Monday, August 23, 2010

Fantasy Tropes and the Inevitable Death of Literature As We Know It

Over at one of my writing watering holes, in the SF/F area, folks have been getting in a huff over tropes and cliche situations. Fantasy novels, in particular.

"Down with aloof, immortal elves and earthy, axe-wielding dwarves!" they cry. "Boo and hiss to 'farmboy fulfills prophecy' stories! Give us something different!"

Okay. Here's one. It's called Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are no aloof, immortal elves. No earthy, axe-wielding dwarves. And hey! no 'farmboy fulfills prophecy' story.

Hot diggity dog!

See where I'm going here?

Look--I'm all for new and creative ways to tell a story. But why must you constantly reinvent the wheel?

Tropes--or conventions or stock characters/situations or whatever you want to call them--form the basis of story. All story. The Hero. The Villain. The Problem. The Conflict. The Resolution. The Happy Ending.

Fantasy stories will inevitably have specialized tropes. Those aloof elves, for instance. Or Dark Lords. Or goblins. Or that damn farmboy of prophecy.

And you know what?

There is nothing wrong with having them in your story.

That's what they're there for. Use them, fer cryin' out loud!

When I pick up a hard-boiled detective story, there damn well better be all the elements of a hard-boiled detective story in there. Same goes for a sword and planet story. Or a fantasy quest story. If it's not there, I'm going to chuck that sucker across the room and pick up one that gives me the story I want.

Complaining about a fantasy novel with elves, dragons, and giants is akin to saying "I want a Porsche but with a Vespa engine." Or "I want spaghetti and meatballs, but without the spaghetti, sauce, and meatballs."

John Rogers, producer and writer on the show Leverage, puts it this way:
You say "trope" I say "time-honed tool."
Bingo.

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