Friday, March 20, 2009

Convention Wisdom

Reader's Second Expectation, the--a set of conventions found in genre/category fiction; basic assumptions for inclusion a reader will make upon choosing and beginning a particular narrative.

Almost as though he were returning from a mountain top with freshly etched stone tablet in hand, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov brought forth in fiction an ethos that subsequently became a tradition, the ethos being The Laws governing robots:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In similar fashion, there are expectations if not actual laws covering the relationship between the reader and the genre. Readers of mysteries, for example, have a right to expect intriguing puzzles. They also have a right not to expect Roger Ackroyd-type endings in which, towards the very last paragraph, the narrator casually reveals himself, don't you know, to have been the murderer. (See Christie, Agatha. Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?)

The fantasy reader has a right to expect some form of magic and indeed, the romance reader is well entitled to meet an appealing woman protagonist who becomes involved in issues relating to her status as a single person. No less emphatic an expectation is that of the reader of science fiction, who buys into the story hopeful of encountering some significant application and extrapolation of a physical or social science.

Just as readers of the genera have expectations, writers of them have obligations:

1. Writers of a genera will have some awareness of the origins and icons of the genre.
2. Writers of a genre will have read at least one hundred of the first generation titles of the genre.
3. Writers of a genre will, even at parties where the punch has been spiked, be able to discuss with some intelligence the expectations inherent in the genre.
4. Writers of a genre will be aware of the works of at least two up-and-coming writers of the genre.
5. Writers of a genre will be able to discuss with some degree of intelligence the direction the genre will take with it into the future.

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