Tropes: The Return!
I must've talked about tropes and cliches a hundred times now, but I had to add another one, even just a small snippet, because I heard the best analogy today. First off, I'll reiterate: tropes are not bad. Tropes are just tools and their use is what defines them as good or bad. When a trope is used poorly or just saturates a cultural consciousness, then it becomes a cliche. But tropes themselves, nah... they're fine.
So here we go. Tropes are like vegetables. Fresh vegetables will always taste better than canned vegetables. When you use a trope poorly, we can taste the can. Howard Tayler, writer and illustrator of Schlock Mercenary, said that on a recent episode of Writing Excuses. Man, that really put things in a easy to understand light for me. Hopefully you'll get something out of it, too.
So when does a trope become something bad? Well, you could look back at my other dozens of blog posts on the topic, but since you're here, I'll see what I can come up with. A trope becomes bad when you've either done something the exact way it's been done a hundred times or when you've employed it without understanding why. When you're going through the motions, I think that's the easiest time for tropes to break down. Your plot becomes predictable, or at the very least, unsurprising. Yes, there is a difference and let me elaborate by talking about the trope I hate the most.
Ever since M. Night Shyamalan started hitting us with twist endings, people have been tripping over themselves to follow suite. They want to subvert expectations, subvert tropes. So much so that trope subversion has become a trope. I'm not lying! Here's the link to TV Tropes. I think, and this is Matias' opinion here, that whether it's following the Hero's Journey or trying to subvert audience expectations, a lot of writers have fallen into this habit of just following examples. It's weird, but, yes, seeing someone swerve the audience and wanting to do that yourself is following their lead. It doesn't matter if your characters aren't like theirs or your story is a completely different genre. A lot of people are trying to subvert tropes just to subvert them.
So here's where I talk about predictable versus unsurprising. See, when I know what the character is going to do, more or less, it's predictable. It follows the trope, so I know when the trope demands. But if the writing, not the characters specifically, follows a certain path, I can see a different trope. True, I may not know what the character is going to do, but I know what they aren't going to do. Why? I can follow the writer's path and see that they're building up to subverting a trope. That means I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm expecting that. I hope that makes some sense. It did in my head.
This can get really dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. I'm not going to go too deep because to hell with that, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Did it subvert expectations or did it just pull the rug out from under the audience? One is done with skill and precision and the other is done just to say "Ha! Didn't expect that, did you?"
I'm not taking a side because that movie is too politically fueled. There's no good side to be on and I'll be reviled regardless of which side I take. The point is, it's an excellent example of trope subversion. I'll let you guys decide if it was done right or wrong.
The point here is this: tropes are like a Lego set. We all have the same pieces. No one is going to sit down and mold and press new Legos and they're wasting their time if they think they can. But we don't have to build out set according to the instructions. If we decide our spaceship needs pink thrusters and an automatic pizza machine, then we can do that! If we decide it's not a spaceship at all, but a giant pizza flinging robot, that's great too! None of the blocks we're using are new and none of them are bad. It's what we do with them that decides their worth.
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