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Author Topic: Fighting the tropes
Member # 9151

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I was going to put this just as commentary under novel support, but I feel it is relevant for discussion.

When I wrote my first book I was really happy. I felt I had something to say. Something to say about things we all take for granted and I infused that into my writing, just like I use to infuse it into my art.

But I find myself wrestling with my own demons as I reach for the concept of a new book. The battle between new concept and old tropes has never been fiercer within me. I find myself coming back to that age old question of substance over money.

You can say a lot of bad about tropes, yet time and time again they make money. The question becomes, can you break the norm and still have some measure of success

I have been reading Will Kostakis, the sidekicks, and have found it an interesting take on the dead popular kid trope. You know, the kid that affects everyone's lives even after they are gone.

This got me thinking about whether tropes can actually be broken, or if they are just so ingrained in us that we rarely find certain aspects of life unfulfilling to watch or read.

Look at the pretty heroine trope, or should I say, the girl who has to be forced to realize she pretty trope. Would a reader be happy if that character was just plain because plain in movies and books is still pretty, but I would say just more humble.

There's a lot of push for feminism for writers to break the mold. Other words: Princess saves herself or saves the prince/kingdom/etc. but when I come back to that inner question of do I have something meaningful to say about the new trope of princess saves the world. I find I put a lot of it already in my first book with two strong female protags.

I digress. Take for instance the uproar over Rowling breaking the trope of Harry/Hermione falling in love. So much pressure Rowling caved and said Hermione should have been with Harry, not Ron. Or why she had to wait to tell everyone Dumbledore was gay after everything was said and done. It makes a strong case that tropes can't be broken.

It's even crazier to think so many new female authors have gained popularity by putting a feminist spin on age-old fairy tales. It's so ironic that the real versions of these tales already went through a change for happy endings. The Grimm's original version didn't sell until it was remade with happy endings.

I have just found myself a little lost on finding something worth saying. Finding some sort of balance between the tropes and current movements. I could just use Campbell's hero of a thousand faces formula to write something but I've decided to wait and ponder.

Your thoughts?


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A writer's Rubicon donnybrook, what does a creative writer have meaningful to say that's fresh and lively? First, most of publication culture uses the term "trope" and academics' "literary trope" for diluted definitions to mean any theme or motif, anything, really, event, setting, and character feature types. Trope, "1a: "a word or expression used in a figurative sense: FIGURE OF SPEECH b: a common or overused theme or device : CLICHE <the usual horror movie tropes>" (Webster's).

Topos is the more precise and neutral term, an alternative one, at least, for the sake of clearer, stronger meaning understanding: "a traditional or conventional literary or rhetorical theme or topic", "plural topoi", "Greek, short for koinos topos, literally, common place" (Webster's). "Common place" may be taken one of two ways or both: as ordinary, usual, mundane, to mean real world, earthly realms, as opposed to the metaphysical aerie's spiritual and paranormal realms; or the rhetorical scheme, "Commonplace is 'a composition which amplifies inherent evils' (originally described as an amplification of either a virtue or vice, but in practice more the latter)." (Silva Rhetoricae)

There, that last, is a satisfaction for what ails the topoi Rubicon donnybrooked writer -- "amplifies inherent evils," especially vice. Any tangible action may be of numerous publication debuts and across time and space ever more numerous and superficial anyway. The stronger fresh and lively, vivid practice is to perceive the dramatic contest as more so moral movement than physical movement. Cross the Rubicon into satire's moral self-error and folly revelations about the human condition -- that's how to break "tropes" appealingly.

Pretty girl who humbly refuses physical attractiveness's popularity? Does beauty really only run skin deep and ugliness all the way to the bone? Or does a sublime harmony of moral and physical beauty, truth, and goodness transcend even the self?

She refuses the vice of pride's vanity. What, she refuses pride's temptations three times? To what outcome end? Why does she refuse? Does she acquiesce? Does she persevere, even prevail? Does she humbly come to a compromise acceptance of her attractiveness for good or ill or both? Does she morally mature or decline at the cost of lost innocence? is the relevant, if intangible, action's dramatic movement.

Likewise the dead popular kid topos. What is that about, really and truly? Only the good die young? Note that moral maxims are a satire forte and as well Grimms', albeit of a patriarchal bent. Or does a deeper relevance present? That the human condition is subject to random catastrophe? Why? No poetic justice of good rewarded and wickedness punished? That's a Naturalism premise (see Webster's).

Answer dramatically why, say, that without wickedness rewarded and good punished and random catastrophes that happen to righteous persons, too, free will would be mere buzz words; life and outcome predetermined, in other words. Then, otherwise, all righteous persons would be assured of reward and all wicked persons would be guaranteed punishments, in this life anyway -- no free will, the proverbial Original Sin. The reality, though, is some from column A and some from Column B, and never absolute certainty of reward or punishment for good or wickedness from either's or both's heavier weight.

Or, the dead popular kid's real life is uncovered and he is found to be fake, he actually died because he secretly peddled contraband and mayhem. Or, ad infinitum, moral tableaus.

Why, too, should Potter and Granger have wed? They are, after all, in protagonist and deuteragonist positions. Ron Weasley is a triagonist. Audience expectations aside, psychic projections, really, that are to be expected, from a morals standpoint, they are matrimony eligible, though a more familial-type brother-sister, siblings, even son-mother, -like relationship evolved. Granger substituted for Potter's lost mother figure and Granger and Ron as siblings never to be of his departed mother and father. Potter and Granger remain content within the friend zone, part due to real and irrational incest taboos. No such bar for Granger and Ron nor Potter and Ginny, though.

New Feminism portrays the unique lives of women, no more, no less. Placement of pretty females into traditional male roles often misses the mark. They act the masculine part and express nothing else about the human condition, nor the feminine human condition. What could be said about it or the other or both? Are we all, indeed, created equal? Accident of birth defines social roles, biologically, reproductively different, not much else -- though elitist patriarchal traditionalists would deny womankind's male equivalences. What then could be said about both and more positions related to moral imperatives, not biological imperatives, per se? Masculism is feminism's congruent opposite, by the way.

What does Campbell's Hero's Journey really say, not about the physical-spatial movement, about the moral movement -- the human condition? A hero is a persona who sacrifices the self for the benefit of the common good, no more, no less, and morally matures of declines or both for the contest's dramatic movement.

A moral contest, though intangible, congruent to a physical contest's tangibleness, transcends an often repeated topos' lack of fresh and lively, vivid luster. A self discovers a moral truth; private-unique and public-familiar consequences thereof transpire, for good or ill or both, is transformative, not morally static, at great personal effort and cost.

[ May 16, 2017, 12:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Something becomes a cliche or trope because it's successful and everyone copies it. Only writers and critics agonise about such things.

These things are successful because they speak to some essential part within us that defines us as human.

The real trick is to twist the trope or cliche elements into something new yet familiar.


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I have to agree with Grumpy's assessment of this. Tropes exist because they push some deep, psychological button in our human brains. The casual reader (which makes up most of the purchasing audience) doesn't give two beans about whether or not a book is employing a trope that's been done a million times over. In fact, some consumers actively seek out a trope because they love it so much (I'm thinking vampires as I'm typing this). There are folks who enjoy a new spin on an old trope and there are folks who will get upset if an author doesn't stick to the script, so to speak. Write for yourself first. Don't worry about the audience and whether people are going to point the finger and give you the bodysnatcher's scream about having fallen into a trope trap. It's all cyclic anyway.
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Vampire genre exemplifies distinctions and overlaps between topos and trope. The topos is that the type is a traditional-conventional literary theme or topic; the trope is what vampire "figuratively" represents related to the human condition.

The vampire trope is an extended figure of speech, an extended metaphor, actually, for social elitism. The trope in that on-script sense has three iterations so far, the Bram Stoker idle aristocrat era type, Anne Rice's empathetic old money era type, and Stephenie Meyer's sympathetic social guardians and love interest era type.

The vampire topos, as it were, is a stalwart literary theme of an individual and society, or often otherwise declared as man versus society, a misrepresentation of the full social contest's many-sided complications. The device, as it were, is common, too, for fantastical fiction; that is, a non-one-to-one correspondence between a device's figurative and actual senses. The device there is a figurative feature made manifest, as real within a narrative's milieu, though not real, is impossible or improbable in real life.

The shortfall of a topos-trope imitation and repetition is derivative dilution of its congruent figurative representation, its metaphorical representation of a human moral condition. The artful and dramatic ideal, though, for fresh and lively, vivid expression is re-imagination of an extant topos and attendant trope. What, say, might be a next era for vampire genre that remains true to the social elitism convention? Yes, that speaks to the human psyche, superliminally, liminally, or subliminally, respectively, consciously, subconsciously, or nonconsciously? The latter, more often than not, for fantastical fiction.

Or re-imagination for any of fantastical fiction's topoi and tropes? Or what, something new under the Sun or Moon or darkest night or vacuum void? Look to current events, society, culture, technology, and science for novel inspiration: what most complicates life for the self and private and public society. "Complicates" to mean private and public want-problem wanting satisfaction motivations.

[ May 16, 2017, 12:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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The thing that occurred to me about vampires is it's really an exploration of narcissism. Their lives are more important than anyone elses, so there isn't anything wrong with culling people. The irony is: vampires have no reflection; Narcissis cannot gaze adoringly upon himself.


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