The Trouble with Tropes? (Grrrrr)

*** WARNING: CRANKINESS AHEAD***

I didn’t want to write this post – Bruce Blake made me do it. Not that I don’t have something to say on the topic of tropes. I actually have oodles to say. The problem is, this topic is one that happens to rile me up to no end, so I can guarantee that whatever comes out of me for this post will be a messy, fuming rant. I usually hold my tongue on this topic because I’m very aware how irked I get (or grouchy, or pissy, or bitchy – choose your own adjective)…hence the crankiness warning. You have been thoroughly warned. If you have a problem with what I’m posting here, blame Bruce Blake.

 I hate the word trope. I despise it. Unlike some of the others who have posted here on this topic, I don’t think what the industry defines as a trope is a bad thing. I think the fact that anything that is “standard” to a genre is considered somehow foul, unoriginal and despicable is utterly ridiculous.

 There is a reason why certain things are predominant in a genre, be it the result of the roots of the genre (see my posting Fairytales, Myths and Magic ) where you will find almost all of the things that are now considered “tropes,” the classics by the masters that influence and inspire current writers who made common use of these “tropes”, or associated pastimes, such as RPGs, that often bring with them ideas and the seeds of plotlines that are riddled with “tropes”. Just because you’ve decided that my fantasy story can’t possibly be good (without bothering to read it, of course) because it has an obvious medieval European environment, I have a character who grew up on a farm, a dragon, or – God forbid – magic, doesn’t mean I’m going to let you rewrite my story or dictate my plot elements. First of all, if that’s how you feel, go write your own story and exclude any “tropes” that you want to. That’ll be your story, this is mine. Secondly, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, you can just bite me. Really.

 Arguing that I can’t write an original story that includes those things is like saying that Sci-fi authors are required to exclude space, aliens, UFOs and science from their stories, telling horror writers they can no longer set their tales in haunted houses or have monsters, death or fear in them…or how about that you cannot write an original western if you set it in the West and include cowboys, horses or guns. Get real. Get a life.

 Now I’m not saying I don’t try to mix it up a little from time to time. I’ve played with an assortment of mythologies, included Siberian, Thracian and I have Lapp mythology planned for the next NaNo, so the stories are much different from traditional fantasy. I have had fun with these things, and I have to admit, the changes were refreshing. But I’ve also actually received negative critique for being original, when I’ve used a different format, I’ve side-stepped the usual quest motif (which means there’s no conflict – of course), or I’ve chosen to present things in a way that separated my story from others in the genre. You want to know what? Instead of lauding my originality, people complained about it. “This isn’t like ‘such-and-such-a-fantasy-author’’s book.” “This wasn’t what I was expecting in a fantasy story so I didn’t like it,” “This didn’t have what I’m used to, so I couldn’t get into it.” Attacked on one side for not using tropes, and attacked on the other if you do – another one of those lovely writer no-win situations.

 So there you have it, my opinion on this whole “trope” issue. You could probably hear me hissing and spitting from wherever you happen to be. If you didn’t like my furor, so be it – I did warn you. And if you have something nasty to say about it, go see Bruce Blake. This post, after all, was his fault.

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7 comments on “The Trouble with Tropes? (Grrrrr)

  1. Well, you had me laughing all the way through the post, Chantal! And you sort of hinted at one other problem I’ve been thinking about if you DON’T use a trope: you won’t have an immediately interested group of readers to market to. It might not seem like a big deal, but if you are a writer just starting out it can leave you floundering for a bit. Now I’m getting out of here before you throw something at me!

  2. Most of the stuff within throwing range right now includes office supplies. I could toss the “Brain Dead 9AM-5PM Mon-Fri” coffee mug, it has quite a heft to it because it is clay pottery rather than china, but that would be a waste of good coffee. I never waste good coffee…unless the dog has been licking it.

  3. I get tired of tropes when I can recite the entire plot after reading the first chapter. There such a thing as just being unoriginal, IMO. But well use genre traditions (whatever you call them) can make for a great story. I do think it is important to reach outside of the stereotypes and Euro-centric assumptions. but saying that using tropes is automatically unoriginal is, IMO, ridiculous.

  4. Believe me, I’m probably as unpredictable as they get, but I get tired of hearing people whine that I’m being unoriginal because I have elves or dwarves in my story, or because my character Dee starts off on a farm (nevermind where things go from there.) People have no business making snap decisions and assumprions based on tropes without ever reading the books they are complaining about. My first book in my fantasy series takes place over a 24-hour period. How often do you see that? And my dwarf is one of the candidates in a wizard competition, with a ridiculously unusual background/condition. I’m fairly certain that’s not something you’ll find in the typical fantasy book. But I’ve been critiqued harshly that because there is no stand-out good vs evil conflict in the book, there *is* no conflict in the book, and that because I carefully integrate my world-building into the storyline rather than offering flowery encyclopaedic inserts describing flora, fauna or racial attributes, that I have no world-building in my book. So much for subtlety and originality.

  5. Pingback: Fantasy? Horror? You Tell Me. | Guild Of Dreams

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