Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tropes, why they work... or don't

In every genre there are those plot devices or character achetypes that always seem to aboud.  These tropes can shape the genre or shape the stereotypes that non-readers hold about the genre. This can be good and bad.  Obvisouly, if the trope weren't successful it would not continue to pop up over and over again. 

For us romance readers, these recurring elements (Alpha heroes, mistaken identity, fake engagements, plucky virgin heroines) are often what keep us reading.  Who doesn't love to read about a brooding Alpha hero with a mysterious secret who is unable to control the strong emotions he feels for the fiesty "on the shelf" (28 y/o) spinster?  We love it, but we know the genre chock full of tropes.  Secret baby? Character with fatal illness that can be cured by the supernatural love interest? Unrequited love? Friends to lovers?  Enemies to lovers? 

Good authors know how to take these standard elements and present them in a fresh way, or can twist them about, turning it on it's head.  They give us the tropes with a twist.  These are the authors who make us excited to read more.  It is unfortunate, though, that for every author who does this, there are coutless other who continue down the same old worn paths.  The rut in the road made by all the previous authors must be pretty damn deep.

Recently I read a fantasy novel from a series where the whole point is to twist around the expected tropes.  While the writing was average, the story kept me going.  (The same way amazing writing can keep you reading an overdone plotline.) Mercedes Lackey has created the 700 Kingdoms, where The Tradition helps shape the ways of it's people.  There are those people who will fulfill the Cinderella tradition, there are the siblings lost in the woods tradition, good benvolent ruler and evil advisor traditions.  The Tradition pushes people along their destined path.  However, Ms. Lackey's characters defy tradition or turn it upside down.  The Cinderella characters's prince is a toddler? No problem, she becomes a Fairy Godmother.  In One Good Knight, she combines numerous fairy tale traditions, dicing and slipcing them as she went along, to create an interesting storyline.  The adventure and how the characters overcame the obstacles set in their way by enemies and The Tradition kept me turing pages.  While there was a bit of a romance, it is important to romance readers to remember this is a Fantasy novel.  The romance player 3rd or 4th fiddle to everything else.  As I said, not the best writing I have read by the author, but a fun twist on those tropes we all know so well.
What books or authors have taken the expected and turned them into the unexpected?  Who has managed to write a story using a tired plot line, but through spectacular writing turned it into a page turner?


Stacy~ said...

Although I'm not sure it would apply, I first thought of Julie Anne Long's "Like No Other Lover" because we have a spoiled, arrogant heroine in desperate need of a husband and a brainy, unremarkable hero who loves the ladies and is actually rather alpha. The story kept me turning the pages and wishing it would never end.

Hope you're having a great Memorial Day weekend :)

Little CJ said...

I know that Carolyn loves the fake engagement trope. And the brooding alpha trope. I'm sure she'd love this Mercedes Lackey. She loved how Sugar Daddy redid Cinderella. She is a bit dense.

Congrats on your award from Stacy, by the way. I'll be back.