Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tropes Make Your Writing Easier But Not Easy, Part One

My dictionary says trope, as a noun:
is a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression: he used the two-Americas trope to explain how a nation free and democratic at home could act wantonly abroad.

a conventional idea or phrase : her suspicion of ambiguity was more a trope than a fact.

There’s a ton of fact and opinion out there on tropes in stories. Just search for trope and see what pops up. So much is out there, in fact, that this is part one.

On the one hand, tropes are very helpful if they act as a shortcut for attitudes and behaviors. Tropes help you build in character development with fewer words than if you avoided the trope.

For example, if in your novel you have a police officer showing up at a house, and he says to the guy, “Billy, this is the third time this month I’m picking you up for hitting your wife.” you know that this man is an abuser. That he demonstrates the controlling and anger-management issues of a serial wife-beater. That sentence saves you from having to put it into backstory. We KNOW this man.

But, if the trope is your lazy way to incorporating stock characters, of relying on stereotypes, who are only their trope, then you got it wrong. Each character, wife-beater or not, deserves further development. Surprises. Inconsistencies.

Because humans are not stock characters. The wife-beater may be a total softie around dogs. He shows them more attention, care, love than he does humans. But that is not part of the wife-beater trope. It is part of his inconsistent human nature.

Which, you explain, in your novel so the reader isn’t jarred by the inconsistency and accept the trait as part of his character. In this case, perhaps our wife-beater cowered in his bed with his puppy for comfort while his father pummeled his mother.

I’m coming back to do more on tropes, but first, next week, I am so happy to have guest blogger Brenda Whiteside writing about "What's a Little Murder When It Comes to Love?" Stop in and read what she has to share.

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