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Trope Avoidance

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Incanus, Jun 4, 2015.

  1. MapHatter

    MapHatter Dreamer

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    It's a dangerous thing to think of things as 'tropes', or 'clichés', since it forces you to limit your imagination. There are elements that appear throughout fantasy, to the point that they maybe come across as contrived, or unoriginal. 'The orphan' comes to mind, or 'the chosen one', or 'the magical sword.' These are done to death, but there's no reason you can't employ the same things in your own work if you can only find a way to handle it deftly, gracefully and with some element that makes it unique to you.

    I've not read ASoIaF, but I've watched Game of Thrones. Jon Snow is all of the above; he is an orphan, he would appear to be 'the chosen one', and he is wielding a sword that appears to be uniquely capable of slaughering the White Walkers, (which to my mind classifies it as 'a magical sword.') I don't know how true to the books this is, but I'm assuming these elements in particular, remain largely accurate. (If not, my example falls apart, but there are others out there, to be considered).

    The point is, I suppose, don't limit yourself by thinking of anything as a trope or a cliché. If something works within the context of your story, and you can make it unique to your story, then full steam ahead...
     
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  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Ok, now here's the problem that I'm worried about: to some people, originality is sometimes treated as a very major factor of a work's quality. These people may look at something like Game of Thrones or whatever and say "oh, an orphan chosen one with a magical sword? Seen it! Forget this story. It's probably a rip-off of [insert heroic fantasy here]". I mean, don't pretend like you haven't acted this way to some piece of fiction: dismissing it because it shares some superficial similarities to another work.
    I think that's the real danger of tropes: dumb readers wanting to avoid them altogether.

    Of course, that's if you care about what potential readers think.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2015
  3. MapHatter

    MapHatter Dreamer

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    There is plenty of fiction out there in which the originality does act as a mark of quality. I'm inclined to think of things like the Name of the Wind. It might not be the most original story in the world, but it's told in a suitably unique manner, in such a way that any tropes and clichés didn't even make themselves known to me. I was entranced from start to finish.

    Then I think of books like Magician, and any of Raymond E. Feist's books over the last 5 years or so. They're so contrived, so sloppy, so predictable, that you can't help but notice every time a cliché appears on the page.

    If I was to read on the back of a book 'orphan chosen one finds a magical sword, slays evil villain, saves the world and the damsel in distress,' I would not only put the book down, I would find a way to hide it behind the shelves, or behind other books. But it's such a minor part of ASoIaF, one subplot amongst dozens and dozens of subplots. If it's not the focus of the story, if there's more to it, if the tropes and clichés are buried beneath original, creative thought, then there's no reason they can't serve the greater good.

    Of course, in certain other genres, namely YA, tropes and cliches seem almost to have become a fundamental aspect of storytelling. Or so it would seem based on the blurps I read on Goodreads.
     
  4. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    A lot of us are telling a very similar story at times, as far as the main themes and types of fantasy elements we include, it's just a matter of writing a good story and doing something a little different with what we put into our tale.

    A whole lot of plots have been written over and over throughout the years, it's the talent of the storyteller that makes them interesting.
     
  5. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Wow, I did not think this would be a devil's advocate kind of position, but can we also talk about why it might be a good idea to avoid cliches and overused tropes? I think we can all agree that cliches can be done well, and there's a hundred examples to prove it. But I think cliches can be and often are relied upon too much, particularly by still-amateur writers like most of us are.

    An author can expect tropes to do their work for them--take a look at the many book blurbs that go along the lines of Dragons! Quest for Shiny Thing! Big Evil! without a hint of character struggle or subtler conflict. Or they might think they have to include something, like powerful and complicated magic systems or political plots, because "that's what fantasy novels have" even though it's not their strong suit, and their lack of enthusiasm shows through.

    Imitation can create wonderful offshoots, but I do think that we've all been in that place where we came into a story with a preconceived image of how it ought to go, without listening to the little voice of what you actually enjoy writing and what kind of a story you could really make your own--and maybe that doesn't involve a lot of battles or high magic or romantic sub-plots or gritty anti-heroes, or whatever it is you think good fantasy novels have to have. I know that when I first started writing, my stories suffered from Even I'm Starting to Hate my Special Chosen One and My Characters Are Wandering the Countryside Out of a Sense of Obligation, or whatever the corresponding tropes are.

    Most of us right now have waded out of the Primordial Soup of Tropes and into the stories that we, particularly, want to tell, but chances are there are still some things we cling to that could be let go, for the benefit of our writing? I dunno. Thing is, if someone told me that something in my writing was cliched, I would find that valuable. (If it was a valid point and this wasn't a person whose only insight on anything is to call it derivative of their favorite movie/show/franchise...ya know.). Because that tells me that element doesn't feel like it needs to be part of the world, that it hasn't been made unique, real, or fun enough, and the bones of the trope are showing through. And any place that I've just stuck something familiar and said "Good enough." is bound to be a weak spot in the story.
     
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  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    The thing is that avoiding tropes or subverting tropes is basically just placing the blame for poor writing on the tropes themselves rather than on the writer who couldn't use a time tested element of storytelling successfully. It leads to writers thinking there's something inherently wrong with certain storytelling elements, which is NEVER true. There are storytelling elements that don't appeal to some people, but that doesn't make them bad or wrong. The most that can be said is that some people don't like some things. Too many writers as it is come into writing with a subconscious assumption that the things they don't like are bad. And thus they tend to have the opposite subconscious assumption that the things they like are good. This type of thinking is much more dangerous to a budding writer than any amount of tropes. This is the kind of thinking that leads to lazy writing.

    If you or any other writer can't write a trope effectively, IT IS NOT THE TROPE'S FAULT. It is the writer's fault.
     
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  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    @Mythopoet: I 90% agree. As an example of the 10%, nothing I've read has ever sold me on Rescue Sex. (Though I did like a story where the "hero" won't take no for an answer and the damsel has to kill him in self-defense.)
     
  8. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I don't think a single person here is arguing that there's a cliche that is wholly bad and unusable. (Even the awful sexist and racist ones can be turned around to make a point.)

    And I think we both want writers handling things well--it's just that I think part of that is writers thinking deeply about the ideas they're using and why they're using them. Not everyone can write everything well--very few can, in fact. So we're better off separating what we want to write from what we feel obligated to write by High Fantasy.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, I wouldn't define every single entry on TvTropes as an actual "trope" as in convention or motif. A LOT of them are just "things that we've noticed in several pieces of media". Considering how much media exists in the world, recurrence is NOT, in my opinion, enough to make something a "trope". A trope has to have built in meaning and significance for its target audience. (I don't think "Rescue Sex" has that in a storytelling sense.) That's what makes tropes valuable. You either use them for their built in meaning, or you riff on them for thematic purposes.
     
  10. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Let's say you're browsing the library for a book and you come across two books, each by an author you're not familiar with and each, at a glance, having very similar writing styles. Now let's say one of the books is titled 'The Dragon's Destiny' or some bullshit like that, and from the blurb you can gather that it's about a farm boy who turns out to be a chosen one and must topple an evil empire with the help of a magical sword. Now let's say the other book is called, I dunno, 'The Panda's House of Tarot Cards' (don't ask), and the blurb describes a story in which a sentient panda is a mafia boss in a city-state under siege having to pull all the strings to keep his organisation afloat while an army of lightning-wielding knights besieges the city. I don't know about you, but I know which book I'd be picking up.

    To sum up, originality serves to distinguish between authors equally matched in other regards. People want good things and they also want new and exciting things. Your 'chosen one' story could be amazingly crafted, but how's someone going to tell if they walk right past your book because they've read a hundred 'chosen one' stories already?

    That, I think, is the key usefulness of being original: you stand out.
     
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Honestly, assuming these are the only two choices and all other things being equal, I'd choose the Dragon's Destiny one. I have zero interest in a Panda mob boss. It may not be the best book I've ever read, but it would probably be a safe bet for a fairly entertaining read.

    And there are thousands of people who would much rather read the "cliched" one as well, for a couple of reasons. First, that may just be the kind of stuff they like. Just because you think "The Chosen One" is a cliche that has seen its day doesn't mean all readers feel that way. Lots of people love that trope. And yes, they love it over and over again in fresh and different ways. You're confusing your own tastes with objective quality. Second, they may be a reader new to the fantasy genre who is unfamiliar with all the "Chosen One" stories that have come before. This may be one of the first ones they see and it may spark their imagination. There are new readers coming into the genre ALL THE TIME. Either older readers who just never tried fantasy before, or new generations growing up into it for the first time. Nothing is cliche to them because they don't have the experience. It means nothing to a new fantasy reader that 10,000 Chosen One stories have been published before if they haven't read those stories.
     
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  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I would absolutely grab the chosen one book. Just sayin...
     
  13. Wait, I think you addressed something important. There seems to be a dichotomy between a trope and a "trope." And for me, since I am an idiot, this is new information. Other than what you provided here, is there something more about the technical definition of a trope one should be aware of?
     
  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Yes. More please!
     
  15. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Okay, I'm still a little puzzled by the one-sidedness of this argument. Ignoring the idea of anything being universally good or bad, nobody else thinks that it's a good idea to examine your own writing through the lens of tropes, and see if you can find areas of laziness or under-thinking? Even when so much bad writing sprouts in reoccurring patterns from cliches--the Mary Sue from the Chosen One, the hollow, cartoonish villain from the Dark Lord? For every great farmboy hero tale, there's a hundred mediocre ones that have fallen through the cracks. And I really think it's important to understand the ways that tropes can fall flat in order to write them well. Simply saying "All tropes can be done well!" doesn't really help us understand how to do that, and how to avoid doing them poorly.
     
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  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I honestly don't think it's a good idea. I even think it's a bad idea and an idea that will not make you a better writer. All tropes fall flat with some people and not with others. It's totally subjective. Treating subjective things objectively will not make you a better writer.
     
  17. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    The point is you need to examine why these tropes do fall flat when they do. Sometimes you might find that it goes a bit deeper than just shoddy writing, that perhaps there is an inherent flaw with the trope that only skilled writers are able to avoid. It's not about 'tropes: yes or no', it's about examination of tropes and consideration placed on each individual one's value and/or flaws.
     
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    And going back to this... the thing is, as I said, a "trope" is NOT just something that's been done a lot or found commonly in stories. A trope is something that has a certain meaning or significance that is part of it. Thus when a trope is used, it automatically carries that meaning or significance on to the reader. That's WHY tropes are used. Using one is not lazy, as some people think. It's just one kind of tool for communicating with the reader in storytelling. Thus any approach that says "Tropes should be avoided!!!" is essentially taking a very useful tool, that has been used by storytellers since the dawn of storytelling, and throwing it away. There's no good reason to do that.

    It's fine to say, "I don't like this particular trope, I don't like the meaning it conveys" or "this particular trope just doesn't feel meaningful to me in the way it does to others" and thus decide to personally avoid a particular trope that is not useful to you. But to look at ALL tropes as something all writers should only touch with a 10 foot pole is ridiculous. It's denying the thousands of years of storytelling culture that is the foundation of EVERYTHING we write, whether we like it or not. And often enough, by turning your back on that foundation, you're more likely to be less original than if you had embraced it and interpreted it through your own voice.
     
  19. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Absolutely no one is saying we should do this. I'm not certain how to reply to you, since you seem to be arguing with opinions found somewhere other than this thread.
     
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Tropes are tricky. Fantasy, like romance, can become forumalic, and I find it hard to see how that can be considered a good thing. Overuse of tropes, or tropes taking on too many central roles can make the work formulaic, derivative or repetitive, all bad outcomes. Might as well do fan fic :D

    I think Tropes can be done well, as long as you minimize their use, use them properly, and usually either do them with tongue in cheek or with appropriate reverence as a homage. But I think there is value in being self aware enough of your writing to know that they are they, and realize they can cripple your work if handled poorly.

    But your book can have too many, and quite often they are done poorly.

    I plan to keep a copy of Tough Guide To Fantasyland beside my desk.
     
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