The 10 Things Every Worldview Novel Needs
Are you writing a young adult novel? Or a story about a character who’s going through a major life change or transition? If so, you’re going to love today’s post on the conventions of the worldview genre!
The worldview genre can be found in almost every story. It’s the emotional arc (or internal change) a character experiences as he or she pursues their goals, faces seemingly impossible roadblocks or challenges, and comes out the other side a better, more capable person.
And while there’s no fool-proof way of writing a successful worldview novel, there are ways to ensure that your story is ticking all the right boxes.
So, in today’s post, I’m going to go over the ten genre conventions that must be present in your worldview novel in order to satisfy those readers and to write a story that works. I’m also going to show you how these conventions manifest in three popular movies—The 40-Year Old Virgin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Juno. But before we get into the conventions of the worldview genre, let’s go over some basics.
What makes a Worldview story?
Worldview stories focus on a period of the main character’s life where he or she is transitioning from one significant state to another. These stories show how the external events of the plot affect a character in such a way that he or she must grow, change, and awaken to a new understanding of themselves, or the world around him or her.
If that sounds really familiar, or like every story you’ve ever read, you’re right. This type of emotional arc or internal worldview change can be found in almost every story.
A lot of young adult novels fall into this genre because YA stories tend to be about a character who “comes of age,” or transitions from youth into adulthood. But not all worldview stories need to feature a teenage protagonist who’s coming of age. I’m sure we’ve all met a few adults who have some kind of growing up to do, right?
Regardless of the age of the protagonist, these stories usually end with the same realization–life’s not going to change, so I had better change instead. And usually, this change is for the better, making the protagonist a stronger, happier person with a new appreciation for the life ahead of him or her.
Why do people read Worldview stories?
People choose to read worldview novels because they are super relatable!
Life doesn’t always give us what we want, right? I mean, we’ve all been kicked in the butt by life at one point or another -- whether through puberty, divorce, death, a midlife crisis, losing a job, the pains of adolescence… you name it. We’ve all experienced some kind of “life problem” that has forced us to stop in our tracks and re-examine who we are and what we value in order to move forward.
Worldview stories give readers a glimpse into how other people (your characters) deal with and survive these “roadblocks.” They give readers a sense of relief, satisfaction, and maybe even hope that they, too, can survive whatever roadblocks or challenges are appearing in their own lives.
And the beauty of these stories is that when the protagonist discovers something about themselves, the reader ultimately discovers something about themselves too. So, not only does the protagonist grow and change, but the reader might grow and change a little bit, too. These stories are universal because life is universal.
And like all genre fiction, you have to deliver the emotional experience readers are looking for in order for your story to work. To deliver this emotional experience, you need to include the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre in your novel.
What are Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?
Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They are things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction whether they consciously realize it or not.
Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what will evoke emotional reactions in the reader—and when coupled with your genre’s conventions—will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.
As I go through these conventions, I want you to consider WHY each of these roles or settings or events would need to be in a worldview novel -- or what purpose they serve in the overall narrative. You’ll probably notice that each of these conventions has a really specific reason WHY it needs to be there -- and because of that, you can use these conventions (plus the obligatory scenes of the worldview genre) to help you craft an outline or the first draft of a story that works.
So, what are the conventions of the Worldview genre? Let’s take a look (warning–spoilers ahead!):
What are the Conventions of a Worldview story?
The first thing you’ll want to be sure to include in your worldview novel is a mentor. A mentor is a person (or a group of people) who gives the protagonist advice, help, guidance, tools, insight, or all of the above. They help to motivate the protagonist and encourage him or her to move on to the next stage in their life.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy’s friends–David, Cal, and Jay–act as mentors when it comes to meeting women and dating casually. Trish is Andy’s mentor when it comes to romance and love.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sam and her brother, Patrick act as mentors, bringing Charlie into their world and helping him feel safe.
- In Juno, Juno’s dad and step-mom act as the main mentors, helping Juno get through her pregnancy and teaching her about life and love.
#2. A Protagonist With an Outdated Worldview
The second thing you’ll want to include in your coming-of-age story is a protagonist with an outdated worldview or some kind of false belief that he or she needs to overcome by the end of the story. Usually, this outdated worldview occurs because the protagonist sees the world as they believe it to be, not as it really is. And because of that, and in order to accomplish their story goal, the protagonist has to face and overcome this outdated worldview or false belief and bloom into a new version of themselves (with an updated worldview).
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy had a horrible sexual encounter when he was younger and has developed a belief that he’s bad at sex. He also believes that Trish won’t love him once she finds out he’s a virgin and collects action figures, etc.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie believes that Aunt Helen was his best friend and the only person who ever understood him. He also believes that nobody will like him if they really knew what goes on inside of his head.
- In Juno, Juno places a high value on being “cool.” She puts people in one of two boxes–they’re either “cool” or they’re not. She tries to act like an adult to not only be “cool,” but to avoid dealing with her emotions around Bleeker and her mom’s abandonment. You could also say she has a belief that relationships don’t really work.
#3. Social Problems or Moral Challenges
The third thing you’ll want to include in your worldview novel is some kind of social problem or moral challenge that your protagonist has to face and or deal with. Some examples of social problems or moral challenges include; bullying, social class divides, abortion, poverty, civil rights, marital affairs, climate change, gender equality, divorce, sexual and gender identity, and other things like that. Ideally, whatever social problem or moral challenge your protagonist faces will relate to his or her character arc and the outdated worldview that he or she is trying to overcome.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy is judged and picked on for being a 40-year old virgin.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie has to deal with sexual abuse, depression, introversion, bullying, and sexuality (both his own and others’).
- In Juno, Juno debates getting an abortion or putting her baby up for adoption. We also get a glimpse into what it’s like for a couple who can’t conceive and chooses to adopt a baby instead.
The next thing you’ll want to include in your worldview story is at least one shapeshifter. Shapeshifters are characters who turn out to be different than they first appear -- either to the protagonist, the reader, or both. Shapeshifters are generally aware of the fact that they’re pretending to be something they’re not and are careful to conceal it from the protagonist. They might be “good” or “bad” (or both) depending on where they appear in the story.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy is one of the biggest shapeshifters because he pretends to be more sexually experienced than he actually is. The women Andy tries to date are also shapeshifters, appearing to be “normal” when he first meets them, but later revealing themselves to be different levels of “crazy.”
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there are a couple of shapeshifters. Aunt Helen appears to be Charlie’s kind, loving aunt, but we later learn she wasn’t that great of a person. Brad, Patrick’s boyfriend, is also a shapeshifter, pretending to be heterosexual and keeping his relationship with Brad a secret. You could also say Mary Elizabeth is a shapeshifter, changing behavior and appearance with each new guy she dates.
- In Juno, Mark is the biggest shapeshifter, initially appearing to have good intentions, but later expressing not-so-good intentions when it comes to his relationship with Juno. Bleeker is also a shapeshifter, but more so through Juno’s perception of him rather than his actions or behaviors.
#5. Internal Change
The next thing you’ll want to include in your worldview story is some kind of internal change within your protagonist. So, at some point in the story, your protagonist has to realize that the world isn’t going to change, so he or she must change instead. This is when the character’s worldview changes and they can now accept that the world isn’t as black-and-white as he or she originally thought. Sometimes, this change occurs when the protagonist decides that he or she will no longer be defined by society or family and accepts a new definition of themselves–one that he or she created independently from other people’s perceptions and/or opinions.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy goes from being an insecure virgin to a more confident, married man who’s in love with his wife, Trish.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie goes from avoiding the truth about what happened with his Aunt Helen to accepting it. He also learns to be himself and to trust others.
- In Juno, Juno goes from trying really hard to fit in with adults (naive, but pretending to be mature) to living life as a normal teenager. She starts the story avoiding her feelings (around her pregnancy, Bleeker, her mom’s abandonment, etc.) to accepting them at the end.
#6. Confrontation with the Adult World
The next thing you’ll want to include in your worldview story is some kind of confrontation with the adult world. So, no matter how old your protagonist is, he or she will be tested throughout the story as an adult. They might be ready for the test, or they might be forced into it by circumstances. Whatever happens, it’s this confrontation with the adult world that causes him or her to realize they have to solve their own problems—parents, friends, and society cannot save them, and they must rely on themselves. With this painful realization comes each protagonist’s individuation.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy has to deal with being a 40-year old virgin. At first, he tries to tackle this “problem” by finding a random girl to hook up with, but when this leads to dissatisfaction, Andy decides to take matters into his own hands and decides to let true love unfold on his terms with someone he chooses (not his friends).
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie’s friends are all older than he is and about to graduate high school. When they leave for college, Charlie’s forced to finally deal with the truth about Aunt Helen on his own.
- In Juno, Juno becomes pregnant while still in high school. She also confronts this “adult world” in her relationship with Mark. She innocently trusts him because he’s a “cool adult,” only to find out that his intentions aren’t that pure.
The next thing you’ll want to include in your coming-of-age story is a strong emphasis on friendships! In worldview stories, friendships often play a much larger and more influential role than the protagonist’s relationships with parents or authority figures. Throughout the story, the protagonist learns how to define him/herself and stand up for who he/she really is–usually with the support of friends and in defiance of parents or authority figures.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy’s coworkers help him overcome his insecurities–at first by making him really, really uncomfortable–and then by supporting his relationship with Trish.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie becomes friends with Sam and Patrick and learns what it means to have authentic relationships with people around his own age. Both Sam and Patrick support Charlie and accept him for who he truly is–even after they learn about his breakdown and the truth of what happened with Aunt Helen.
- In Juno, Juno’s friend, Leah, supports her through the entire pregnancy. It’s also interesting to note that some of Juno’s “friends” are actually adults. Juno tries so hard to be a “cool adult” herself and therefore tries to relate to the adults around her rather that people her own age.
#8. External Pressure
The next thing you’ll want to include in your worldview story is some kind of external pressure. Usually, this external pressure comes from friends, family, and society to be a certain way or to meet certain expectations, or to fit in with certain "norms." The protagonist usually tries to live up to these expectations and experiences unhappiness as a result. This manifests as the protagonist chasing their “want” vs. satisfying their “need” — for most of the story anyway.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy faces a lot of pressure to lose his virginity. At first, he goes along with what his friends have planned but eventually realizes it’s not fulfilling and decides to focus on pursuing one woman.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie deals with all kinds of external pressure from experimenting with drugs and alcohol, to pretending to be happy all the time, to entering into relationships he doesn’t fully want, etc.
- In Juno, Juno faces external pressure when it comes to being pregnant (while in high school) and what to do regarding her pregnancy.
The next thing you’ll want to include in your worldview story is a secret or two. And there are three types of secrets that are often present in worldview stories–secrets that others keep from the protagonist, secrets that the protagonist keeps from others, and secrets the protagonist keeps from themselves.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy keeps his virginity a secret. Then, once he meets Trish, he keeps aspects of his reality (his action figure collection, his virginity, what’s going on with his friends, etc.) from her.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie keeps what happened with his Aunt Helen a secret from himself (and from everyone else). For a while, he keeps his feelings for Sam a secret, but eventually, the truth comes out. He keeps Patrick’s relationship with Brad a secret, even when Brad picks on Patrick. And finally, he keeps the nature of his sister’s relationship with “Ponytail Derek” a secret even though he’s abusive to her.
- In Juno, Juno keeps her true feelings for Bleeker a secret from herself and others. For the first quarter of the movie, she keeps her pregnancy a secret from her parents but eventually tells them. She keeps her visits (and what happens during her visits) with Mark a secret, too.
#10. A Bittersweet Ending
The last convention you’ll want to include in your coming-of-age story is a bittersweet ending. At the end of a worldview story, the protagonist has changed. He or she is now equipped with the strength and courage and independence to face the world head-on. But with this new strength comes a loss of innocence and often a certain sadness. These stories usually don’t end with a “happily ever after,” but at a new beginning, with the sense of a lot of life yet to be lived.
- In The 40-Year Old Virgin, Andy marries Trish and is no longer a virgin. He sold his action figure collection (loss of innocence) and has gained a few step kids through his marriage to Trish.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie has to accept the reality of what happened with Aunt Helen (loss of innocence). However, he now has the support of friends and family–something that was missing when he tried to deal with his depression before.
- In Juno, she gives up her baby (loss of innocence) but gets back together with Bleeker. She’s less concerned with being “cool,” or with worrying about how she “thinks” things should be and is instead living her life as any other teenager would.
So, that's it! Those are the conventions of the worldview genre. As a quick reminder, these are the elements that readers come to coming-of-age stories for -- they love them! So, don’t skip over these conventions or leave them out of your story.
Instead, use them to help you flesh out and construct your story and then figure out a way to deliver these conventions in new and unexpected ways. If you do that, you’ll not only write a story that works, but you’ll probably gain fans for life, too -- and that’s the dream, right?
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Are you writing a worldview story? Do you have these conventions in your draft? If not, how can you add in what’s missing? Can you identify these conventions in your favorite YA or coming-of-age books or movies?