Posts Tagged ‘storytelling tropes’

So this past week, I watched an anime series that turned out to be pretty bad (I swear, this is related to writing and isn’t another anime-themed post). There were several reasons why it was terrible, but a major reason was that the main character was the reincarnation of a guy who died in our world and was reborn into a fantasy world with most of his knowledge and memories intact.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, anime where characters from our world end up in fantasy worlds are called isekai anime. Because the main character(s) are from our world, that usually plays a large part in their character. The audience can’t watch the show without remembering that this character is from another world and the original world influences their personality and decisions in a hundred different ways.

And this anime…didn’t really do that. Like, the protagonist used some of his scientific knowledge from his previous life to make his magic stronger and invent new devices. But other than that, I often forgot he was from another world. At one point, I found myself thinking, “You know, they’ve already established this guy as a quirky magic genius. They could have written out the isekai element, attributed his knowledge of oxygen and the theory of folding space to his unusual brain, and the show would have one less problem. It wouldn’t be great, but it would have one less problem.”

And that long-winded intro leads into the subject of today’s post. How do you find a story element that’s actually hampering the story rather than improving it? What prevents a writer from creating the sort of pitfalls, be it an unnecessary character or adding an isekai aspect to the story when it serves no purpose? Or if they do, how do they find it and get it out before the story is published?

I had to make a lot of these decisions during the editing of “Rose.”

Well, part of it is experience. Namely, as we become more experienced writers, we get used to figuring out what elements work and what don’t. It’s like a voice in the back of our heads is asking, “Does this work? What does it bring to the story? Would the story suffer if I removed it?” This happened a lot when I was doing major rewrites of Rose. Rose’s fiancĂ© Mark had a slightly larger role in earlier drafts, but during the rewrites, when I was taking the plot in a different direction, I realized that Mark couldn’t fulfill that role anymore. He still had a part to play, but the part he’d played previously made no sense in the new direction. If I kept it, it would have not served the story. Thus, Mark’s role was reduced to what it is in Rose now.

Something similar happened while writing The Pure World Comes, but that will have to wait till it’s published.

But if you do miss something, that’s where beta readers and editors come in (and why it’s important to use them before you try submitting/publishing a story). Back to Rose, while I was rewriting the book, my publisher recommended I cut out the flashbacks, which were about a third of the book. I was confused and a little upset, as I was very proud of those scenes. However, I realized that flashbacks need to connect to the main events of the story. And while the flashbacks did explain plenty about Rose‘s character in earlier drafts, it didn’t connect much to the current events, so I nixed them and started rewriting.

See? Editors and beta readers do help.

But what if you really like an element in a story and there’s a strong indication you need to nix it? Well, then you have a choice to make as the creator. In the case of the anime I mentioned, the creator, if confronted with this choice, could have either made the fact that the protagonist was from another world more essential to his character or the plot. Or, like I suggested, he could have nixed it.

You may not like it, but sometimes you have to throw out problematic elements if you can’t find a way to make them work. Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

And that’s what it often boils down to. Authors can either cultivate those elements so that they actually matter and don’t bring down the story, or they can “kill their darlings” and nix the elements. This can be hard to do, as we may love those elements as much as we love the very stories we write.* However, it’s a decision we eventually have to make with our stories if we want to not only continue with these stories, but share them with as many people as possible.

No author likes to hear that they need to nix something from their story because it adds nothing or brings the story down. However, it’s important to hear and learn to deal with them, as in the end, it helps to improve the story and maybe even get it into the hands of many readers. And besides, it’s better than having a lot of people complaining about the problem elements after release, right?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have a busy week ahead of me, but I’ll be back before too long. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and if you’re looking for a good isekai anime, let me know. I have recommendations.

*Though I think the creator of the source material for the anime, he did it because isekai stories are hot right now, to the point that they’re inundating the market. It’s a problem we anime fans both joke and groan about.

My friend Kat Impossible over on Life and Other Disasters did her rendition of this tag, and it looked fun. So, let’s pretend it’s Halloween year-round and answer some spooky questions about a WIP (as well as general questions on writing)! And since last time I did Toyland, I think this time around I’ll talk about The Pure World Comes, my Victorian Gothic novel that I wrote earlier this year.

But I’m going to need a blurb first. Hmm…how about this:

Shirley Dobbins has very few wants in life: to be able to become the head housekeeper of a great house someday; to not think on her life before she started working; and to earn a reputation as a reliable maid. So when she is hired by the enigmatic baronet and scientist Sir Joseph Hunting to work at his estate after the sudden death of her employers, she can’t believe her luck.
However, things at the “Hunting Lodge,” as Sir Joseph’s home is known, are far from the ideal position she hoped for. Not only is there barely any staff at the crumbling mansion, but terrifying visions oppress those within at random moments. Those Shirley sees bear resemblances to her past. As she becomes more wrapped in the secrets of Hunting Lodge and Sir Joseph’s scientific work, she unearths a terrible threat not only after her life, but the lives of all those around her.

How’s that? Intriguing enough? Anyway, onto the questions.

GHOST: Have you ever originally put a character/scene/theme in the book and then later taken it out?

  • Character – Yes
  • Scene – kind of
  • Theme – No

I originally had this character, the eldest son of an up-and-coming merchant family, whom Shirley would have feelings for despite her practical, no-nonsense self. However, when I finally started plotting this story, I couldn’t find a place for him in the story, so I axed him out. His disappearance from the story led to some scenes that I’d originally had in mind being axed as well, but I wasn’t that fond of them to begin with, so it worked out.

BAT: Most misunderstood character in your WIP?

I had a bit of a debate on this, considering that we see things through Shirley’s eyes and once she sees someone a certain way, it can take a while for her to see them in a different light. But then I remembered that Sir Joseph Hunting is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood character. He’s not a fan of normal Victorian pastimes or conventions, and he’s squandered his family fortune in pursuit of his scientific research. And Victorians, particularly those of the noble and almost-noble classes, placed a lot of emphasis on appearances, so Sir Joseph’s anathema to them.
It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a jerk.
That being said, once you get to know him a bit, he’s actually a very sympathetic character. You also see why he devotes himself to his research, and maybe even believe in what he’s doing. If that’s not misunderstood, I don’t know what is.

JACK-O-LANTERN: What is your most common source of inspiration to write?

Is it a law that writers get asked that question at least several times in their careers?
The obvious answer is everything. Stories I’ve read, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, subjects I’ve researched. All these and more combine in my weird head to create stories for me. Some of them are even good and border on original. Those are the ones I try to write into something worth reading.

ZOMBIE: What is your preferred form of writerly fuel? Coffee, tea, etc.

Tea most of the time, though if it’s early in the day, I may have a diet soda. On weekends or certain occasions, I may have something alcoholic, but I’m not able to write as well as I would like when even a little buzzed, so I avoid it.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

VAMPIRE: Cheesiest trope that made it into your novel?

Okay, you know that trope where two people who don’t like each other spend more and more time together and then they fall in love? It was really popular in movies and a few TV shows back in the 1990s? I may have included that one in this story, though I tried to put an original spin on it.
I’ll leave it for the critics to tell me if I succeeded.

Yeah, the trope from 10 Things I Hate About You. I used a version of it. Hopefully I used it well.

SPIDER: What’s a character in your WIP that’s fine from afar, but you would NOT want to interact with if they ever got close?

I’ve mentioned before that I worked my theory of who Jack the Ripper really is into this story. Well, that’d be my answer. And I’m not saying any more on that until this book comes out!

Famous illustration of Jack the Ripper from Punch Magazine. He figures into my story, but not in a way you might expect.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Ever split one character into two/combine two characters into one?

Maybe? I can’t recall! I’ve written so many characters over the years, I’ve kind of lost track.

SKELETON: Best advice for adding character baggage without info-dumping?

Ooh, that’s a tough one, especially because it’s a tough subject. I try to spread my characters’ baggage and backstories throughout the story. Think of it like walking on a path, and you find puzzle pieces every now and then. Some are big, some are small, but they fit together perfectly. As you gather the pieces, a picture starts to form. And somewhere along the way, all the pieces come together to form a full picture. That’s how I try to spread character baggage and backstory.
That being said, sometimes I drop very big pieces sometimes if the story calls for it. Not ideal, but it’s necessary. And when that happens, if I’m able to, I at least try to just drop a big chunk here and there, rather than just a whole picture. That way, the information is palatable, rather than an info-dump.

CAT: What’s a polarizing writing/book-related opinion you have?

Why cats? Most of the writers I know are cat people! Often their cats are as sweet as their owners! I plan to get cats as soon as I have a bigger space. Preferably a three-bedroom house with a nice front and backyard and an attached garage.
Never mind. I don’t really have any opinions like that. At least, I don’t think I do. I could tell you about some books I didn’t care for, but they’re the kind of books either people like or they don’t. Sorry I don’t have a scandalous answer. You’d get a better answer with my controversial movie opinion, so I’ll tell you that: I enjoyed The Last Jedi, problems and all. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

DEMON: Most frequent writing distraction?

Anime and TV shows. Once I get started on a binge, it’s hard to stop. Either that or my cell phone.


Well, what did you think of my answers? Do you want to read The Pure World Comes now? Let’s discuss.

Now for this tag, tagging isn’t necessary. So if you want to do it, all the power to you. I hope you have fun and make sure to link back to me so I can read it.

That’s all for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be casting magic to save this country. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?