Posts Tagged ‘tropes’

Lately I’ve been pondering something. Well actually, I’ve been pondering a lot of things, including how kissing is treated in different genre fictions and if swallowing the prize in a cereal box makes you a specially marked package (I ponder a lot of things, some of which are strange and some of which may appear in future blog posts), but this one thing in particular I’d like to explore. In a YouTube video I watched recently, the host of the video pointed out that a lot of movies start out with a protagonist walking in on their spouse having an affair, and how that is supposed to start a journey of transformation. This actually caused me to have an epiphany: a lot of fiction–not just movies–revolve around, or start off with characters being in, being caught, or thinking about having an adulterous relationship.

Like, a lot. A whole lot. Like if it’s not a main focus, then there’s a good chance an adulterous relationship will show up in a story at some point or another. I can think of four Stephen King stories that involve affairs as major plot points. One of the most popular TV shows out right now has an affair as a major plot point (*cough* Scandal *cough*). The novel Gone Girl, one of the most compelling mystery/thrillers of the past decade, has an affair as its catalyst. Adultery is freaking everywhere you read/view/listen!

So this got me thinking on three points. First, why do affairs show up so much in fiction? Second, is this a good trope, or a trope that should be done less? Perhaps even phased out? And third, how often do adulterous relationships appear in my own fiction?

Well, that first point is rather obvious (unfortunately). Adulterous relationships show up so much in fiction because they happen so much in real life (unfortunately). Of course, affairs have happened since the beginning of monogamy, but I’m not so sure they were discussed as openly as they are these days. Affairs were considered vulgar things, so the only places they were really talked about were places where it was okay to discuss that sort of thing: bars, raunchy plays (William Shakespeare was actually considered a very dirty and lowbrow for his time), and the occasional dirty poem (yes, those did exist). In polite society, they were only quietly discussed, and that kind of reflected how often adultery was discussed in fiction, and how it was treated when it was brought up.

Scandal, which revolves around an adulterous relationship (still love you, Olivia).

Nowadays though, for whatever reason, we’re a lot more comfortable discussing adultery. In fact, rather than being something discussed in hushed whispers, adultery can be a major and accepted talking point. When a celebrity or a politician, especially one who preaches family values, is caught having an affair, it gets discussed ad nauseum in checkout lines and on national TV. Websites that facilitate adultery are at the center of major scandals, and advice columns around the world regularly feature letters from people who had discovered their lover has a side lover. There are even people who think that having an affair is healthy, natural, or no big deal. It’s a thing, and it’s pervasive (unfortunately).

And as fiction tends to reflect the real world up to a certain extent–last I checked, there aren’t any real exiled queens with dragons calling her “Mother”– it makes sense that adultery would show up in a lot of fiction.

So that answers the first question. What about the second question? Is the adultery trope a good one, or is it overused to the point that we might want to use it less?

Well, that’s a tricky one. Affairs are so common (unfortunately) that it would seem weird to take them out of all fiction. It’s like war or murder; they’ve happened, and they will continue to happen, so you might as well base a story or two around them. Like it or not, adultery is a part of everyday life, so it will show up in fiction.

I think the thing to keep in mind is just to avoid certain clichés with adultery. Any mystery writer will tell you that the lover killing the victim over jealousy or an affair has been done to death (pun intended), so perhaps one should avoid using that cliché, or find a way to use it so that it actually comes as a surprise rather than being expected, like in Gone Girl. Another cliché to avoid is how finding out your lover had an affair is a signal to go on a journey of self-discovery, or to try something new and exciting. Like I said above, the cliché has been done quite a bit, and it really doesn’t make sense. Affairs can change lives, but I don’t think they are one of those events that suddenly change how you look at life or at yourself. A near death experience, or the realization that you become everything you didn’t want to be, maybe. But walking in on your spouse? I think that’s a more likely to cause a shouting match. Maybe an alcohol binge or a murder, but probably not a journey of self-discovery.

And while we’re on the subject, nearly all the affairs in that cliché I mentioned involve the wife or the girlfriend doing the cheating, which is odd because most affairs involve the husband or boyfriend. That’s not some anti-male sexism, that’s just statistics. We could balance it out a little more.

I guess the answer I’ve come to is that if you’re going to have an affair in your story, and it’s going to be a major plot points, make sure it’s not subject to tiresome clichés we’ve seen a thousand times.

And now to my final point how much does adultery show up in my own fiction? And yes, I have to make this a major point of this post. This is my blog about my writing, and all authors who share their work with others are a little narcissistic, including me. Can you blame me?

Surprisingly, not that much. I’ve thought about a number of stories I’ve written since I was ten years old, and of those, adultery shows up in maybe three or four. Only to really come to mind. One was a vampire novel I wrote in high school that was really me exploring my own sexuality before I was aware of it (see this post for more details), and the other was a recent short story. In the latter example, I only spent about a paragraph on the affair. It serves as one of the reasons why another character commits a double murder, but it’s far from the main focus, which is actually the environment of the characters. I actually have plenty of story ideas that involve adultery, but I haven’t gotten around to writing them, and they are a minority among all the other stories I’ve come up with but have been written yet.

Whether we like it or not, adultery will continue to appear in fiction for a long time to come.

I think this might be because adultery is just not an issue I want to focus on. Outside of a few shows I watch, I’m not very interested in adultery. This might be because I’m not interested in romantic relationships in general, or because they’re just other tropes that I would prefer to work with. Not only that, but adultery is rarely that scary. I am all or a writer, I prefer to write about scary things. Monsters, ghosts, the horrors that mankind is capable of, the fear of things that could happen to us if things were just a little different. Unless you’re dating a psychopath or something, adultery is not really that scary. The biggest fear is getting caught, and in most fiction, that is what happens. Not much incentive for a horror writer to focus on adultery. Or at least not this horror writer.

But who knows? Adultery could show up in more stories in the future. My style is still evolving, so anything is possible.

Adultery is sadly very common, which means it will continue to show up in fiction for generations to come. However, the way we use adultery in our fiction can be highly a versatile, and that ensures that it won’t be a trope that will get tired anytime soon. Just avoid the clichés, and if you don’t care to use adultery in your stories, don’t. For every writer who isn’t comfortable running about such a subject, there is always one who is.

What’s your take on adultery in fiction?

I’ve written about this before several times in some way or another, but every now and then I feel the need to shout out to the Internet, “HEY CREATORS OF HORROR, this is one of your students, one who is coming up in your world. Please, for the love of Edgar Allen Poe, STOP DOING THESE THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE GODDAMN STUPID AND REALLY DETRACT FROM THE STORIES YOU’RE TRYING TO TELL!” I especially feel this need when I think of the Friday the 13th remake, which is a piece of pornographic, drug-overloaded, cliche-ridden piece of crap from the bum of Michael Bay (figures!).

So with that exclamation and obligatory slam on my least favorite horror remake, I think it’s time to list what needs to be scaled back on or just get kicked out of the horror genre all-together.

Too much gore. Ooh, this is a turnoff to me. Excessive gore isn’t scary, it’s disgusting. If you’re going to use gore, it should be used sparingly. It should add to the terror by being sort of like an accentuation, an additive that adds flavor to the movie or novel’s total fear factor. If you’re relying entirely on gore for your scares, then you’re probably doing something wrong. Look at some of the best slashers out there! Yes, they have gore, but they don’t just rely on it. There’s suspense, surprise, terror, a guy coming out of a dark corner when you least expect him and just scaring the crap out of you before he chases the victim and then pushes them through a window and killing them on broken glass. Now that’s scary.

Too much sin factor. Smoking, drinking, getting high, having sex, swearing like a sailor. A lot of horror films, particularly in the slasher sub-genre, are big on punishing people for their sins. I get it. It’s fun to root for a villain and seeing people getting punished for throwing their lives away.But when it’s so excessive that you wonder if you bought a ticket for a horror movie or if you’re watching one of those teen movies where everyone’s stoned and trying to get laid and there’s a ton of unnecessary swearing involved. Seriously, if you need to spice up things by filming a ton of footage involving sex or drugs or whatever, you might need to get your script looked at by a third party.

The stereotypical man’s man and the believing girlfriend. I hate these sort of characters because they’re so predictable. The former is a normal guy who doesn’t believe in anything supernatural except what’s taught in church, and maybe not even then. The latter’s either a housewife or in a menial job stereotypical for women, and she’s the first to come to the conclusion that something’s weird that happens (unless she has kids, who will recognize the weird before even she will). She tries to convince her husband with his father-knows-best attitude that something’s weird, but he won’t believe it. And even when faced with indisputable proof of the supernatural, he’ll still be somewhat skeptical, and would rather use his tool box or his fists rather than search for a supernatural solution or refer to a specialist. In the end he has to believe his one-dimensional wife or end up dead. It’s been done so often, it’s gotten rather annoying.  Please, switch it up a bit, because it’s so stale we’ll have to throw it out if it doesn’t find a way to become fresh again.

Cheesy effects. I don’t care what your budget is, I’ve seen some amazing things done with effects bought on a budget of only a couple million, or even just ten-thousand dollars. About a month and a half ago I saw this late-night horror film that started out promising. Sadly it didn’t work out that way, and part of it was that the special effects were terrible, and the filmmakers seemed to revel in that by displaying their cheesiness at every second. If they’d tried to at least make it difficult to see what the wolves looked like, it would’ve improved the story so much more (and the film could’ve used the improvement, with that shoddy script). The moral is, even if you can’t use expensive special effects, there are ways to do amazing things with it. You never know what you’ll get.

 

Horror is well known for its tropes and cliches, and often fans of the genre will defend those tropes, saying they actually allow for more flexibility and creativity. However, occasionally these tropes are more problematic than they’re worth and, like the ones above, need to go.

What things in the horror genre would you like to boot entirely? What would you like to see more of?

Sorry it’s coming a little late, but you know, my crazy life. And I wanted to watch it taped so I could fast forward through the commercial breaks.

Anyway, I liked this season of AHS much better than Coven last year. In terms of tone it was closer to the first season, though it had some more lighthearted moments than Season 1. Also, the show’s creator Ryan Murphy -incorporated a few musical scenes, so he’s either testing the waters for a crossover with his other show Glee or he’s just trying to keep things fresh. I definitely think it’s the latter. But like I was saying, this is some pretty good horror. Like previous seasons, you can’t tell where the story is going, and no one’s safe from death. Unlike previous seasons, nobody comes back to life or dies twice (shocker!) and the final episode of the season doesn’t just feel like filler with minimal scares to wrap up loose ends, but an actual episode that is kind of terrifying and very entertaining. There are a few loose ends, but I think we can assume what happened based on what happens in that episode.

Also, this is the first season to connect with another season (Asylum), and apparently all the seasons connect, so I’m wondering how they’re going to connect that in upcoming seasons. Minor detail, but it’s important to talk about.

Anyway, back to the review. What I really liked about Freak Show, besides the final episode actually being pretty good, is that the writers were able to tell a really beautiful story about people on the outskirts of society, and while also keeping things scary and interesting. Everyone has their own story, their own darkness, and their own potential to be evil. In fact at several times many characters cross the lines from good folks to villains and then back again. It’s very hard to pin down a central villain, especially during the first six episodes or so. I guess it shows that in an imperfect world, where most of the characters are scared or in trouble with the authorities, you’ll do what you have to in order to survive.

I also like how the story twists and turns, taking us in directions we couldn’t see, and still keeps things within reasonable bounds of imagination. And I loved the guest stars: Neil Patrick Harris and Jamie Brewer as Chester and Marjorie the Doll, Wes Bentley as Edward Mordrake (my favorite minor character) and quite a few others. But the main cast! Whoo, were they amazing. Sarah Paulson playing a pair of conjoined twins and did it so convincingly, I forgot it was acting and CGI! And Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott deserves an award, playing the most horrific serial killing chameleon I’ve seen outside of Hannibal. And I loved Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars, who is just as evil and as tragic as any character in this show, but with quite the theatrical flare. Plus all the actors playing the freaks! Some actually have certain conditions, others are actors, but all are amazing in their roles.

Finn Wittrock, the man who played Dandy Mott. I hope he comes back for Season 5, he was definitely my favorite actor this season.

The one thing I did not care for is that Twisty the Clown, who appears in the first four or so episodes, is given an intellectual disability and his mental illness as the reason for which he kills. I swear, I’m tired of people with mental retardation being portrayed in these things as serial killers! I’ve known people with intellectual disabilities. At the worst, they can be difficult to handle in a bad mood, but they are normally sweet and kind. Why they’re portrayed over and over this way, I’m not sure. Honestly, the only times I’ve been okay with it is the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, but only then. (Please see my article on tropes that need to be retired for more on this subject).

All in all, I’m giving American Horror Story: Freak Show a 4.5 out of 5. Scary, entertaining, beautiful, and a great 4th season for the anthology series with wonderful performances by all the actors in the show. I’m looking forward to the next season (which has been ordered). I hope it’ll be as dark as Asylum. I wonder what they’ll do for Season 5. I heard a rumor that it might be magicians, and there’s reasons to believe that might be it. Other contenders could be a prison season (though that might be too close to Season 2) and one taking place at a summer camp (a favorite of horror fans everywhere). And there’s always the chance of a high school filled with evil, I guess.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m heading to bed. Friday’s a shorter day for me, so I want to be wide awake for it. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try to write tomorrow or the day after if I can. See ya then!

A while back I posted on character tropes and cliches that needed to be retired from literature. Some of my Followers of Fear thought that maybe the trope of “The Chosen One” could stand to be retired. I’ve been thinking about this since I wrote that post, and I thought I’d discuss it in contrast to what I call “Someone Who Grows Into a Hero.” If I had another name for that character trope, something a bit shorter, I would use it. Maybe I’ll think of one in the course of this post. Or maybe you’ll give me one (please?).

So, let’s talk tropes. The Chosen One is, in essence, a character who is basically chosen by some higher power–God, Fate, some powerful wizard, the President, the Force, that kooky neighbor down the street, etc.–to take on some great evil and defeat it. Sometimes this choosing takes place pretty early in life, sometimes years or ages before the Chosen One’s birth. A good example is Harry Potter being chosen to defeat Lord Voldemort (funnily enough, I’ve been listening to Harry Potter audiobooks while I’ve been working lately. Already on Book 3. You can always get something new from these books no matter your age, I find). It’s been used hundreds and hundreds of times throughout history, since possibly before the Greeks and Romans started telling stories involving oracles.

Now, this trope has a good reason for being used so much. The character who is the Chosen One–usually the protagonist–is usually a good person, selfless, kind, somewhat charismatic. They’re often presented with insurmountable odds, but through their own ingenuity, goodness, and the help of their allies they overcome and become victorious. We want to be that person, who is good and destined to be great as well, to save everyone and to have the best group of friends around them. To be a messianic or godlike figure.

However, there are some problems with this trope. For one, it’s been used so much that we know it by heart. Harry Potter, Eragon, Mila Kunis’s character in Jupiter Ascending, Gregor the Overlander, Emma Swan, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (with Luke’s help, I guess), Neo, Buffy, Po the Panda, Thomas from The Maze Runner and many, many more. These characters are everywhere. And they seem to all have similar personal stories. They grow up in simple circumstances–programmer, abused nephew, farmer, teenage girl, etc.–but are thrust into extraordinary circumstances that change their lives and center events on them. They’re told they’re special, that there are things that only they can do. At first they might be reluctant, or not have the confidence to do what they are told to do. But as time goes on and they somehow make it through the most dire circumstances, they become confident and settled in their roles, and they do end up destroying the ultimate evil (except if you’re the Slayer, in which case it never ends) once all is said and done.

trelawney 1

These sort of stories also say something about how the universe works, namely fate vs. free will. In some circumstances, the way these stories work is that no matter what, the Chosen One is to win against the ultimate evil. So personal choice isn’t a factor. The universe must work to get the Chosen One to win. Remember when I said I was listening to the HP audiobooks? In the 2nd, when Harry stabs the diary, and I remember this clearly, Harry doesn’t think when he sees the fang and the diary. He just acts. Perhaps the universe intervened so that Harry could someday take on the full mantle of his destiny? And in the case of Buffy, no matter how much she tries, the duties of a Slayer force her back into the world of darkness and away from anything resembling a normal life. The universe (or the writers) seem to have no care for Buffy’s choices, apparently.

So the problems of this trope is not only that it’s overused, but that it’s predictable, and that it takes the freedom of choice out of the equation to a great extent, sometimes even totally. There are ways to change up the trope, but it’s rarely done. Katniss Everdeen could be considered a slight variation on the theme, as she kind of stumbled into the role of Chosen One by an act of defiance, but from that point on her life is controlled by others. Heck, even Peeta manipulates her by forcing her into the relationship and pregnancy ruses. Still, I’ve been open about my disdain for the Hunger Games trilogy, so I’ll say it’s not the best example. I’m trying to think up a better one, even if I write it myself, so I’ll let you know if I think of (or write) something.

The other trope is the Accidental Hero trope (I did find another title for this trope). This is one I like a bit more, because you can do so much more with it and there’s a growing number of examples of this kind of character. This is a character who, rather than by fate, is made a hero through circumstances and their own choices. They may not be hero material, they may not want to be heroes, they may rather go home, but they rise to become heroes by their own merits. For example, Nathaniel from the Bartimaeus books wasn’t chosen to be a hero, and never set out to be a hero. In the first book, he was seeking revenge for personal reasons, the second book he did it because of his job and because of political reasons. In the third book he does it after a lot of self examination and because he’s scared of the demon uprising.

one does not simply 1

Another example is Teen Wolf (the awesome TV series, not the very bad 80’s movie). Scott McCall became a werewolf by accident, and because of the threats to his family, friends and his town, he has to rise to become a hero and save the day. No fate, no gods, no prophecies. He becomes a hero (and later a very special form of werewolf) because his personality, the events in his town, and his love for the people close to him mold him into a hero.

And there are many more examples. Chuck from the titular series never asked for the Intersect, and he wasn’t supposed to have it. It could’ve been taken out ages ago. But he chose to keep it, use it for his friends, and save the people he cared about. Through that he becomes a spy and a hero. In Doctor Who, the Doctor only wanted to travel and see the universe. He is a hero of his own choice. Lelouch Lamperouge from the anime Code Geass received his powers through luck, and later chose to use them for his own ends and to get his revenge (more antihero I guess, but whatever). It’s a trope with a lot of wriggle room in it, and even better, it’s still underused, unlike the Chosen One trope. So perhaps many more authors should write less Chosen One stories and more Accidental Hero stories.

Of course, there’s no way that this post will cause less Chosen One stories to be written. For better or worse, that trope is popular and will stick around for a long while. Still, I’m hoping for more Accidental Hero stories. I figure most of my stories will feature them. Reborn City and Snake‘s protagonists become heroes (or in the latter’s case, antiheroes) through choice and circumstance. Heck, I might try and find ways to subvert the Chosen One trope while writing Accidental Heroes. We’ll see what I can do.

Which trope do you prefer? What’s your favorite example?

What is a way that one could change either trope so that either one could be a bit more original?

Trope: a common recurring literary and rhetorical device, motif, or cliche. When referring to a character, it often refers to a common or well-known character archetype of stereotype that is instantly recognizable (ex. the noble hero, the avenging antihero, the slightly clumsy socially awkward girl in a romantic comedy, etc.)

There are hundreds and hundreds of these different tropes, each with their own special qualities and characteristics that are recognizable to many different people. Some of these tropes have even become staples in our own culture and in the stories we tell. However, there are a few that are, for many different reasons, just unusable these days. Maybe they’ve become so overused they’re a cliche, or maybe just the way society is or what psychology tells us makes such a character hard to believe in. In any case, there are character tropes and archetypes, not just in literature but on TV and in the movies as well, that just have to be retired, and I list some of them here.

I’d like to thank the people who helped to contribute to this list, including Pat Bertram for her many suggestions (though I have to disagree on serial killers. Sure, they’re overused, but there’s plenty of different ways to write them. Case in point: Snake).

So without further ado, let’s take a look at who/what needs to go:

The orphan who grows up with a heart of gold without any adult intervention whatsoever. Whether it’s Oliver Twist or Harry Potter, this character trope is pretty much the same wherever you go: a kid who grows up in an abusive environment, has never received a smile or a word of kindness from anyone, and yet still grows up with virtues to make statues of angels weep for joy. I don’t buy it. Although it’s possible for a kid to grow up that way (and usually, based on these stories, it’s a boy), it’s very unlikely. Without parental love and affection, kids can grow up to be distrustful and try to find other ways (sometimes really unhealthy ways) to replace the bond they should’ve had with their parents. Like I pointed out the other day, Harry should’ve grown up with some insecurities and trust issues, if not full on sociopathy (I might’ve written him that way anyway).

The drunk, possibly depressed cop. I’m sure there are cops who are drunk and/or depressed. But there seems to be a plethora of them in literature, and they are either meant to be tragic, comical, or go on a spiritual quest where they find the meaning in life, stop drinking, and maybe even get the girl. Unless someone finds a new slant on this trope, or it has got to go.

The killer with an intellectual disability. While I disagree with Pat on the need to get rid of serial killers, there is a strain of that sort of character I think we could do without. This strain are characters who would be classified as mentally retarded, and that’s somehow hinted by the writers (and in film and TV, the directors and actors) to be linked to their violent killing sprees. Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an example, and so is a certain character in the current season of American Horror Story (not saying who, because you know, spoilers). It’s actually rather saddening and disturbing to see this trope constantly resurfacing, because most people with intellectual disabilities are really sweet and wouldn’t harm a fly unless under extreme stress. If you’re going to create a killer with a brain problem, make it someone who kills for their own sick pleasure, rather than suggesting that it might have something to do with some intellectual disability they may have. Not only would I thank you, but I’m sure that many people with intellectual disabilities and their friends, family, and caretakers would thank you as well.

The dystopian dreamboy. I think you could actually extend this to a lot of YA stories as well, but I’m not familiar enough with the genre to make that sort of inference, so I’ll just keep it to dystopia fiction. In any case, this character shows up a lot in dystopian/YA fiction, particularly stories trying to portray a strong, female character (whether or not they do depends upon the story and personal choice). The dystopian dreamboy is very one-dimensional, their whole point is to be a romantic interest, and they have hardly any other aspects to them besides being very handsome, props the heroine up when she’s feeling down, and maybe fights or demonstrates some other helpful skill. Other than that, not much to fill that Wikia page. I’d like to see these characters either more developed or just gone.

The damsel in distress. Like our last entry, this character has very little character development or point besides being a male lead’s romantic interest. Of course, there’s a rich history of this character in literature, so it’s hard to get rid of such an archetype. However, in a world where women are taking breaking the glass ceiling in so many ways, the damsel in distress is the sort of character that we could stand to lose, because all it says is that women need a guy to save them and are otherwise helpless. Either that, or it needs a total revamping, where the damsel is at least somewhat proactive (like Allison from Snake).

The bitch who just needs some love in her life. Again, in an era where women are working hard to break the glass ceiling, this trope could be retired. Not tweaked. Retired. This trope basically says that there’s an ambitious, job-driven woman who is at the top of the business world. But she’s a little lonely, pretty stressed, and more often than not kind of bitchy. That is, until she meets this awesome, handsome guy who is sexually stimulating. And then she realizes as fulfilling as her job is, this guy is what she truly wants, and he makes her a better person, and given a choice between him and her job, she’ll take him. I don’t know, it might just be me, but I think plenty of women can be in business and find fulfillment without a guy. Or have a guy (or girl) and not have to choose between the two to get happiness. I’ve seen it plenty of times. Like my boss.

The barely-Jewish Jew. This is the one that gets my goat. Rachel Berry, Noah “Puck” Puckerman, Howard Wolowitz, Willow Rosenberg, John Munch, Dr. Chris Taub. These TV characters  are all Jewish, but if you looked only at them to form your idea of what a Jew is, you’d think that a Jew is someone who just says a bunch of Yiddish words but isn’t that different than anyone else.  Really, that’s only a small–really small, actually–portion of the Jewish population. I’d really like to see more Jewish characters eating kosher, maybe being involved in synagogue activities or doing Israel activism or something. Show some Hasidic Jews or some modern Orthodox or Conservative Jews who like the Ramones and go to day school (I had a friend or two like that). And for more than one guest episode, thanks! The only character who bucked the trend was Ziva David on NCIS, but the actress who played her left the show, so what’s left?

What are your thoughts on these choices?

What are some character tropes and archetypes that you need to be retired? Any you want to be resurrected?