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What are literary conventions? Can you provide examples?

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Literary conventions are customary features that define specific literary genres, such as the chorus in Greek tragedy or a moral in a fable. These conventions, which include cliches, devices, or tropes, help shape the structure, style, or content of a literary work. Examples include the soliloquy in Shakespeare's plays, rhyme schemes in poems, and specific structural elements like the fourteen lines of a sonnet.

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A literary convention is:

A customary feature of a literary work, such as the use of a chorus in Greek tragedy, the inclusion of an explicit moral in a fable, or the use of a particular rhyme scheme in a villanelle. Literary conventions are defining features of particular literary genres, such as the novel, short story, ballad, sonnet, and play.

In other words, it is a cliche, device, or trope that acts as a defining feature of a genre. All Star Wars movies begin with the phrase "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." This helps place the viewer in the context of the Star Wars galaxy. Literary conventions can be aspects of prosody (rhyme and sound), structure (acts in a play), or content (humor in a comedy). 

To elaborate on a few of the examples provided above:

  • Chorus - In Greek tragedy, the chorus is a group of masked performers who provide context for the events that unfold. They do not directly interact with the action performed by the actors but can provide prologues, epilogues, and commentary for the benefit of the audience. 
  • Moral - Fables are designed to communicate a moral lesson about how the audience should or should not act. This moral is often communicated in the form of a single line or utterance that summarizes the lesson of the fable. An additional convention found within fables is that the actors in the story are not human.
  • Rhyme Scheme - Poems often use rhyme as a convention to distinguish themselves from prose. Such poems follow a pattern of rhyming sounds—the first and third lines, for example, must rhyme, while the second and fourth do not. Poetry does not require rhyme, however, and utilizes many different conventions based on style, language, and purpose. 
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A literary convention is the name given to a well-established technique or feature of a particular genre. Because it is well-established, a convention is accepted and expected by the reader. Here are some examples:

  • A soliloquy is a convention of Shakespeare's plays because it appears so frequently in his most popular works like Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.
  • A moral message is a convention of a fable. There is a strong moral message in George Orwell's Animal Farm, for example.
  • Foreshadowing is a convention of short stories and novels and the reader recognizes that it is regularly used by authors to hint at the events to come.
  • It is a convention of satire that the author will employ humor and sarcasm to convey his message. 
  • It is a convention of a sonnet that it will consist of fourteen lines. (See the reference link provided).
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A literary convention is a commonly used device or aspect of a certain kind of work. If you are reading a certain type of literary work, you can expect it to conform to certain conventions. For example, plays are typically divided into acts and scenes, and characters generally speak to each other with dialogue. In Shakespeare's dramas, characters communicate their inner thoughts through the use of soliloquies. If you do not understand this particular literary convention, it will be difficult for you to make sense of what is going on--you might think that the character is speaking to other characters rather than privately expressing their inner thoughts. Some literary forms, like the novel, for example, have fewer conventions. (For example, some novels are broken up into chapters, and some are not.)

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