Dances with tropes

This post originally appeared on the Contact – Infinite Futures SF blog on September 9, 2012.

I have to avoid the site TV TROPES at all costs, unless I’m willing to lose two or three hours of my day. For me, it’s worse than Wikipedia, and The Onion all put together. Once I land there, I just can’t tear myself away.

What’s a “trope”? For the uninitiated, here’s an explanation from the website:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them. The wiki is called “TV Tropes” because TV is where we started. Over the course of a few years, our scope has crept out to include other media. Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, does its best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.

I’ve identified several tropes in my writing, including…

ONLY A FLESH WOUND. Belloc is ka-chunked in the arm with an electrified crossbow bolt in Stellarnet Rebel, rips it out and carries on. Within context, the Glin do have a higher pain tolerance and superior healing ability, but still…

BANG, BANG, BANG. Characters in fiction rarely flinch or suffer pain from the sound of gunfire. Knowing this, I do have my Glin, with their sensitive hearing, occasionally flinch or experience discomfort and pain upon experiencing things like loud applause, flash grenades, or gunshots. Probably not as much as would happen IRL, though.

COLONEL BADASS. Mine is Colonel Blaze Villaneuva of the U.S. Air and Space Force on the planet Asteria. Complete with weird sayings like, “Hot crap in a cookie tin,” and “persistent as a rash at a hooker convention.” He also gives us the MULTIETHNIC NAME trope, on the assumption that he’s a 2062 descendant of Hispanic immigrants to the Southern US.

MANLY TEARS. My alien heroes don’t shed tears like humans, they have a membrane over their eyes that thickens when they feel sorrow. But they do get “white-eyed” and sob. Frequently. It violates the “boys don’t cry” ethic of US culture, but I attribute it to the fact that Glin are androgynous through puberty and don’t have any differences between how males and females feel emotion.

DON’T YOU DARE PITY ME. Yeah, I totally do this one with Duin and Belloc in book one.

“Why haven’t you built a hut yet? Granted, the materials are a bit unfamiliar, but you could come up with something.”

Belloc sat up. “I don’t know how.”

“How is that possible? In all your entire village, there wasn’t a single dwelling?”

“I didn’t grow up in a village.”

“You had no grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins?”

“Just my mother.”

Duin looked at him for a long time. “I’m very sorry.”

“Why? It wasn’t your fault.”

Duin sighed, sitting down on the ground beside him. “Don’t be an ungrateful brat, Belloc, you’re too old for it. But you’re not too old to have your nose wiped on the ground.”

Belloc found that amusing. “I’d like to see you try, Elder Duin,” he said with a laugh.

“Don’t tempt me. Just accept my honest feelings.”

“To be sorry for me is to say my life is lesser than yours. My life is what it is and it’s been mine.”

Belloc is also an example of THE STOIC and NOT SO STOICTHE CYNIC, maybe a little bit of GRUMPYBEAR and definitely a WOOBIE who EARNS HIS HAPPY ENDING. Duin, however, is a shining example of THE IDEALIST or WIDE-EYED IDEALIST, to the point of being almost POLLYANNA.

MOMENT OF AWESOME. I try to give every character at least one per book. I like them. But as both a reader and a writer, I don’t like SCENERY PORN and I avoid it whenever possible.

What tropes do you like or dislike? If you’re a writer, have you identified any tropes in your own work?

~ J.L. Hilton

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