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The 7 Most Essential Genre Conventions

18 June 2009 7,080 Views 5 Comments author: Daniel Swensen

If you’re a frustrated genre novelist, aspiring fantasy screenwriter, or fanfic writer in the making — and really, who isn’t? — you’ve probably found yourself standing at a bewildering crossroads of dramatic options. Should you rip off Star Wars, or Batman?  What does it truly mean to be human in an age where technology itself blurs the definitions of humanity? What are the limits of love in the face of our own cosmic mortality? Would The Matrix have been cooler with lasers? Fear not. The guideposts to your literary journey are here. It’s time to boldly go where everyone has gone before.

1. The Chosen One

matrix1_neo_photo_01_dpLet’s face it, fictioneers. Free will is overrated and self-motivation, drab. Who needs heroes driven by their own moral imperatives when an ancient prophecy can just make their decisions for them? Lambert the Farmboy, brain-dead and lovestruck hayseed that he is, is of no use to anyone, least of all the reader. But Lambert the Chosen One, keeper of the plot coupons, bearer of the shield of story immunity – now we’re getting somewhere! An ancient destiny to destroy black-clad evil is all well and good by itself, but the best kinds of prophecies are those that allow our protagonist to waltz through obstacles with the greatest of ease. Because hey, he’s Chosen — unconsciously safe in the knowledge that he’s protected by ancient powers no one could possibly understand until the seventh book in the series and the movie deal.

2. Instant Apocalypse — Just Add Latin

A lifetime of occult study is for chumps, my friend. Just pop down to the local Shakespeare & Co, pick yourself up a copy of the Unausprechlichen Kulten (Avon paperback edition), and go to work. A lit candle and some poorly-pronounced Church Latin later, and you’ve successfully summoned Manservant Hecubus and are ready to exact terrifying PG-13 revenge on those buttheads who gave you the rear admiral after gym class. Sure, those wizened archmages may look intimidating with their withered flesh and ragged silken robes, but what have they got that you haven’t got? Nothing. Any loser with a library card and a pack of matches can summon the Four Horsemen. The secret masters have just been screwing around this whole time.

3. But I’m an Orphan!

swfy02You know what really drags an epic Campbellian narrative down? Parents. How are you ever going to wander the earth, embark on a personal journey of growth, hope and love, pick up a hilarious talking-animal sidekick and learn valuable life lessons if you have to take out the garbage and be in bed by nine? Better that the hapless parents, after bestowing a profound nugget of wisdom (and maybe a whiff of upcoming Chosen-Oneness), be hacked apart by undead hooligans or devoured alive by wild apes. And the bloodthirsty revenge plot short-circuited at the last minute by harrowing self-revelation: pure gravy.

Just be sure your fictional cosmology has an afterlife, since no young man (or woman) can truly come of age until the ghastly specters of his parents, grinning hollowly from beyond the wall of sleep, nod once in sage acknowledgement that they are Very Proud of their son or daughter’s murderous quest for fame and glory.

sienna-guillory-jill-valentine4. One Bitch, Two Bitch, Bad Bitch, New Bitch

Hey girls, want to take control of your own destiny? Tired of cluching your books to your chest and fidgeting mawkishly at the back of the room? Most of all, do you want the boys to notice you? Your path to empowerment lies before you: Karate lessons and a crotch-length mini.

Shedding clothes is the new Taking Off the Frumpy Girl’s Glasses So Now You Know She’s Pretty. As any young woman knows, nothing is sexy unless it’s nasty and taboo, and nothing’s nastier than a girl gone bad. And cheer up! Because our media is equally saturated with images of weedy men with sunken chests taking control of their timid lives by transforming into swaggering leather daddies, you don’t have to feel self-conscious about a double standard!

5. My Lover, the Monster

It’s no secret: girls love bad boys. No female worth the fashionable jeans she remorsefully squeezes herself into would stay up all night, fantasizing about the affable yet noodly accountant from her workplace who dutifully dotes on her with well-intentioned and suffocating kindness. She wants a bad boy, and who’s badder than an inhuman monster?

Be it sexy vampire, sexy werewolf, sexy energy-based alien who looks like David Bowie, or sexy ambulatory eyeball with a leather jacket and his own set of rules, the best mating choice by far is the one with whom you are the most genetically incompatible. And if yours just happens, by some crazy coincidence, to be a star-crossed love fated to end in the fire of anguish, don’t sweat it. Noodly will be there, cloying and spineless as ever, to pick up the pieces. But that probably won’t happen, because you’re in…

6. Forever Love

twilight-new-moon-photos-2Suddenly, it happens. Your eyes meet across a crowded room. The contemporary soundtrack of today’s pop hits swells in the background as your breath quickens and your heart races. You know that this man / woman / erotic humanoid eggplant is the one for you. Great news! You’ll never have to put any work into a relationship again. You’ve found Forever Love!

It’s just like in the song lyrics: you’re together forever and no matter what your parents, the antagonists, or your numerous hot infidelities do to try to tear you apart, you are sooper in love. and that’s the end of that! This is one of those special, very adult and realistic relationships that takes no maintenance, compromise, or effort, because all you really have to do all day is gaze longingly into each other’s eyes until one of you is killed tragically. Boy, what a load off. You might even end up having a…

7. Starchild!

2007_the_dark_is_rising_002I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Also, they possess a transcendant wisdom, a canny insight granted only to children who see ghosts and communicate through spooky and yet technically competent drawings. While the rest of us squandered our childhoods with Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels, the Starchild was gazing into the very hearts and minds of those around him. The Starchild sees what jaded adults cannot hope to see – the inner workings of the human soul, an invisible world of wonder and magic, and most of all, the plot.

So listen to the Starchild, if you know what’s good for you. Hark. Tilt your head and perk up your ears. Is that a dark, yet vague imprecation you hear from the mouth of an innocent yet eerily mature youth? You’d best straighten up and fly right: Starchild knows something you don’t.

Hell, he might even be a Chosen One. You see how it all fits together?

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