The Conventions of Popular Novel Genres

I would like you to think of your favourite novel. What genre is that novel? For many, the question of what genre a book is has a simple answer. Our brains are very good at recognizing what elements are common in books that have the same category. For example, you know that whilst reading a horror series, the protagonist will face some wild life or death situations and the reader will feel on edge and scared for the protagonist. In a romance, the ending will be satisfying and optimistic. These themes are also known as conventions, and they present in every single genre you read.


When you are about to read something of the fantasy genre, you expect there to be elements that do not exist in our world. We expect sorcery, supernatural creatures, and magical kingdoms. I love the fantasy genre because of how imaginative and creative it is. The best part of reading a fantasy novel is that you can immerse yourself into this brand new world that is different from anything you have ever experienced before. The fantasy genre truly is magical – no pun intended. The first convention of the fantasy genre is a magic system. You can have your characters have their own specific supernatural ability or even create your own world with various magical kingdoms. There is also normally a good vs evil theme, and either the hero or the villain are on some kind of journey for knowledge. Central conflict is also key in the fantasy genre, whether that be inner conflict, small scale conflict, or large scale conflict. Inner conflict is usually a character fighting something within, small scale conflict is your characters fighting amongst one another, and large scale conflict would be your characters fighting a powerful force. There is also a government system in the fantasy genre. In your world there could be one abnormally powerful supernatural entity that controls all, or there could be a monarchy that features a king or queen. The final convention I will discuss is my favourite aspect of the fantasy genre, the heroic and epic journey. The protagonist will often go on a long and intense quest in search of something. This journey is where the action, betrayal, excitement, and fear all takes place.


Margaret Atwood, author of the established dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and it’s sequel “The Testaments”, once said, “If you’re interested in writing speculative fiction, one way to generate a plot is to take an idea from current society and move it a little further down the road. Even if humans are short-term thinkers, fiction can anticipate and extrapolate into multiple versions of the future”, which I think perfectly sums up the dystopian genre. Authors of the dystopian genre like to take present societal conflicts such as environmental destruction, and then hypothesize how humanity would react if that conflict became more and more severe over time. In a dystopian novel there is normally a force controlling the population, whether that be a corrupt government system or dangerous technology. There will also be a loss of individualism, where humanity is forced to act a specific way all of the time and having your own opinions is discouraged. Perhaps citizens could be under continuous surveillance or are forced to wear a specific uniform all the time. As well, there will be an illusion that the society in the dystopian world is completely perfect and mandatory in order for humanity to survive. The protagonist of a dystopian world will slowly begin to question the authority and control of whatever source has power either by some kind of specific event or maybe because of another character. Soon, a rebellion could be formed with a goal to end the control being enforced on the characters. Dystopian novels are extremely exciting, and you are definitely in for a thrill while reading them.

Contemporary Fiction

Books of the contemporary fiction genre can also be classified as realistic fiction. This is because the elements of contemporary fiction are commonly seen in our everyday lives. There are often themes about coming of age, where characters grow and learn as the story goes on. Characters in the contemporary fiction genre have a goal of understanding themselves or others or they had a life that felt meaningless before, but now, they are met with a brand new purpose. Another aspect of the contemporary fiction genre is how characters are met with personal, social, or societal problems. The contemporary fiction genre always feels very close to home because a lot of the issues that character’s face are similar to problems that we all have encountered in our lives. It is easy to find connections to characters in contemporary fiction novels which makes their stories even more heartwarming.


 I may be biased, but how can you resist reading a mystery novel? I love reading suspense novels because it feels like you are solving the mystery alongside the protagonist. A common element that mystery novelists add to their books is a strong hook, which means that the first opening lines of the book will tell you everything you need to know about the crime that occurred. Crime and an investigation are two important aspects that make up the mystery story; you could simply not have a mystery novel without them. There will also be a villain, the person who committed the crime, who will be revealed at the end of the novel. A good mystery novel will leave readers shocked at the culprit of the crime (unless you are an amazing detective). You will also always see a trail of clues in a mystery novel, which allow the reader to engage with the novel on a deeper level. Another two conventions of mystery novels are red herrings and foreshadowing. Red herrings have one purpose, and that is to distract and mislead the reader. For example, sometimes writers will insert a character into the story that is completely innocent, yet because of the detail and emphasis that writers purposely put on that character, readers assume they are guilty. Red herrings can be used when it comes to events or objects as well. Foreshadowing is a little different, it means a clue that writers give near the beginning of the story that gives a hint into events that happen towards the end of the book. I love to reread mystery novels because you can catch onto events that the author foreshadowed.


Romance stories are great for those who love to read about compassion, drama, and of course, love. Romance novels will often feature an epic love triangle. The love triangle is extremely important because when the protagonist decides what love interest they want to pursue, they are ultimately deciding what kind of person they want to be. To explain, normally one love interest pushes the main character out of their comfort zone so that the protagonist can become the most confident and best version of themselves, while the opposing love interest acts as the protagonist’s comfort zone because no inner development is actively taking place. This situation can be seen in all different kinds of romance novels and television shows. Also present in romance novels there are characters known as helpers and harmers. Helpers will be encouraging of the romantic relationship while harmers will do everything in their power to cause tension, complicate the situation and prevent the relationship from happening. Another convention is some kind of external goal. Maybe the love interests work together and have a large project to complete. Or maybe the love interests must keep a secret or solve a crime together. This external goal creates passion between the love interests and allows them to get to know each other. Secrets are also extremely common in romance novels. Maybe the love interest has a secret they are keeping from the protagonist. This causes a lot of friction to elevate the climax of the novel. Strong emotions are also apparent in this genre. Maybe a character has a loved one who passes away or they are met with some other kind of poignant loss that changes the direction of the novel.


The easiest convention you will see for a novel in the horror genre is a good scare, which makes reading horror novels extremely exhilarating. It is also common for the protagonist to be an ordinary person who is thrown into a life or death situation that changes their life. The monster of a horror novel normally can not be reasoned with. For example, the monster that the protagonist must face could be a vicious spirit or ghost. Another convention you’ll see is a claustrophobic setting. Maybe the characters are trapped in some kind of haunted house, or the horror story could take place in a small, isolated town in the middle of nowhere. Another obvious element of the horror genre is that lives are at risk. Writers will show this by killing off characters close to the main character. Sometimes you will also see two endings. By this I mean that the characters in the horror novel could have thought they caught the monster and readers will believe that all is well. However, the villain could still be alive, or there could be another villain the main characters must defeat before they get a satisfying ending. There could also be a ticking clock involved in the story, where the main characters must rush against time to defeat the villain. Finally, the monster will normally stay hidden for as long as possible and will only come out towards the end of the story.

Conventions are easy to see in any film, television show, and book. I hope that after reading this you learned more about the conventions that make up your favourite genre!

Let’s read more!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart