Are tropes too trite?
For those of you who don’t know, a literary trope is the use of figurative language – via word, phrase, or even an image – for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works. For a time, old 70-80s TV programs had a list of standard tropes – the identical twin to one of the heroes, one of the heroes (there were only heroes then) goes blind, or develops amnesia.
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In fantasy one of the tropes is the young hero on a quest or becoming the savior of the world. In mystery novels it’s the lead characters problem with alcohol or love of esoteric music (especially jazz), and the uptight woman who melts for him but turns out to be the murderess. There’s also the Sherlock type hero, or the brilliant psychopath as the enemy.
In romance it’s the HEA or HFN (happily ever after or happy for now) ending, and the ‘misunderstanding’ or
downright deceptive hero who doesn’t tell the heroine something important.
That’s where I’m at right now. In my current WIP it just happens that the hero has a good reason for withholding information from the heroine… but it’s a commonly used trope, but it works for the book.
But has that trope been overused?
Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder as Chuck Wendig pointed out so brilliantly in his recent post ( http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/29/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholders-ten-magical-eye-stalks/ ), but it’s also in the perception of that beholder. I came face-to-face with that issue in a recent review of one of my books.
In The Coming Storm and its sequels and prequels I tried to project a society where physical beauty isn’t the measure of an individual, it’s their accomplishments that matter. In their world, every being has equal value, whether they’re the ones who clean the stables or the Hunters who defend them. Even their leaders have no title beyond ‘first among equals’. It’s a shock for Colath to discover that the people of men consider him beautiful by their standards. Elon, first among equals in his Enclave of Aerilann, is frequently described as stern, imposing, but not physically attractive. He’s fit, well-muscled as suits a swordsman, but that wouldn’t have been that uncommon in any society of that level. Most of our own ancestors would have been that fit, do to the physical labor the vast majority had to perform. In our own history, one of the issues the settlers had to deal with was what they considered the physical beauty of the natives.
Even Ailith, the female lead, isn’t described as beautiful, her features are said to be too strong for real beauty. Nor is Jalila, but it’s her confidence that sets her apart.
The review, by the way, was generally great…especially the comparison to Tolkien…but not the little bit about ‘of course, the Elves are beautiful’. I took pains to point out that they aren’t, that it’s their self-confidence that makes them appear that way.
I experienced that first hand. Growing up, especially during those years when society starts to push young people into slots, I was labelled a geek. I wore glasses, I did well in school, and I was a little chubby. However, just before my senior year, we found out we were moving to a new town, and I decided to reinvent myself. I put the glasses away and took my chances with my nearsightedness. I started exercising. I took pains with my hair and learned how to apply makeup. It was a different, more confident, me who went to the new town and the new school. I knew I had made it when one of the ‘popular’ boys tried to copy my school work, knowing I did well. I didn’t let him and he backed down. Suddenly, I was one of the popular kids.
The essential me hadn’t changed, but the physical me had, and my confidence in who I was made the difference. It was just perception.
I would see that same thing when I met my husband for the first time. As he walked toward me I could tell he wasn’t worried about impressing me, he was confident but not arrogant – he was just comfortable in his own skin and with who he was. He’s not particularly tall, and although I consider him a good-looking man, some wouldn’t. None of that matters, not to him and not to me.
About that perception thing… When my old cats, my constant companions through a lot of upheavals, died, I found myself missing that companionship. So I went to the animal shelter. They had dozens of beautiful kittens, but none as beautiful to me as this pretty piebald kitten in the very back. She was a cuddler, such a love… and she was in the very back for one reason – she only had one eye. I don’t even notice any more. To me, it didn’t matter. Any more than it mattered for the little stray I found attacking something in a discarded McDonald’s bag. That his jaw was broken and his face was a little flattened wasn’t important. He’s got a great personality. And when he looks up at me there is so much love and trust in his eyes that nothing else matters. What’s truly ugly is the person who did that to him, or who abandoned him.
I wasn’t a big George Clooney fan – although people were always focused on his looks, they did nothing for me, I thought he was a little too self-involved…until he got involved in the situation in Darfur. As did the issues in a couple of his movies. His looks still don’t do anything for me, but he has my respect.
Actions. It’s what you do that matters.
If you want more of The Coming Storm series… Read More »
The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
A Convocation of Kings http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050K6F86
Setting Boundaries http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ7X50
Not Magic Enough http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ44MA
I’ve always found honor and integrity fascinating. The struggle to maintain either in the face of a world – ours or imaginary – that often values neither. That’s where the true conflict lies. All of my characters have to deal with that, but none so much as Elon and Jareth in The Coming Storm. Even Daran High King has his own sense of honor, and holds true to it.
It is Elon and Jareth who struggle with it the most, though. Colath, Elon’s true-friend, faces no such struggle, he simply lives both without question. There are those very rare people who do that.
Elon, though, is more complex. He understands the consequences of his actions and decisions, yet even so he fights to do the right, the honorable thing, on both a grand and a personal level. Despite everything he believes, everything his and the greater society believes, he does what he knows is right, even if there will be consequences,even at the risk of his own life.
For Jareth, honor is more personal, a moment by moment decision he has to make and it’s not always easy for him. He didn’t come from a good background, as we discover in A Convocation of Kings. For him those choices are more complicated.
It’s those decisions and the people who make them that intrigues me and its something many of my characters have to struggle with. The kind of decisions about what’s best, either on a grand scale or a smaller one.
What is it about some men and women that send them running toward danger to help or save others, and not away? That’s what interests me.
It’s not always the big, muscular “hero” types either. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at fit men as much as any other woman, but it’s not always the Alpha males that are so popular in fiction who go charging into the face of danger. Watch the news, many of the cops and firemen you see are just average people – not particularly tall or overwhelmingly muscular, just fit. (Although there are a LOT of pictures of very muscular fireman on FB).
We do have a thing in our society about physical appearance. Most people tend to think that danger comes in the form of disreputable people, which makes TV shows like Dexter believable on an entirely different level than what was intended. Dexter is a serial killer of serial killers, but he’s attractive so he has to be the good guy. The reality is that people like the man who kept three women hostage in Cleveland was that he was so ordinary in real life that no one gave a thought to him. To some extent I have to blame those line-up pictures that the news shows put up…but then again, how many of these people have time to pretty themselves up for that? What they should have shown was a picture of the man his neighbors and friends saw – not the disheveled monster.
We also have glorified the anti-hero, the person who has to be convinced to do the right thing (or the schlub who can barely do anything right).
Yet I look at the firefighters who died in AZ; or the cops, firefighters, and first responders who went up into the Towers, and I know that few of them fit those stereotypes. They did – and many still do – what was right because it was the right thing to do.
Those are the characters in my books…Whether it’s Kyriay in Song of the Fairy Queen, who decides to restore Oryan to his throne when no one would blame her if she took her people into the deep forest and let men fight among themselves. Or Ariel in Lucky Charm, who grabs a two by four when she sees three men beating up a fourth. Or Ky in Heart of the Gods, who risks his life and identity. None of them are boring, all are complex, each makes their decisions for their own reasons, and all of their books will keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat…
The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
Author page http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Douglas/e/B0036POJZI/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 Read More »
Dear readers, especially those who love fantasy,
This coming weekend the Alexandria Publishing Group will have a special for you. Many of our fantasy books will be free then, so if you haven’t gotten all our books on your virtual shelves yet, this weekend will be your opportunity to stock up at a price that can’t be beat.
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Why a rewrite, you might ask? Many would argue that a professional writer – and I consider myself a professional – would never do such a thing, that you should never release a book that isn’t finished. Read More »
Well, I didn’t – insofar as the perfectionist in me would allow. I was happy with A Convocation of Kings, it was a good book . It accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, said the things I wanted to say – that love can conquer all and the hatreds war engenders are never over when the fighting is over, among others.
I remember reading a quote from a famous artist that said that even when the painting is on the wall of a museum he could spot little things he might have done differently.
Another quote says that a work of art is never truly finished, it’s just abandoned – a quote possibly attributed to DaVinci.
I understand both quotations. (and yes, writing is an art.)
But a point has to be reached where you simply have to say – It’s done.
Go to any one of thousands of writer’s groups and you’ll find dozens of people who have been working on the same manuscript for years, endlessly polishing, questioning each word or phrase, critiquing each other’s work, but never submitting a single manuscript. And they probably never will.
I understand that, too, but there is a point where you can actually tweak a story to death, render every sentence sterile and remove any semblance of soul.
You want it to be the best it can be, but sooner or later, you have to let it go.
So I made A Convocation of Kings as good as I could make it, and then let it go.
So again, why the rewrite?
Because, as any artist or writer can tell you, sometimes your mind is wandering and then suddenly this idea pops up out of nowhere. I was working on this completely different project when I had this brainstorm about A Convocation of Kings. Was it anything specific? I don’t really remember. I was just driven to take another look at it. (Ask my husband, I disappeared into my writing room for the better part of three weeks.) I just knew it could be better and how to get it there. So I sat down, started on page one and did an extensive edit, tightening some scenes, making others clearer, expanding on others, deleting one or two that didn’t move the story forward while adding others. New characters popped up and a small character got bigger, to reflect the part of the story that revolved around the main characters.
I’m hardly the first one to have done it. Stephen King released a Complete and Uncut version of The Stand because he wanted to put back in some scenes that had been edited out.
In the past, that wasn’t possible. That may be one of the blessings of being an indie writer, especially of e-books. It’s a new world, a new way of doing things, and we may now have the freedom to make changes on the fly – whether just minor grammar changes or something as extensive as with A Convocation of Kings.
All I know for certain is that when I finished, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. A Convocation of Kings was a good book. I really believe that now it’s a better book.