Writing a fantasy series, there’s no way I can ignore the conventions of the Action genre. A solid action piece has to include some mandatory ingredients of plot, character and theme. Scratch the surface and you’ll find I write all the tropes of a classic Western. With swords.
My opening story ticks every item on the Action genre list, using just one example from author and writing coach Savannah Gilbo.
Action Genre Conventions
- The protagonist has a special talent or gift and the potential for heroism.
- Jovanka has Second Sight, the ability to see the future. It’s a gift and a curse.
- Varla is a fighter of mythic abilities; stealth, strategy and unorthodox fighting techniques.
- The protagonist’s goal is to stop the antagonist and save victims.
- Jovanka and Varla both want to bring down the Emperor and his soldiers.
- She has a contempt for authority figures since all the ones she knows have abused her in some way.
- There are multiple lives at stake (including the protagonist’s).
- The Emperor’s Vipers slaughter their way across and beyond the Empire with extreme prejudice.
- The Horse Clans want revenge on anyone from the Empire.
- The antagonist is stronger and/or more powerful than the protagonist.
- Fifty battle-armored Vipers led by an angry, ginger sadist, and a Tracker able to turn invisible at will. That should do it.
- The protagonist has a moral compass that the antagonist does not.
- Both Jovanka and Varla rebel against the injustices of the Empire.
- There’s a speech in praise of the antagonist.
- The Priest at Torken’s Well praises the Empire; Tauber, the tracker, revels in his part in the Emperor’s victories.
- There’s a MacGuffin (or a very specific thing the antagonist wants).
- The MacGuffin is Jovanka’s vision of the Emperor’s death. The Emperor is determined suppress it. That means eliminating her.
- There are sidekicks who help the protagonist save the victim/s.
- Danaan the Walker is an inspirational figure for Varla and Jovanka. Marto switches sides later in the story.
- There’s at least one mentor figure who gives the protagonist guidance.
- Danaan, as the wise shaman, fills this role. Gulatta is a long-time mentor to Jovanka at the start of the story.
- There’s a ticking clock that puts pressure on the protagonist.
- Jovana and Varla rush to escape before the Tracker and the Vipers catch them. The net closing around them represents the sand in the timer running out.
Walking the Tightrope
Those are just some of the conventions or tropes of the genre. You can add or colour conventions to further define the story. I’ve absorbed the conventions and story structure from hundreds of B-movie Westerns and fantasy adventures over the years. When does convention or trope fall into cliché? The trick is not to fall into parody. It takes little effort to tip from drama to melodrama to outright comedy. 1993’s Tombstone teeters on the brink every time it reaches a pinch point or turning point in the script. Lawrence Kasdan’s 1985 Silverado never puts a foot wrong.
Back on the literary front, you find these genre conventions all the way back to Arthurian legend and Greek mytholodgy. Kidnapped has literary kudos to match its action plot. Nobody sniggers at R. L. Stephenson. Where Eagles Dare is a favourite nuts-and-bolts, behind-enemy-lines, WWII tale. I frequently groan at the dialogue and set pieces.