I’ve recently started the fantasy series, The Demon Cycle, I won’t be commenting completely on this series because I’m not done with the first book yet, but it did make me start to think a lot about tropes in writing. The series thus far, and I feel like I’m finally hitting a point where it’s broken a bit away from some of the tropes, has been very standard epic fantasy and reminds me a ton of the Wheel of Times series in how it handles a number of things, and really a number of different fantasy series.
So the brings up the question, these tropes are they needed or are they being handled well in this series?
Let’s start with handling tropes well. In the Demon Cycle series, thus far I would say that the tropes are not being handled all that well. The story seems a bit predictable and a bit tired, along with that they are a bit heavy handed. But like I said, it is starting to break the mold a little bit more out of it’s tropes. When handling a trope well, in general, you need to think about how heavily you are using the trope and how needed the trope is for your characters and story.
To go back to the Demon Cycle, I do believe there are some tropes surrounding the gender stereotypes of fantasy that are being used that will end up being important to the story, or at least I hope so. However, while they are important, they are too on the nose for it being standard fantasy. So while the trope is needed the tropes are being wielded to bludgeon the ideas into the reader versus allowing the reader to find the ideas and the tropes in the story. Subtly is needed for handling these important tropes and items in your story as myself as a reader wants to feel like I was the one who discovered these clues laid about the story versus telegraphing what is going to come later. This is something that is done when the trope is also the Chekhov’s Gun in the scene or the story.
But are your tropes even needed for your story? Maybe they are just being used because they feel normal for the genre of fiction that is being written. Normalcy of a trope is not a good enough reason to have it in there, having a trope in there because it is common or expected will make your story seem derivative of other works that also use that trope. If it is needed for a story, be careful with how you use it, handle it well. I can’t really stress enough that even if you need a trope, don’t bludgeon the reader with the trope, it hides the subtly of your story and allows the reader to glaze over and skim while reading which might cause them to miss some more hidden clue in the story if there is one. Obviously, you want the reader engaged at all times.
With all that said, using tropes is not a bad thing. Tropes give the reader familiarity with your world without you having to spend nearly as much time explaining what your world looks like, how your world works, and what to expect from the story that they’ll be getting. Going back to the Demon Cycle again, this is something that the first book, The Warded Man, seems to get wrong. Instead of using the tropes to get the reader up to the main story arc faster, a lot of time is spent on showing how the world works, when the tropes make it very clear how it is going to work. This makes the first part of the book feel like a slog and has me less excited now that we are getting into more major story elements now because I’m almost looking for the standard elements of the story.
It also allows you to highlight differences faster as well. If basically everything is falling into the standard tropes, you can quickly pull out things that are different because you have a framework, and you can subvert the expectations of that framework. Your reader is going to remember these differences more because they are not the norm. This should be used sparingly, in some ways, because if you aren’t using most of the trope, you’re going to end up having to explain away a lot of what people expect, which might take longer than actually just not using the trope as your framework.
Finally, and I mentioned this earlier, you an subvert the trope that you are using. The first time I used it, it was for helping set-up your world, this time I mean that you can use it as a twist in your book. When using subversion of a trope as a twist to your story, you have to be careful to make sure you never actually say that something is one way and then have it not be that way later in the story. The twist should come from the reading having believed something to be the case, because they know the trope and genre, only to have it change in your world.
What are some stories that use tropes well or use them poorly? Is the second thing you read using the trope always going to feel derivative or can it still be unique?
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