works for the genre you have chosen. A fantasy story will have a dragon, a knight, a princess, a wizard, and more. A romance story will have a person in love with someone, along with a competing suitor for the protagonist’s love, and a happy ending.

Conventions of a genre do not have to be a checklist, but rather a group of themes and topics that make the genre what it is. For example, a romance story must always have a romance at its center, otherwise it isn’t a romance. And if your romance does not end with the couple living happily ever after, you might alienate the very audience you were writing for. Same if you write a Western that isn’t set in the West, doesn’t have a gunslinger, a showdown, or a sunset; you might upset some, if not all, Western fans.

In many ways, genre conventions exist to give the people what they want. Dragons in fantasy, shootouts in Westerns, monsters in horror, and so on. This is also why plenty of writers have made a living making stories in the same genre, as they know what their audience wants. It’s like the old Greek comedies and tragedies; the genre alone should give you the gist of what you’re about to read or watch.

That said, plenty of movies set in specific genres have broke with convention in one way or another, while still clearly being that genre. A tragic romance can still be a success, as can a Western set in a not-so-Western location. And of course, a horror story can be realistic, so long as there are still victims to terrorize. It’s a careful balancing act, but it’s been done before.

Genre Conventions List

Obeying and Defying Conventions

Some classic and well-known movies have played genre conventions straight, while others have successfully defied them.

The Friday the 13th series as a whole has maintained horror genre conventions to the point of parody (as seen in Jason X). Each film involves a killer coming after a group of youngsters, successfully killing off a lot of them before being defeated by someone (most often the Final Girl who has survived the killer’s attacks).

Where are conventions in film?  •  Friday the 13th

Alien is a classic film that, while mostly horror, is set in outer space. So aside from the setting, its horror genre conventions are played completely straight. There’s a group of people on an isolated freighter who are hunted down by an unknown and frightening monster. In the end, only one crew member remains, and it is up to them to take this monster out for good. You can read our Alien script breakdown for more in-depth analysis on how it balanced sci-fi with horror.

Crime films tend to follow certain paths that cover similar beats and end results. Many of these are either noir, neo-noir, or noir influenced, like Chinatown. One of the very best neo-noirs of all-time, Chinatown follows a detective investigating a mysterious murder. Like all crime stories, he follows clues before falling into serious danger himself, culminating in his discovery of who was behind it all. And since it’s noir, the ending is usually a downer, even if the detective was able to solve the crime.

Then you have Memento, a noir-influenced crime movie unlike any other. The protagonist suffers from memory loss and there are two parallel storylines; one told chronologically, the other reverse-chronological. A risky move, but it paid off for director Christopher Nolan, as it is considered one of Nolan’s best films, along with having one of the best plot twists in recent memory.

Genre conventions list  •  Memento

Romance movies tend to be among the most conventional with their stories and plots, but some movies manage to shake things up. One of the best romantic comedies of all time is (500) Days of Summer, a rom-com that says outright it is “not a love story.” The film is told out of order as it follows our male lead and how he fell too hard for the titular Summer, how his expectations got the better of him, and how he eventually learned to move on.

What are genre conventions in film?  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Then you have Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the definition of a movie that defies genre categorization. Video game references, musical fight scenes, and wild visual effects helped make this movie into the cult sensation it is today. That said, the main plot is still very much a romance: boy meets girl, boy has to fight for girl, boy loses girl, boy comes back stronger than ever for girl, boy and girl try again.

These are just some examples of movies that obey or defy genre conventions in their own special ways. There’s no shortage of scripts you can read online that follow the familiar path, go in a totally different direction, or do something in-between. Following conventions of a genre is more than okay, as many other successful films have proven, but sometimes going off the beaten path pays off, too.

Up Next

Ultimate Movie Genre Guide

Now that we’ve gone over genre conventions, we can look at the many genres that make up the cinema landscape. Our ultimate guide covers nearly every genre out there, from general well-known genres to smaller sub-genres, all with plenty of examples.

Up Next: Ultimate Movie Genre Guide →
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