Media Codes and Conventions

Media Conventions.

How do media products communicate?

Media conventions

Media codes

Media conventions

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Each media form and genre has its own rules

A still from 'The Third Man' Directed by Carol Reed, 1949. (

Conventions: moving image narrative

Media conventions are loose rules or agreed practices that relate to particular genres or styles of media productions. They are informed by past practices and developing audience experiences and expectations. Media conventions are the ways media codes are used and combined to form individual or generic media styles.


Narratives are made to conform to audience expectations for categories of productions.


The word ‘genre’ means ‘type’ in French. A type of text is one differentiated from others by its style.

In moving image narratives Visual, story-telling and other accepted orders or processes or styles used, Audience expectation is formed around their experiences of consuming texts within a genre.

In print media and graphic novels May refer to layout, typeface choice, image processing, colours, use of white space, etc.


How does would you differentiate this media text from another? Which codes and conventions and how are they used to create a particular genre? How does its generic style help its reception? Does the text sit clearly within a genre? Is the genre clear or is the text a hybrid, or intersectional genre text? For example a dramedy is a mixture between a drama and a comedy. A graphic novel is a mixture between a novel and a comic.


A story works with a series of highs and lows. These points trace an imaginary arc.


A story arc refers to the ‘shape’ of a graph that depicts the rise and fall of the level of tension that is usually built into a narrative.

Parts of a story arc are;

  • Exposition,
  • Conflict,
  • Rising action,
  • Climax,
  • Falling action,
  • Resolution.

It includes sub plots, therefore there may be more than one arc present in a narrative. Arcs can run in contrasting shapes.


What is the overall story arc – when do the 5 phases take place? Are there parallel story arcs for different characters? Where are causes and effects placed on the arc/s.


The narrative is formed as characters change both through time and by relating to other characters.


Characters in narratives can be Usually the protagonist or the antagonist The audience will generally engage with these characters most readily These characters have a large amount of screen time Different characters may support or challenge the overall values embedded in the narrative or held by the audience. Characters may be played by a variety of actors. Characters develop as a result of events in the narrative. Characters; Supporting characters Convey action Aid plot progression Contribute to the development of other characters


Identify main characters Find out what motivates the main characters: What goal are they trying to achieve? What are the main sources of conflict? How do they overcome the conflict?

Analyse how the Director establishes the character using;

  • Costume,
  • Props, 
  • Character traits,
  • Acting style,
  • Casting

Analyse your attitude towards the main characters. Work out why you like or dislike a character. Provide evidence for your opinion.

Analyse the relationship between characters.


A narrative is driven by a story. This may be a series of events or the passage of time.


Narratives rarely have one storyline. The main storyline may be supported by sub-storylines, or all storylines may have equal significance.

The storylines may focus on the characters involved or be propelled by events


Look at how storylines comment upon, contrast, and interrelate with other storylines in the plot. Does it add depth to the characters? How do the plots interconnect? Do they involve the same characters? Can a sub plot be removed and the film still make sense? What is the function of sub plots?


Remember a media production is a representation. Consider how the duration of events are revealed to the audience.


The structure of time in a film is often closely linked to editing, as it is through editing that the film gets its pace and narrative structure.

A linear narrative is one whose story develops in a true chronological sequence.

A non-linear narrative will develop out of chronological order through the use of flashbacks, or flashforwards. Characters may discover causes for effects. These narratives often use additional elements (for example, camera techniques, film stocks or editing) to assist the audience in understanding or making sense of the plot.


Consider how events are organised in the film, particularly their Temporal order (the sequence relative to true chronological order), Temporal duration (the time spent showing and event), Temporal frequency (the amount of times an event is shown). Also consider other editing techniques such as The contraction or expansion of time Whether time is manipulated in any way Linear and non-linear narratives


This causes that, that causes this...


Cause and effect is often integral to the film plot, as it will usually incorporate character motivation. Without cause and effect the narrative cannot progress.


How do the events project the narrative forward?

The protagonist will have their motivation and this sets up the cause and effect chain where their actions (cause) creates effects

Point of view

The film maker reveals the story from different points of view. Is the action shown from that of the character, or from that of us, the audience - the fly on the wall?


The narrative of the film is usually presented as either

Subjective point of view (first person): When the story is expressed from a particular character’s perspective through either a voiceover narration or more subtly through their particular often emotional) view of the world.

Objective point of view (third person): When no single characters’ perspective is preferred over another’s, as if the audience is a ‘fly on the wall’.


Whether the techniques used to show the narrative subjectively or objectively?

Which characters’ point of view dominate the narrative How have camera techniques been used to create the point of view?



Music is often a major driver is establishing intrigue to draw the audience in at the start of a film. What do you know about a character or a story from the first few minutes of the narrative?


An opening sequence often introduces the audience to; The main characters, The setting, The purpose or driver for the narrative.

The opening sequence offers narrative possibilities. It often ends with the audience knowing something about character and a setting, but wondering ‘what will happen next?’

It often includes visual or aural devices to aid the audience in their suspension of disbelief.

It includes the exposition and may include the conflict phase of a story arc.


Understand and Identify What characters have been introduced? What do you know about the setting? What questions does the audience have at the conclusion of the opening sequence? What issues/ideas are established? What parts of the story have been divulged? What are the narrative possibilities set up in the opening sequence? How are audience expectations set up in the opening sequence? How are these expectations manipulated over the course of the film? What is the relationship between the opening and closing sequence?

Closing sequence

How does the narrative end? Is there closure to all the threads? or is it open ended leaving even more possibilities? Do you feel returned to equilibrium or do you feel differently about yourself now that you have watched the film?


A closing sequence is seen as the resolution for the narrative. It is where the loose ends or narrative possibilities are tied up. Most narratives progress towards a climax where the protagonist resolves their quest.

A closing sequence may return the audience to the feeling they had at the start of the narrative or may leave them with a question.

It may include the falling action and does include the resolution phase of a story arc.


Understand and Identify How the narrative possibilities are resolved at the end of the film. Are there any unresolved storylines? What is the film maker asking us to consider? To what extent are the narrative possibilities in the opening sequence resolved in the closing sequence? What is the relationship between the opening and closing sequence?

Additional conventions

In addition, there are more complex conventions (agreed practices) that are used in print and electronic media. Some examples are shown below.

Exclusive fashion magazine

A fashion magazine uses white space to emphasise the importance of its content.

Pop media magazine

A ‘today’ style magazine uses shape and contrast to engage its audience.

TV newscast

A TV news broadcast usually follows a strict visual convention.