Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Convention (literary term)

If Genres are types, classes, or kinds of literature, art, music, etc., what to call the marks, signs, or formulas that identify a genre?

The literary-critical term is "conventions," which everyday speech might describe as


standard features







Metaphorically, conventions might be considered the genes or DNA of a genre—the building blocks or pieces that assemble a whole text. For instance, the conventions of a crime, a locked room, a mysterious note, an attractive but elusive woman, and a detective (professional or amateur) might be considered the conventions of the mystery genre.

Not rules but expectations (which can be purposefully frustrated)

Oxford English Dictionary
Convention: 9a. General agreement or consent, deliberate or implicit, as constituting the origin and foundation of any custom, institution, opinion, etc., or as embodied in any accepted usage, standard of behaviour, method of artistic treatment, or the like.

9b. In a bad sense: Accepted usage become artificial and formal, and felt to be repressive of the natural in conduct or art; conventionalism.

10a. A rule or practice based upon general consent, or accepted and upheld by society at large; an arbitrary rule or practice recognised as valid in any particular art or study; a conventionalism.

Definitions of convention on the Web:

  • a large formal assembly; "political convention"
  • something regarded as a normative example; "the convention of not naming the main character"; "violence is the rule not the exception"; "his formula for impressing visitors"
  • (diplomacy) an international agreement
  • conventionality: orthodoxy as a consequence of being conventional
  • the act of convening 
  • A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom. 



Not rules but expectations (which can be purposefully frustrated)

One way we practice judgment is to measure our reactions to changes to our expectations.

Does a specimen or example fall short of expectations, or take us further?

If further, was that a good change or a bad change?

Knowledge of genres = yardsticks, standards of measurement

Standards do not equal rules. Standards can be bent, raised, lowered, varied to need.


adjective form: "conventional"

Definitions of conventional on the Web: