Monday, July 18, 2011

Tropes, clichés and “isms”

We’ve all read them. We’ve likely all rolled our eyes as we came across them reading our favourite genre. As authors, budding or otherwise published, we’ve all strived to avoid them, or at least keep them to a minimum. I’m talking about the dreaded tropes, clichés and whatever “isms” seem to keep being attached and labelled to it. In the science fiction and fantasy genre, we seem to be rife with them; at the very least accused of using such a heinous “crutch.”

I recently re-read some of my older books, novels published back in the 80’s and 90’s. Most were fantasy, some sci-fi and what would now be termed urban fiction. What I found were a series of tropes and clichés that by current standards likely would not see publication. Then I look at the names and the dates of publication: Terry Brooks, David Eddings, among others, all with lists of publications I can only dream of accomplishing. Many of them are what I’d label as some of the great builders of the genre, after Tolkein of course. In the end, I remember enjoying them immensely.

So I asked myself the following: “What is the great mystery to the reactions about these dreaded tropes? Should I avoid them at all costs? Can I make something of them truly unique and transform a negative into a positive?”

I quickly realized how quickly down a rabbit hole these questions were leading. My initial response was “Just write whatever the heck I want,” so long as I kept it realistic; keep it within the margins I had set about writing within. I’m sure I’ve avoided the pitfalls of some of the more groan-worthy clichés out there. Have I chanced upon some of the tropes? No doubt. At a quick glance, I doubt a story could ever be written without delving into some tropes here and there.

As a story based in a Japanese-esque society, complete with a bushido system that underlies human culture and interactions, it includes the laundry list of races normally found in epic fantasy. Humans of various cultural backgrounds, Elves, orcs, goblins, dwarves, the list goes on. Already I’ve launched into three or four tropes. I’m also guilty of initially throwing those dreaded apostrophes into Elven names, something I’ve had to go back and edit out.

Are there things that make the setting unique? Surely, though macro-level world building aside, it’s the story that will see any WIP published. The differences I put into place to drive away from the “dreaded trope” may have some play in how things develop from a publishing standpoint, likely not nearly as much as I initially feared.

In the end, I write because I enjoy the story I have to tell. If I ever luck out and get an agent willing to work with the manuscripts to make them better, I’ll just count my lucky stars, not the number of tropes I can find.

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