NaNoWriMo Prep – Harnessing the Trope

NaNoWriMo Prep – Harnessing the Trope

“The reason that clichés become clichés is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.” ― Terry Pratchett

‘Tis an old device.” ― William Shakespeare

According to Merriam-Webster, a trope is a noun signifying “a word or expression used in a figurative sense,” “a common or overused theme or device,” or “a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages.”

I’m not going to give you the potted history of the Quem quaeritis Trope or how it might be the original of the modern-day musical. It’s an extremely esoteric journey which I learned in high-school that invokes both Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan. Today, most writers know “trope” as a plot device as something that is used or, more commonly, overused on television shows or in movies. Just a brief glance at the never-ending rabbit hole that is TV Tropes will show you Giant Spiders, lost superweapons, and Frazetta Man, among many others.

In short, it’s the perfect hunting ground if you’re looking for an idea.

Okay, I can practically hear the uncomfortable shuffling and the “Errrrmmmm” that’s coming out of your right how. “Tropes are cliché and I don’t want my story to be a cliché,” you say. “I want to be fresh and original.” First, the suggestion to go looking at a trope is just to get you started if you’re stuck. Second, pick a trope and consider how you can make it your own.

Take the very first scene of “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s the classic monster movie trope: kids are sneaking around, looking for a place where they won’t be disturbed. The girl – who’s cute, blonde and wearing a plaid skirt – keeps saying she hears something, while the boy insists there’s no one there and they won’t be disturbed. We all know what’s supposed to happen: the monster attacks them and while the boy might survive (and be accused of her murder), the girl is supposed to shriek and die.

Joss Whedon subverted the trope when it turns out there is a monster – it’s the cute blonde girl who is, in fact, a vampire who’s lured her prey to this spot on purpose. Cue opening titles. Watching the series now, knowing what it is, the switch is not so unexpected, but back in the spring of 1997 when it premiered, folks weren’t expecting to see a vampire right off. They certainly weren’t expecting her to be the girl whom all the conventions said should be a Sacrificial Lamb.

Set a timer, spend fifteen minutes strolling through TV Tropes and see what ideas occur to you. Seriously, set a timer because it’s very easy to get distracted by clicking on links that you’ll emerge some time later when you have to get off the computer now and have no time for writing. I put that particular site on my block list during November so the temptation is removed. Now, though, go pick something and what you can come up with. If The Butler Did It, are you doing a parody of the genre – or is the man actually a serial killer who gets himself hired as a butler, dispatches his master and then moves on to his next target? Are they seeking personal vengeance, or is it a general vendetta against the 1%? Could you gender flip and have it be the housekeeper who is responsible? The possibilities are endless.

While many say there are only a limited amount of plot types (the actual number being a source of great debate), it is how the writer uses those types and the tropes that have grown up across the centuries which make stories sing. You’ve got fifteen days before NaNoWriMo starts and endless possibilities lurking in the blank page. It is all “an old device.” Go decide how to make it your own.

survivor-guide-3bThat’s it for today. Join me on Wednesday when we’ll talk about beginnings, endings and middles – and, yes, that order is deliberate. If you find these posts useful, check out my book, Surviving 30 Days of Literary Madness. I’ve posted the introduction and the essay for November 10 on my site as the Amazon preview is…less than robust.

Worth a Few Minutes Every Day

Weekend! Time to catch up on all the things that I don’t get a chance to do during the week. Something I have been making time for during the week is the Storywonk Daily Podcast. Running between eight and thirteen minutes each, Alastair Stephens and Lani Diane Rich put up a new podcast every Monday through Friday about a different aspect of writing and a little bit of entomology fun. This week they’ve been talking about critique groups, beta readers and feedback.

I generally listen while I’m getting ready in the morning, a nice little way to do something writing related even as I’m heading off to the day job. Check it out; I think you’ll find it work your time.

NaNo Inspiration: November 13

NaNo Inspiration: November 13

“Anyone can dabble, but once you’ve made that commitment, your blood has that particular thing in it, and it’s very hard for people to stop you.” — Bill Cosby

It might be hard for other people to stop you, but surprisingly easily for us to stop ourselves. I’ve got a short story which should have been finished Monday. It’s finally going to be finished today. Why? Because I let other things get in the way. But once it’s gone, I can get back to the business of my current project that I want to get into submission early in 2011. Yes, it’s another NaNo I’m not doing according to the rules, but the writing is the important things. And I’m learning some things about my patterns and the roadblocks I put up in front of myself — and what stimulus I need to keep me writing.

I knew the lesson this year was going to be about self-discovery; that became clear to me at the end of September when I read Elizabeth Boyle’s post about “the plan” over on Romance University. The plan is how she tracks her writing and while it’s not an exact fit for me (what technique ever is?), there were a number of things to take away from it, such as the fact I over estimate how much I can get done in a set amount of time. I remember the time I wrote, edited and submitted a 7,200 word story in the course of twenty-four hours — but I then forget I didn’t write for a week. I take on new projects that I figure won’t take very long, which then take much longer (glares at story that needs to be finished).

I’m the one who needs to say no, who needs to learn when I’m overloading my plate, because the only one who’s stopping me is myself.

So, erm, about keeping this up to date…

So, erm, about keeping this up to date…

No, I’m not going to look at the date of my last post; it will only depress me. Suffice to say, life has been busy with the rent-paying job. However, I have managed to discover a few things along the way:

1) I cannot resist the lure of new yarn, especially since I’ve discovered lace knitting. I now need more storage space.

2) The shiny new project? Not so shiny. I started working through my “whys” and discovered a great big pothole that probably would have derailed me about seventy-five pages in. Not insurmountable, but it’s a bit on the back burner until I get a chance to figure things out — which won’t be for a while.

3) My other contemporary romantic comedy is moving forward finally, and the characters are starting to “speak” to me. This is a good sign.

4) The historical I’ve been editing very much wants to become a romantic comedy. There’s a problem; the way it’s originally plotted, we know that two of the characters we’ve seen on stage throughout the book (not the hero or heroine or the secondary leads) are going to be executed at the end. One doesn’t worry me so much, but the other came out as a tragic figure beginning to end, a bit mentally unbalanced and subject to the demons inside him and the political agenda of those around him (including his mother). Not the way to end a book that I’m hoping the reader will have been laughing through. That means I need to make some major changes.

That book was written several years ago, and it was only recently that I picked up the hard copy and decided to give it another look. I was trying to be “dark” and “edgy.” One thing I’ve learned since then; I ain’t dark and edgy. I can give you an intense situation. I can torture my characters with the best of ’em and send them crawling over broken glass — but they’re going to do it with a laugh. Not jokes, but humor born out of people and their reaction to the situation around them. Ever see the show Coupling? Written by Steve Moffat (yes, the same one who’s currently writing Doctor Who), it’s a comedy about the relationship of men and women as they do the mating dance. The show is both funny and painful, but there aren’t the usual sitcom jokes. Instead, it’s how the characters react to one another. For example, Sally asks Patrick (whom she doesn’t want to admit she fancies because a) he’ll sleep with any beautiful woman that comes along and b) he’s a Tory) what he calls people he goes out with but doesn’t try to sleep with. In all innocence, not being condescending or snide, Patrick replies, “Men.”

I’ve met guys like that and you probably have too. It’s not all men or even a majority, but it’s funny because we know there is truth in the words and it’s true to his character. That’s the type of characters I like writing and that’s not conducive to a story ending in a rebellion and executions. So, the story is going to have to shift a few years previously which will allow me to keep pretty much all of my characters and while things aren’t going to end well for some folk, it’s a setback, not a final end.

I love writing, right? Just asking because at moments like this, I need reminding.

Moving Forward

Goals for today:

1) Gym again. More run/walk.

2) Having proudly stated that I don’t want to let the one sentence story summary hold me back, I need to open a blank file and start on the “whys?” for at least one of these projects.

Pin It on Pinterest