Genre Savvy / Literature

  • Don Quixote spends much of his entire story ruminating on how the future author of his works will portray his adventures, using the tropes he has picked up from reading volume after volume of chivalric literature.
  • The hero of Adelbert von Chamisso's 1814 novel Peter Schlemihl is well-read in all the folktale, fairy-tale, and fantasy literature of Germany. When a mysterious stranger offers to buy his shadow, offering in exchange a choice of a list of magical items such as a mandrake root, a cap of invisibility, or "the purse of Fortunatus", Schlemihl chooses this last, knowing from the novel Fortunatus that it is a source of endless money. It's true that selling his shadow turns out to be a big mistake, but otherwise Schlemihl's genre savvy serves him well, such as when he encounters the invisible bird-nest from Hans von Grimmelshausen's story Das wunderbarliche Vogel-Nest and at once recognizes it and knows how to use it. Later, the stranger returns; Schlemihl demands to know who he is and he describes himself as "a simple wandering scholar." Well, that is just how Mephistopheles first appeared in Goethe's Faust, and when the "scholar" offers to return the shadow in exchange for a contract signed in blood, Schlemihl does not sign.
  • Parodied in Mark Twain's The Story of a Good Little Boy, in which the protagonist longs to be the hero of a Sunday school book and goes around trying, unsuccessfully, to do all the right things: taking in a stray dog, getting a job with only a signed tract as a reference, etc. The main thing that bothers him is that all decent Sunday school book heroes die so he'll never get to see the book he's in.
  • In Andrew Lang's Prince Prigio, the genre-savvy King of Pantouflia wants to get rid of his obnoxiously intelligent eldest son by sending the princes after the monster, knowing that the youngest son will be the only one who can triumph. Prigio, being genre-savvy himself, does not fall for this — and STILL gets it wrong.
  • E. Nesbit's Melisande: In this apparent fairy-tale world, Melisande has - the text itself states - read Alice in Wonderland and knows to avoid crying on people when expanded to giant size.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers, characters discourse at length about how their situations would be different if they were in a detective story. It sometimes helps: in Gaudy Night when Harriet receives a phone call summoning her back to the college:
    She remembered Peter's saying to her one day:
    'The heroines of thrillers deserve all they get. When a mysterious voice rings them up and says it is Scotland Yard, they never think of ringing back to verify the call. Hence the prevalence of kidnapping.' note 
  • Similarly, most Agatha Christie books contain at least one line where a character exclaims that "It's just like a detective novel!" and several suspects in various mysteries show nervousness because they're the least likely character to do it and hence, if it were a mystery novel, the one most likely to be fingered. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it isn't.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia:
    • Peter Pevensie demonstrates a degree of Genre Savvy in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when — after Edmund suggests the robin they are following might be leading them into a trap — he observes that in all of the stories he has read, robins are creatures of good.
    • Edmund also has a Genre Savvy moment or two near the beginning of Prince Caspian, drawing upon his knowledge of adventure stories for ideas on how he and his siblings can get by after they find themselves in an unpopulated wilderness.
    • He has another in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when they are considering what has happened to the man whose armor they have found; it is explicitly cited that he reads mysteries.
    • Eustace, by contrast, has his initial lack of Genre Savvy pointed out multiple times — he's said in the narration to have "read none of the right books." In his diary, when the ship is becalmed and drinking water is at a premium, he recounts how Caspian warned that anyone caught stealing water will "get two dozen" and that he didn't know what that meant until Edmund explained it to him. "It comes of the sort of books those Pevensie kids read." (Even the Pevensies have their lapses, like when they first arrive back in Narnia in Prince Caspian and think they might have to live off the land. They think they remember reading about people eating roots, but they're not sure what kind; Lucy "always thought it meant roots of trees.")
    • In The Magician's Nephew, Digory reminds Uncle Andrew what usually happens to the Evil Sorcerer in stories, which seems to hit home. (A possible subversion since Uncle Andrew turns out not to be the real antagonist and simply becomes irrelevant in the end, although he gets dragged through a lot of comically miserable ordeals first.)
  • In Cold Comfort Farm, a satirical novel about a young woman who goes from the city to live with her backward relatives on the eponymous farm, Flora Poste has read all sorts of novels about young women who go from the city to live with their backward relatives on farms. She thus correctly guesses that they'll have names like Seth, Amos, and Judith, identifies Aunt Ada Doom as "the Dominant Grandmother Archetype", and keeps an eye peeled for subversions and exceptions.
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's Jill the Reckless, Mrs. Barker notes that having problems getting married is just like in the True Hearts Novelette series. Barker has to explain to her that even though they have enough money, My Beloved Smother will persuade Derek to give it up.
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's Hot Water, Medway, the lady's maid, speaks of how the book she's reading has a detective in disguise as a maid, causing much consternation among characters to plan to crack a safe. Actually, she's the criminal, out to crack the safe herself.
  • John Dickson Carr's detective Dr. Gideon Fell is well aware that he's in a detective novel. In The Three Coffins, he stops the action to explain to everybody how a locked room murder mystery can be pulled off, explaining that there's no point in pretending they're not in a detective novel.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, most of the good guys are pretty Genre Savvy, since legends are a major form of entertainment in Middle Earth. In "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol," Sam wonders if he and Frodo have reached a part of the story that the audience won't want to hear. Frodo, however, rightly points out that it's the dark, scary parts that keep people interested.
  • Animorphs
    • Upon being told they're not comic book heroes, Marco makes the rather prophetic comment: "Yes, but I really really want it to be a comic book. See in a comic book the heroes don't get killed."
      Marco: "Now I have a new superstition. Anytime I'm not worried, I worry."
      Marco: "I'm paranoid, sure. But that doesn't mean I don't have enemies."
    • All of them are at least somewhat Genre Savvy, as Tobias, Jake and Marco are all fans of science fiction and comic books, Ax loves soap operas and Rachel at least watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they're much more likely to assert that This Is Reality and just use it for jokes.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld features the Theory of Narrative Causality as an active force in the world, blurring the line between referencing past experiences, actual stories, and the physics of the Disc:
    • Witches are said to guard the edges, and they frequently tell each other stories about other witches to keep an eye on each other. In Witches Abroad, the Lancre witches have to fight Granny Weatherwax's twin sister, Lily, with fairy tale stories in Genua. The stories want to be told, whatever the effects on their players. Lily is arranging the city of Genua along the lines of these stories. The toymaker will be a jolly, red-faced man who whistles while he works if he knows what's good for him. The servant girl will marry the prince, with the help of her fairy godmother, whoever has to get hurt along the way. Since Granny and Lily are twins, one must be the "evil" twin because "that's how the stories go".
    • Malicia from The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents insists on always seeing things in terms of stories, ranging from fairy tales to Kid Detective novels like Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys, and The Famous Five (she claims at one point that four kids and a dog is "the right number for an adventure"). Furthermore, she has trouble in coping with subversions and exceptions, and always makes herself out to be the main character of the "story".
    • In Going Postal, Moist Von Lipwig knows very well how things are supposed to go... and plays the part of the hero, because he is a con artist, and taking advantage of what people expect to see is his major skill. So when he hears that the cat is stuck in the burning building after getting everyone else out safely, he knows that there's only one choice. If he wants to continue this story, he must run back in to save the cat "because that's what the hero does".
  • Johnny and Kirsty in Only You Can Save Mankind. Of course their genre awareness is actually influencing the setting to some degree.
  • The Longing of Shiina Ryo: Shin-tsu begins to joke that he's in a novel and both Kouma and Ryo try to utilize story structures to make sense of his life. It works.
  • Sergey Lukaynenko's Rough Draft and its sequel Final Draft are practically dripping with genre savvy. Characters frequently reflect on how the events of the story follow certain genre conventions. Sometimes their observations foreshadow the actual outcome, sometimes they turn out to be wrong and other times their realization of what genre convention they wound up facing comes too late to do any good. In one of the early chapters, the main character meets up with a science fiction writer (a thinly-veiled Lukyanenko stand-in) in order to try to figure out the solution to his decisively supernatural problem. The writer winds up explaining how various Russian science fiction authors would resolve it, ending with his own take (which didn't match the actual ending of the novels.)
  • Many characters in John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor's Into the Looking Glass series of novels are perfectly aware they've been thrown into a science fictional situation.
    • In the second novel, Vorpal Blade, being science fiction fans is seen as a useful characteristic for the new Space Marines and officers flying the first human starship, the captain of which takes a giddy delight in being able to give orders like "Ahead Warp 1" and "Engage warp drive".
    • In the sequel Claws That Catch this is taken to a slightly surreal extreme when some conflicts between various alien technologies cause them to hallucinate that they are anime characters. One of the main characters laments the fact that he is clearly a secondary character since as anime characters the hero is clearly identifiable.
  • The Artemis Fowl books have a strong "action movie" sensibility — several of the characters are fans of action movies and are shown to compare their own experiences with the genre.
    A spinning kick, Butler. How could you?
    • Invoked in The Opal Deception, when Holly asks Artemis to think like a videogame character in order to divise a solution to their predicament (being attacked by trolls). Artemis decides to think like a character in a war game, tries to create a list of exploitable weaknesses that the trolls possess, and forms a plan based around their hatred of bright lights.
  • Subverted in The Dumas Club by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Rare book finder Lucas Corso has read enough to recognize a trope when he sees one and insists on following them until he can nab the Big Bad. He's mostly right but the Big Bad is someone completely different than he suspected.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a theme of subverting the trope. Sometimes characters figure out beforehand that life will be nothing like the stories, and sometimes they suffer horribly for it.
    • Quentyn Martell is emboldened to reckless action by stories in which princes win fights against dragons and get the beautiful princess afterwards, but he makes a muck of it and dies a horrible death.
    • Brienne tells the story of a hero with a magic sword who never used it, saving it for a singular event. Dick Crabb tells her that it's better to use the best weapon available than die thinking, "I should have used the sword!" When Brienne next anticipates a fight, she thinks back to Dick's words and pulls out her hidden Valyrian steel sword. It gives her just enough of an advantage to win the ensuing fight.
  • Happens a lot in K. A. Applegate's Everworld series, about four young adults thrown into a world in which everything from all the mythologies in the history of the world co-exists. Odds are at least one of them will know enough about whatever figure they encounter to know how to deal with them. They still don't believe Cassandra, though.
  • The online blogiform novel Ultimate Dream is pretty much defined by its Genre Savvy Deadpan Snarker narrator, who relentlessly mocks the cliched Role-Playing Game of the title, which plays like a catalogue of The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés. She continues mocking the clichés even after she and her friends get sucked into the gameworld. The subsequent discussions with the game characters attempts, in several cases, to justify several of the cliches. The Big Bad is Dangerously Genre Savvy, while The Man Behind the Man is aware of the genre's limitations and indeed tries to enforce them.
  • Joe Hill's short story Best New Horror involves an editor who slowly realizes that he's wound up in a situation that conforms to horror genre specifications. He finds this oddly exhilarating.
  • The whole point of Charles Stross's The Jennifer Morgue. The villain, a Dangerously Genre Savvy billionaire trying to take over the world, recognizes he's a living trope and creates a Evil Plan by creating a magic spell that turns everything around him into a James Bond adventure, so that only a British agent conforming to the Bond stereotype would be in a position to stop him and save the world last the last moment. The plan is to then end the spell, making the agent an ordinary person again and so easily contained and killed, with no one else able to get there in time. Unfortunately for him, the British are even more Genre Savvy when the agent they send isn't really the Hero, he's the Bond Babe, acting as an initially oblivious decoy for his girlfriend who is the real Hero sweeping in at the last minute with commandos to save the day.
  • In the comic mystery play Any Number Can Die, a wannabe detective urges a reluctant informant to tell him the name of the murderer, because otherwise she'll get killed and only have time to whisper him a cryptic clue. Sure enough, she gets shot, gives him a clue, and he says in frustration, This always happens in stories!
  • In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next and Nursery Crime novels, the lead characters are successful because of their Genre Savvy. Thursday works in the Literary Crime division, making sure that novels stick to the conventions of their genre and using her Genre Savvy to get out of many sticky situations. The main problems come when she has trouble identifying the genre she has stepped into. Jack Sprat, in the Nursery Crime novels, is an interesting character because he not only investigates crimes committed by Nursery Rhyme characters, but he also has a strange empathy for the genre-driven urges that make them commit the crimes.
  • Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files. Not exactly harmed by such details as Dracula having been written to educate people about how to kill a certain kind of vampire.
    • Lampshaded in Dead Beat:
    "The trick was to figure out which movie I was in. If this was a variant on High Noon, then walking outside was probably a fairly dangerous idea. On the other hand, there was always the chance that I was still in the opening scenes of The Maltese Falcon and everyone trying to chase down the bird still wanted to talk to me. In which case, this was probably a good chance to dig for vital information about what might well be a growing storm around the search for The Word of Kemmler."
    • A failure of Genre Savvy is lampshaded later in the book. When Sue, the reanimated T. Rex eats a ghoul, the ghoul does nothing but scream and throw up its hands to shield itself. Butters points out that never did any good in the movie, and Harry notes he must not have seen it.
    • Also Nicodemus. At one point, Harry tries to trick him into telling him his master plan, but Nicodemus sees right through it, causing Harry to suspect he's read the Evil Overlord List.
    • In Proven Guilty Harry has a plan that hinges on a group of monsters impersonating horror movie creatures ambushing him. When they fail to do so, he threatens to take "drastic, cliched measures" like walking through doorways backwards.
  • In book two of Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows trilogy, the production team and main cast of a Vampire Detective Series are trapped in a Haunted House while filming an episode about a haunted house. A large part of their defenses are ripped off from Charmed or The X-Files, and much of the dialogue consists of witty observations — and creative criticism — of their predicament, and blatant self mockery of Show Within a Show Darkest Night.
  • Dracula: Van Helsing is genre-savvy—he's a scientist, but having recognized that they were fighting a monster out of legend, he goes to those legends to learn how to fight it.
  • In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus notices that the future does not match what was promised in SF he read as a child.
  • Jessica in Demon in my View from the Den of Shadows series. Having written almost 20 books about the vampire world, she knows more about it than some vampires.
  • Song at Dawn involves Troubadours, i.e. people who make their living singing stories of love or courage or bawdiness and so there are many genre savvy to the kind of story they're in.
    • Estela knows countless love ballads so she knows how the romance genre works. She'll think things like 'how would this work in a song' or 'following the instructions of a thousand songs'.
    • Dragonetz, Estela's music teacher, sees no point in going to the Court of Love because he's already an expert on Courtly Love.
  • In Laura Amy Schlitz's Splendors And Glooms, the children explicitly invoke the puppet play "The Bottle Imp" to question whether the fire opal is a good thing.
  • The Langoliers: Subverted. As a mystery writer, Bob Jenkins provides a plausible analysis to Albert to explain how they all ended up on a seemingly abandoned plane in mid-flight by pitching a conspiracy scenario about a black ops social experiment. When Albert suggests that they take over the plane, Jenkins admits out that his scenario can only explain why the plane is abandoned, not why there's no apparent sign of life on the ground either. He points out that they're not dealing with mystery, but a different genre: science fiction.
  • Journey to Chaos: Tasio delights in pointing out conventions in the RPG genre that show up this fantasy and action/adventure style story. For instance, when Eric is about to fight a plot important major enemy, he'll announce a Boss Fight and remind Eric that the Final Boss will always have more than one form. He also likes to use tropes by name when explaining his plans, like how he exploited Mentor Occupational Hazard, defied Deus ex Machina and played straight Helping Would Be Kill Stealing.
  • In the Kitty Norvell novel ''Kitty's House of Horrors," upon realizing that the "reality show" she and the other guests have come to attend is actually a front for some anti-supernatural bigots who are trying to kill them and that the house they're in is a giant Death Trap, Kitty's immediate response is to gather the group and inform them that the number one reason people die in horror movies is because they don't watch horror movies. She then lists all the standard ways to get yourself killed in a slasher movie and how to avoid them.
  • In Northanger Abbey, the protagonist Catherine is a big fan of Gothic novels and incorrectly applies their tropes when she visits the Tilneys at their home, the Abbey of the title. Her Love Interest Henry is a fan of them himself—so when he finds Catherine snooping around his late mother's rooms, he surmises that Catherine is imagining a tale of imprisonment and murder, with herself as the heroine come to uncover these dark secrets. And he's spot-on.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/GenreSavvy/Literature