USING TROPES IN YOUR STORY
Okay, this is directly inspired by a thread I saw on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum the other day. I have several threads in there that I like to browse, besides the new stuff section (which includes everything), much of which I have no interest in. When something catches my eye, I might go to it and make a comment and never see it again, because I have no idea what thread it was in, even though the title of the forum it’s in is right there in the title of the thread along with the subject (hey, I don’t catch everything). I often never see any of the responses to mine because they get buried with other stuff by the time I visit the site again. Oh well…
Then again, there are my usual haunts which include Horror, Fantasy/Science Fiction and Thriller (whatever). I visit each pretty regular just to keep up with what’s going on in the genres for which I write. Anyone remember me talking about keeping up with your genres and doing your research?
Wayell…the thing is that I rarely read fantasy or science fiction because frankly, I don’t really like what’s out there. On the other hand, I love to read horror but rarely see it in the bookstore. Hence, I have to result to Absolute Write often to keep up on what’s going on in the genres. At least with horror (icky bug), I do get to read one on occasion. On the other hand, I have a plethora of fantasy and science fiction novels at my fingertips but my eyes glaze over when I’m in the bookstore. I often check the rather hefty section and look at all the titles. However, after checking the covers, book blurbs and leafing through the pages, I just don’t get that spark, that kick that compels me to try them out, at least I haven’t in a long time.
So, back to the gist of this conversation drawn from the ether. Tropes.
WHAT’S A TROPE?
A trope is a well-worn premise that’s often considered over-used in a story. For instance, a pauper that’s really a prince. You know, the old poor handsome (or beautiful), dirty street guy or gal that through trials and tribblations discovers he or she’s actually the prince or princess of the kingdom.
Elves, dwarves and orcs in fantasy. What makes these characters really tropes is when they all appear and act exactly stereotypical.
In romance, the “brother and sister” that are extremely attracted to each other, but know it can never be until they find out they’re not related.
In a murder mystery, the butler did it.
As Jimmy Durante probably never actually said, but gets credit for anyway, “I got a million of ‘em!”
WHY ARE TROPES BAD?
First off, tropes are bad because of the boredom factor. In this thirty-second attention span society (and I’m only generalizing here), people want something different.
Even if you run across someone who by a freak accident, has never read this particular trope before in literature, they’ve probably seen it on television or in the movies.
Like with anything, if done badly or just mediocre, it might as well not be done at all.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE TROPES GOOD?
It’s all in the telling or (gag) showing. It’s like every plot has been done a million times before. The difference is in the telling, in the voice, in the way you show it that makes it unique. When you put your own twists on it, you make it a unique story. This is when you take that well-worn trope and make it your own.
Okay, let’s take the pauper that’s really a prince trope in fantasy. Let’s say that in the end, though the character finds out the truth, they turn it down because they want to marry the peasant. They give it all away for love.
Hey, wait a moment. That’s been done like a thousand times as well!
How about this.
They give it all up for love, but by a twist, they don’t have to because the rules changed. They can be the prince or princess after all!
Hey…sorry been done as well!
How about this.
They give it all up because they don’t want the hassle, tell the lover to take a hike and go away with their good buddy to party away in the night!
The thing is, you can still use any of the above scenarios, the well-worn or the unique one. It’s all in the telling.
VOICE IS THE KEY
When you get down to it, since just about everything has been done at one time or the other, there’s very little ground that hasn’t been covered. Therefore, if you look at it that way, everything is a trope to someone. With that in mind, the key is your voice.
If all of this is overwhelming, it all boils down to following your muse.
Follow your muse and see what comes out in the wash. The key element is that when you’re writing, do not try to copy anyone else!
If you follow that simple rule, it’s almost a guarantee it’ll come out in your voice. If not, well, that’s where the editing and rewrites come into play. The thing is, if you’re a writer, you should know all about that by now…or you’ll learn it soon enough.
A trope is not necessarily a bad thing. Using one or many like everyone else can be. What you need to do is put your own voice, your own twist into them. Make them your own and you should be okay.