Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bending Tropes

I mentioned, way back in my post on narrative kinks, that I liked it when tropes are bent or broken. I thought I'd discuss that today in more depth.

A trope is a convention of a genre. It skirts the edge of cliché, though sometimes it tips over into the realm of cliché through overuse, or misuse.

Two examples that come to mind are of romance tropes. The alpha male trope is where the male lead is someone any woman would want for herself. He's strong, he's confident, he's quite handsome, usually rich, and it's apparent from page one that the heroine wants him. The conflict comes in because there's something else standing in their way, or she's just too willful to give in.

In response, another trope has risen up, that of the beta male. The best examples I've read lately of the beta male trope are Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerds series. The male leads are lovable and squishy and generally in touch with their feelings, but they lack confidence, and tend to get overlooked. The main conflict getting in the way of their romantic success is that they don't believe that the awesome women they're in love with could possibly want them.

Another romance trope is that of the happily ever after, or happy for now. By the end of a romance novel, your perspective character is glad to be attached to a partner. Some romance novels imply a marriage in the near future, while some indicate this is a temporary arrangement, good while it lasts. The happily ever after is one of the tropes that defines a romance novel, and, as such, isn't bent within the genre. I play with it in my trilogy, but the trilogy isn't romance.

In order to bend a trope, you first have to know what it is. Some studying of the TV Tropes wiki (warning, link can keep you distracted for HOURS if you're not paying attention) can highlight some tropes, or you can just pick out patterns within your chosen genre. Usually, you'll notice it because it irritates you. The epic fantasy parody I've been mentally plotting for ages came about as a response to the multi-volume doorstoppers I was tired of dragging my way through, though I have since identified several other tropes I want to poke at, along the way.

Once you've identified the trope, you want to make sure someone else didn't beat you to your chosen method of bending it. Vampires that don't kill people is taken, and most "evil" monsters have gotten a chance to show they're just misunderstood. That doesn't mean you can't do it in the same way, but it does mean that your idea isn't stunningly original. If you want to bend the trope the same way someone already has, you'll have to study how they did it, and at least address what that writer established. And don't expect your reader to be impressed with you for coming up with something another writer did.

From there, you'll have to figure out how far you want to take it. You can exaggerate a trope to comedic effect, or you can hang a lampshade on it. That means you call attention to it to show how silly it is. You can contradict a trope, or just alter it slightly.

The beautiful part about trope-bending is, if you've been irritated about a trope, probably your potential readers are, too. You have a built-in audience, there. You just have to tap it.

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