Genres have Conventions and Obligatory Scenes

If I hand you my novel and tell you it’s a murder mystery, what would you expect from the book before you even turned the title page?

  • You’d expect that an investigator—a police officer, an amateur sleuth, a PI, a cat—will set out to solve the crime.
  • You’d expect certain stock characters to appear throughout the novel. The “Watson” to the novel’s Sherlock Holmes or the “prime suspect” for example.
  • You’d expect false clues in the plot otherwise known as “red herrings.”

These are a few of the conventions of the mystery genre. They are elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled or so bored out of their skull that no matter how beautiful the sentences, they’ll quit reading.

Conventions are not obligatory scenes, which I’ll cover next. Rather they are specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be weaved into the story at the writer’s discretion). For example, the Gothic mystery would require the convention of being set in or around an ancient castle circa 19th or late 18th century.

The mystery genre, as do all others, evolves as new writers try out new kinds of conventions.

Agatha Christie took a tried and true convention (her brilliant master sleuth Hercule Poirot) and freshened it up when she created the amateur sleuth Miss Marple. But you’ll notice that Christie did not eliminate the central clue-hunter from her Story. She just changed the personality and background of the investigator. She abided the convention, but innovated its execution.

To go back to the joke analogy as emblematic of Story, a convention in a “knock-knock” joke would be having the punch line revealed as a play on words.

Knock-Knock

Who’s There?

Banana

Banana Who?

Knock-Knock

Who’s There?

Banana

Banana Who?

Knock-Knock

Who’s There?

Orange

Orange Who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana?

The convention of the knock-knock joke is satisfied with punch line word play. It can change from Banana to Orange or from Boo to Boo Who and we still “get it.” Doesn’t matter as long as there is word play.

Knock-Knock

Who’s There?

Boo

Boo Who?

Don’t cry… it’s just a Knock-Knock joke.

The “knock-knock” and “Who’s there?” statements of the joke are obligatory. They have to be there. Literally. In their exact form. These obligatory elements are so familiar and identifiable to the listener/reader that they immediately induce an expectation. Once we hear “Knock-Knock,” we expect the convention of that particular joke’s form…the fun play on words payoff. If we don’t get the play on words convention, then we’ll be confused.  We won’t laugh. The joke will die. It won’t work.

Similarly, not providing the listener the actual “Knock-Knock” and “Who’s there” obligatory elements for the joke is ridiculous right? The punch lines, Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana or Don’t cry…it’s just a Knock-Knock joke, mean nothing without the obligatory set up of “Knock-Knock” and “Who’s There.”

Whenever you start mulling whether or not to include a convention or obligatory scene in your Story, think of the “Knock-Knock” joke and what it would be like without a play on words punch line or the actual formal response “Who’s there?”

While conventions of particular genres often concern a Story’s cast of characters (the best friend sidekick in a Love Story or the Monster in a horror Story), setting (the labyrinthine castle setting in a Gothic romance) or method of turning plot (red herrings in a mystery/crime novel), obligatory scenes are the must-have elements to payoff the raised expectations of those conventions.

They are the equivalent of the place marker statements, “knock-knock” and “who’s there?” in a knock-knock joke.

Back to our hypothetical mystery novel, what obligatory scenes would you expect if I told you I’d written one?

  • You’d expect a “discover of the body scene.”
  • You’d expect an eventual confrontation between the investigator and the murderer—what I call the “J’accuse” scene.
  • You’d expect an ending scene that clearly results in justice (the murderer pays for his crime), injustice (the murderer gets away) or irony (the investigator gets his man, but loses someone or something in the process or the investigator does not get his man, but the loss results in a greater good).

So what happens if I fail to deliver even just one of these obligatory scenes from the above list?

I haven’t written a mystery novel. I’ve written a book that doesn’t work.

There is nothing more infuriating to blue-collar novelist pros than listening to amateurs who obviously haven’t done the work necessary to know their art form. You can’t help but lose respect for them. It’s akin to your cousin Lou who makes “Pot-au-feu” without meat or vegetables calling himself a French chef.

In order to write a professional novel, you must know the conventions and obligatory scenes of your chosen genre. (I’ll detail those of the thriller genre down the road when I dive into creating The Story Grid for The Silence of the Lambs) If you don’t know the conventions and obligatory scenes for your chosen genre/s, learn them.

How do you do that?

Read the top novels in the genre (yes the most commercially successful ones) and write down what they all have in common. And “literary novels” are of a genre too… If you are going to write a Testing Plot Internal Genre novel about endurance and tenacity, you better read The Old Man and the Sea and Deliverance.

Once you know the requirements of your genre, how do you go about writing its obligatory scenes?

Obligatory scenes are the most difficult ones for a writer to crack—the discovery of the dead body scene, the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, the first kiss scene, the attack of the monster scene, etc. The reason is that these scenes are easy to devolve into cliché. They’ve been done to death and to come up with something fresh, surprising, and without a Deus ex machina is an extremely difficult task. [A Deus ex machina is when someone or something appears solely to rescue a protagonist in peril or solve a prickly story problem. It derives from Ancient Greek theatre when playwrights were allowed to end their shows with actors playing Gods settling all loose plot ends]

A lot of writers have contempt for obligatory scenes for the very reasons I described above. They don’t want to write them because they find them cheesy. A few even insist that their work is so intellectually challenging and above “genre,” that their revolutionary technique frees them from having to fulfill these obligations. They’ll tell you that their work is more of homage to a genre, not really part of the genre, etc.   Which is complete Bullshit.

Whether their book is an homage or “above genre” matters little.

If their global inciting incident is one associated with a particular genre and they don’t innovatively pay it off in the way that the genre demands, the book won’t work. People won’t buy it. And those that make the mistake of buying it will tell all of their friends not to make the same mistake they did.

Other writers (some call them Hacks) love genre because they think they can just recycle old scenes from the genre’s vault to fulfill these obligations. But if you just rehash something you saw on a Mannix episode from the 1970s, you will sorely disappoint your reader. They may not have seen that particular episode, but they will easily be able to tell that what you’ve written is unoriginal. If you’re re-using the set up and payoff of a particular obligatory scene from the past, chances are someone else has too.

Remember that the earliest readers in a particular genre are experts.

When I ran mystery programs at the major publishing houses, you can be sure I was aware of the thousands of hardcore crime readers. I couldn’t help but run into them at conventions and specialty bookstores.

These readers are desperate for innovation. Their first question to any editor is always “what’s new?” These core 2,000-4,000 readers will give new writers a shot. If the writer creates something unique, they’ll find that the aficionado will buy the next book too. And the book after that if the second one is a well crafted as the first. This is how careers were made back in the day. Still are even with the big publishing houses abandoning core story categories for the big book blowout bestseller opportunity. There’s a reason why Amazon.com’s most successful publishing programs all involve the core genres.

But even if the writer is rewarming old Rex Stout plotlines somehow makes it into a big house without being found out, rest assured these first readers will know. They pride themselves on their expertise and if they find you lacking, they’ll tell their fellow mystery junkies to skip the book. It’s “meh,” not worth the time. They won’t brag about having a first edition of your first novel. They won’t look forward to your next book. They won’t give you another chance.

But what about those hugely successful novels that defy what I’m saying? What about those books that don’t deliver fresh obligatory scenes and are still huge bestsellers?

Sometimes, an influential group of readers (usually critics) fall in the love with a book or just its prose and talk it up incessantly. The sophisticated and The New York Times reading metropolitan cocktail crowd (a dying tribe if there ever was one in the new connected age of “Weird”) hears the chatter. Wanting to be “in the know,” the swells repeat the hubbub and quite a number of books are bought and displayed on coffee tables across the country. But many if not most go unread.

Writing for that kind of attention is not going to fill the hole in your soul. It’s certainly not a business plan. Again, it’s like buying a Lottery ticket.

Instead write for the genre nerds desperate for new stories. They won’t desert you when you push the envelope too far, either. The fact that you even know where the envelope ends will warm their hearts.

Brace yourself, in the next posts we’ll dive into Genre categories.

For those of you who can’t wait, go to the resources section now and check out my poorly constructed infographic called GENRE INFOGRAPHIC. Rest assured I’m having an artist recreate it so that it actually is aesthetically pleasing for the final book. And Steve and I are thinking of creating some posters for it and The Story Grid for The Silence of the Lambs too. If we did, do you think people would want them?

For new subscribers and OCD Story nerds like myself, all of The Story Grid posts are now in order on the right hand side column of the home page beneath the subscription shout-out.

47 comments on “Genres have Conventions and Obligatory Scenes

  1. Joel D Canfield says:

    My Dad used to tell this joke:

    “What’s the difference between a duck?”

    The answer was always “A bicycle, because a vest doesn’t have sleeves.”

    When the joke (or novel) only works for the teller, who then probably laughs AT, not WITH, the listener or reader, it is of limited value.

    Story Grid is going to be a powerful tool for me. I spent 50 years reading books I love before I started writing them a few years ago, but that’s been my only training. Story Grid will be like having you looking over my shoulder offering advice. H’ray for that.

    I hope you’re planning on a Story Grid service; training in the process for authors who want a leg up. Hey, I’ll even take your Accreditation Course and teach it myself. Best way to learn is to teach, eh?

    Eventually I’ll have some questions about combining genres, and choosing obligatory bits from each, but I’ll read more before I bring ’em up.

  2. Jeff says:

    Yes, I think people will want and will gladly pay for posters. In fact, if there’s a way to get on a waiting list for those puppies, let me know!

    1. Joel D Canfield says:

      Second that.

      Although I couldn’t possibly make myself read Silence, so I’m hoping for one for The Big Sleep, LOTR, or Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

      1. Pam says:

        I second that! Or maybe Stranger in a Strange Land!

        1. Joel D Canfield says:

          Perhaps what we all need is a skillset to let us build our own story grid for any book we love, and then, for our own.

          🙂

          Hey, when we all get there, I’ll be delighted to create the graphics for all you early adopters, and you can get ’em printed wherever you like, or just use ’em digital. You provide the scratchy sketchy story grid, I’ll make it purty.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    “And Steve and I are thinking of creating some posters for it and The Story Grid for The Silence of the Lambs too. If we did, do you think people would want them?”

    **YES**

  4. Faith Watson says:

    A poster for the grid, yes, for sure. Not sure we need a poster for the genre infographic — unless it will be attached to some of those conventions and scenes. But to go there would require more than a poster I think. I would like to suggest a card deck, if you’re seeking a product. Or maybe a poster could work if the graphic was kind of like a game board or map. If you go here, you need to do this and that.

  5. Steve says:

    As interested as I am in the story grid, I probably wouldn’t buy a genre poster. 8.5×11 is big enough for me, and already posted in my wall.

  6. My weakness as a writer is plotting. These tips are a great help to me.
    You’ve hooked me, Shawn. I’m looking forward to the story grid!

  7. Mary Doyle says:

    Posters? You bet! Bring them on! Maybe genre-specific decision trees…in your spare time of course…I really look forward to these posts and am learning a lot.

  8. Julia says:

    I think a poster of the Genre Infographic would be of value and interest to a lot of people. I’m sure the Story Grid would also be in poster format, but I wonder if there is a way of making it into a generic one rather than specific for Silent of the Lambs? (I’m guessing this might not work). Maybe something in the style of a “workbook” for the story grid for applying directly to one’s own writing (or favorite reading) would be more valuable in this case.

  9. Mike N says:

    HECK YES to the posters. So happy you chose SOTL as the first book to highlight. I read it for the first time this year and it’s unputdownable. Finished all the novels in the series after that, despite having already seen the movies. Silence is a master class in bad ass writing (in a good way).

    Joel – I would recommend you give it a shot.

    1. Joel D Canfield says:

      I have sleep issues partly related to nightmares. Horrific stuff with no apparent source. So I try to limit my intake of horror, getting more than I really want just being in my own head.

      1. Ave Head says:

        Yes, Joel, I more than second this. I just can’t do that sort of horror, or most fiction in general. Maybe the next the next story grid will be of nonfiction. I am loving all this and the concept.

        1. L. Rene Tyree says:

          I second Ave’s comment. A story grid for a stellar example of narrative historical non-fiction would be excellent. For example, I’d love to see something by Erik Larson or Laura Hillenbrand. This is all very helpful Shawn. As for format, 8 1/2 x 11 would be fine… something that can be referenced at a desk / in a notebook.

  10. Patrick Nelson says:

    Hell yes on the Story Grid posters. I’m all in.

  11. Peter Jakobsen says:

    Dear Mr. Coyne.

    It’s quite a task you have undertaken.

    I follow with interest your attempt to create a story grid. I am a Danish author. Since we are only 5 million Danes there are limits to how many websites we have for writers.
    I therefore follow the English (American) some of which are very good.
    I’m sure you know the actant model and butterfly model to write stories using. You can find them on Wikipedia. Then there’s Campbell and Christopher Vogler. The Writers Journey. The last has been a great eye-opener for me. I sympathize with your grid for The silence of the lamb, but it is not clear to me. I have ordered the book from Amazon, maybe it will help.
    Can you invent a story grid, which obviously has to be flexible, I will be very impressed. The skeleton of a story must be right, but the scenes, the plot or the characters’ development must also be in order. If you like it then also the epiphany.
    I’m looking forward to the day you have completed the development of the ultimate weapon for writers.

    With respect
    yours sincerely
    Peter Jakobsen

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi Peter,
      I’ll be the first to admit that I am not all-knowing about Story or Genre or Editing or anything else. I’m just a guy who loves to explore this stuff and I’m enthralled with craft. So please feel free to throw anything out that I write that you find ridiculous. It very may well be. What strikes me as worthwhile is sharing some ideas that could prevent writers from blaming themselves internally for “not being good enough.” Perhaps they could simply find a solution to a Story problem with a bit of analysis based on Story principles that I’ve used to help me in the past. Anyway, I’ll let you be the judge of how helpful my material is. If it helps, Great! If it doesn’t, c’est la vie!
      All the best,
      Shawn

    2. Michael P says:

      Cheers to a fellow dane!

      Skriver du dine boeger paa dansk eller engelsk? Jeg har begyndt at laese flere danske krimier saa jeg ikke helt glemmer sproget! Jussi or Blaedel, primaert.

      Held og lykke.

  12. Clint Gagnon says:

    That would be a huge ‘yes’.

  13. Steve says:

    Shawn, wanted to leave you a note of appreciation as you break this structure down for a rookie such as myself. Appreciate the deconstruct/construct approach with the critical elements defined. I have read a number of Grisham novels, which turn into the same story relabeled after a while, and reflecting this structure on that body of work is helpful as an example.
    Steve

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Thanks Steve. Glad this stuff isn’t being sucked into a vacuum. Hang with me and you’ll get more than you’ll ever want to know about Story stuff.
      Yours
      Shawn

  14. Patti says:

    Yes, I think the poster is “a sleeper”for learning…I suspect something of this nature might be used in advanced writing classes; really good stuff. So grateful you are doing the work you do. You are unlocking secret doors for the unsuspecting aspiring writer. Thank you.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Patti,
      Thanks. Along with the rest of the responses, I think Steve Pressfield and I have our work cut out for us. I think a well designed poster could be great for the wall next to the computer in the writing room, just to be a constant reminder of the story universe.
      All the best,
      Shawn

  15. Becca Borawski Jenkins says:

    Yep, would definitely buy any posters applicable to the genre(s) I’m writing. Very much looking forward to guidance on how to choose the appropriate things from each category…and then of course, what needs to happen after that! I am in the dark on what genre mix my novel-in-progress is and eager to find out what obligatory scenes I may have missed so I can get them in there or tweak ones that are in there. Thanks once again for your awesome content and insight. I think you’re creating some pretty dedicated first readers for yourself right here.

  16. I can’t wait for the posters!

    Something more generic than SOTL (or any single famous novel) that could help the viewer begin to place his or her story-in-progress on the Grid and see what is missing would be fantastic.

    Formatting it so I could use it as the wallpaper/desktop on my MacBook Pro would be super cool.

    It would be fun (while we are dreaming) to have an edited volume in which solid authors who work in the major genres contribute chapters on the conventions and, especially, the obligatory scenes of their genre.

    Thank you for the generosity you show us in all you do here!

  17. Jule Kucera says:

    We’ve heard a resounding “Heck, yes!” regarding the value of posters. And to prove the point, consider what Edward Tufte called the greatest infographic of all time, Napoleon’s march on Moscow: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters.

    I’m looking forward to the professionally produced version of the GENRE INFOGRAPHIC and I’m really, really happy to have the version you’ve posted. This and all the conversation about genre conventions has helped me understand why people either love or hate my memoir. Those who thought it was a romance novel are ticked off because instead of the happy ending, the lover dies. This is not the expected payoff of the genre. Thank you for this insight. I’m smarter now.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Jule,
      You nailed it. I have the Napoleon’s March poster framed and on my office wall. I’ve read all of Tufte’s work, been to his seminar and was inspired in many ways to look at qualitative information quantitatively by him. Tufte is a true original who was doing what I’m trying to do years ago before Internet saturation…all by professional word of mouth. The Napoleon’s March is truly a remarkable work of art that is also a factual document. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate! This is what THE STORY GRID is all about…showing the craft behind the art and perhaps becoming a bit of art itself.
      Yours,
      Shawn

      1. Jule Kucera says:

        Shawn,
        We have Tufte’s seminar and peanut butter and chocolate in common! And I have no doubt that your poster will be a work of art, because of all the thought and care that will have gone into it. Thank you for sharing here so generously.
        Yours,
        Jule

    2. Joel D Canfield says:

      Maybe it’s not a romance novel, but it is a stunning love story, that’s for sure. Stunning in more than one sense of the word.

      I’ve only read the draft you posted online. Is there a tidied up finished book now?

      1. Jule Kucera says:

        Joel, there is a tidied up version! Probably more than tidied, given that the first editorial pass removed over 20,000 words (yes, I mourned most of them). It’s called Sweet Baby Lover and it’s on Amazon. Thanks for asking and for remembering the story.

  18. Clark N. Riley says:

    Shawn, thanks for another fine post. As I’ve come to expect, you’ve again shared something useful and insightful, and if expectations and internal dynamics correlate to genres, then your “genre” is actually a few steps above what people might think of as “blue collar,” no matter how much (and how wisely) you might protest. (I’d guess that more than a few of us are starting to think of you as a master craftsman, though of course you wouldn’t refer to yourself that way.) You’ve also called Bullshit on something that is indeed Bullshit, and that is equally refreshing.

    As usual, questions abound, but I trust that all will be revealed in good time.

    By the way, you typed “The sophisticated and The New York Times reading metropolitan cocktail crowd (a dying tribe if there ever was one in the new connected age of ‘Weird’)…” I suspect that you meant to type “Wired,” but I like it better the way it is. My jersey says Team Genre Nerds. Hmmm, maybe a poster for THAT…

  19. Ulla Lauridsen says:

    Personally, I couldn’t see myself hanging it. It wouldn’t be ‘pretty’ enough or in sufficiently constant demand to warrant being on display, even in an artistic rendition. But I’m clearly in the minority here – just wanted to put my two cents in.

    1. Jule Kucera says:

      Ulla,
      Thank you for your two cents! It can be hard to contribute when you feel that you’re in the minority. I think the Napoleon’s March poster could be a good gauge for people deciding if they would want the GENRE poster. If you’d hang the March poster on your wall, then you’d probably want this poster. If you wouldn’t, then no.

  20. Clark N. Riley says:

    Shawn, thanks for another fine post. As I’ve come to expect, you’ve again shared something useful and insightful, and if expectations and internal dynamics correlate to genres, then your “genre” is terrific.

    As usual, lots of questions come to mind, but I trust that all will be revealed in good time.

    By the way, you typed “The sophisticated and The New York Times reading metropolitan cocktail crowd (a dying tribe if there ever was one in the new connected age of ‘Weird’)…” I suspect that you meant to type “Wired,” but I like it better the way it is. My jersey says Team Genre Nerds. Hmmm, maybe a poster for THAT…

  21. Judy Potocki says:

    Posters. Aye!

  22. Tina Goodman says:

    I would love to have a poster size version of the story grid for THE SILENCE of the LAMBS. My wip is a mix of The Silence of the Lambs and The Last Child.

  23. Matt says:

    I read over all the articles, and this site is a great resource. I know now that my novel attempt is a traditional arch type story line. I knew I had a traditional adventure, but now I am more informed on the formula.
    But my external world is definitely Dystopian. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for Dystopian novels? Or does the archtype story line conventions and scenes trump the external world?

  24. K.O says:

    Hey, Shawn, thanks for all of the information. So great to get this insight. I’ve been studying this blog for months now, have foolscapped a young adult fantasy I failed to get published, and am now studying the book (it’s great!).

    I’m actually in a unique situation right now. I am close to finalizing a deal w a Big Five publisher. What’s surprising is that this novel was pitched before the ms was completed. I formed the idea last summer, wrote about 12,000 words, then realized I needed more direction (outline). I didn’t want to rewrite the the ms three times from scratch like I did one of my young adult novels because of lack of planning. This novel is in a genre I haven’t written in much before (though I have read in it a bit and also love movies in this genre) so I had to do some study of novels in the genre to determine the conventions and obligatory scenes.

    My question is, because of the nature of the idea, I don’t think I can satisfy a few of the obligatory scenes with the main character. I formulated a subplot featuring a strong female (would be good for drawing in more of that huge female demographic) that would be about seven scenes, in order to give the readers these scenes that are demanded. The thing is, the agent I’m working with on this doesn’t agree, so I’m wondering what you think. Can a subplot mostly exist mostly for the purpose of satisfying obligatory scenes/conventions? I think this B storyline could actually tie in nicely with the main one in quite a few ways., so it’s not there solely for the oblig scenes/conventions.

    Thanks!

    Sincerely,

    K.O.

    1. Shawn Coyne says:

      Hi K.O.,
      Well without reading your manuscript I’m hard pressed to give you a definitive answer. But I will say this. The global genre (the one that drives the entire work as the main story) must have it’s main movements (obligatory scenes) driven by the lead protagonist. With that said, you could be writing an action story that uses a number of characters as a group to represent the heroic force in the story. This is usually the case in epic fiction like Lord of the Rings etc. A little band of people come together. One is an expert at one thing but not so great at another. Etc. THE DIRTY DOZEN kind of approach to creating a group of protagonists. That usually works when you’re dealing with a group of villains or just one crazy powerful villain. If you sold the project based on a single protagonist, you’ll need to deliver a single protagonist. But if there is wiggle room to expand the cast of forces of good, then you could use a member of that group to abide conventions. But there’s always a leader of the group. And if you don’t payoff big scenes with that leader, you’ll disappoint your audience.
      My gut is that you should probably listen very intently to your agent. She/he may not have all of my theories to back them up, but what she/he does have is experience. She/he probably knows what works and what doesn’t work in their particular arena. If they’ve worked with a lot of writers who do what you are doing, then you really need to listen to them. At the very least, she/he is telling you that there’s something wrong. It’s not working. You need to recognize the problem and track back a way to solve it.
      Hope that helps.
      Shawn

      1. K.O says:

        Thanks for the response, really appreciate it. The manuscript isn’t finished, my agent and I have agreed on a detailed synopsis (minus the subplot), and now we’re just waiting to see what tweaks the editor will want to make to the story before proceeding with the writing. Kind of an unorthodox situation for a young, unpublished novelist, but I’m taking it as an awesome opportunity to get it right, or as close to right, the first time around. I really believe in the Story Grid and what you’re saying, so I also want to take advantage of this for this novel and its sequels. I see it as an amazing stroke of good luck to have come across your blog when I did, allowing me to incorporate these things into the story.

        The agent I’m working with doesn’t actually do much agenting. He’s an incredible author (possibly the best prose I’ve ever come across), conference director, editor, mentor, etc. So he hasn’t repped in this genre much, but he’s very knowledge of it as a reader and writer, so I definitely trust him. I’m just more analytic in my approach to writing and like to leave no stone unturned. He goes more by gut. I just wanted to get your thoughts as I push forward with this endeavor because I’ve never heard of a method similar to yours before and think it can make my project infinitely better.

        There is one protagonist, but it is among a group of lead characters, so I can use them to satisfy some conventions/oblig scenes. Thanks for that tip.

        The thing is, some of the oblig scenes/conventions need to take place before the group is formed, within the first 10 scene’s of the novel’s beginning. I’ll have to do more thinking on this–I may not even need to create a subplot/new character to satisfy these, but just cut to alternate scenes showing these things taking place.

        Thanks for the thoughts, appreciate you taking the time.

        -K.O.

        1. K.O. I just finished reading SG (in less than 24 hrs!) I’m @MorgynStar on Twitter. We’re in similar situations re YA High/Heroic Fantasy. If you would like to discuss those ‘obligatory’ scenes, please reach out. Or meet me at the discussion boards for SG.

  25. Simon says:

    I’m a bit late to the party, but the book is just out (got tipped off to its existence on Seth Godin’s blog), so bought it and I’m tearing through it. Terrific stuff. But I’ve just reached this point in the book talking about the obligatory scenes (come across this before, of course, in McKee and Truby). I totally understand and appreciate the sentiment around doing the work and reading loads of books in a genre to work out the obligatory scenes. But… as part of my on-going education, I’d like to be able to review the obligatory scenes and conventions for a whole load of genres. All the major ones. In one place. Have them on hand as reference. Does anyone know if that’s been attempted anywhere? It would be immensely useful.

    1. Joel D Canfield says:

      It’s been attempted here. As in, every one of us has asked Shawn if it’ll be in the book.

      It’s not. For good reason; he’d be finishing it in 2063.

      It’s a project I’m fascinated by as both a writer and data geek. Wondering if there’s a crowdsourcing solution potential here.

      1. K.O says:

        Or followers of this blog can maybe start a thread in the forum discussing conventions/obligatory scenes for a variety of genres and help each other identify them.

  26. Robb Dunn says:

    Hi Shawn,
    First off, thanks for posting your accumulated wealth of knowledge. I’ve spent the past couple of days reading everything in OCD order. Great stuff. Affirming. Potentially life changing.

    My question: Regarding this post, as Genres have Conventions and Obligatory Scenes, can you direct me to a specific comprehensive reference that lists each of them in relation to their respective Genre? I’m sure it would be quite extensive, but I think it would sure be handy to have!

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

    1. Ah, everyone’s question. In today’s post Shawn says that’d be a 20-year job, laying all that out.

      His recommendation: read the 5 best books in your genre, and note the intersections. The scenes each of these books has, the standouts, will be the obligatory scenes for your genre.

      And then, go post it in the forum so everyone can share 😉

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