Let's cut to the quik - I like fantasy tropes. No, I LOVE them. I know there's at least two generations of people who grew up with Tolkien and Asimov and T.H. White who have spent the past five or so decades watching their favorite fantastic stories told over and over and over again in books, television and film.
You know why those stories get retold? Because they're good! To this day, people still know about Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships") and what a Trojan Horse is. That story is two THOUSAND years old. (Uh, right? Older?)
Anyway, I read this post by forthcoming debut novelist Jeff Salyards over at SF Signal, entitled "Jeff Salyards on Avoiding Tired Tropes When World Building."
Nicely written post, I really enjoyed it. GO READ IT. Here's an excerpt.
What they all have in common is they don’t lazily rely on established motifs or character types. Can you still write about elves? Sure. I guess. But if they are sing-songy, lyrical, tree-dwelling hippies, then you’re missing the grand creative freedom of being a fantasy writer. Make them terrifying cannibals, or disenfranchised revolutionaries. In fact, somebody’s probably done both of those already. Tread carefully.And I left a lengthy comment, like so:
This is a good post. Tropes are a tricky topic, you have to admit. On the one hand, there is comfort in familiarity – and it’s that comfort which allows the reader immersion, escape, into the entertainment that is reading. On the other hand, the market and experienced readers demand freshness, creativity, originality.
It’s almost impossible anymore to write something that hasn’t been told. Even traditional fables have tons of variants on the same theme, across different cultures. Yet they persevere throughout the ages, and are retold to each generation, in one form or the other.
I’m comfortable with the tropes, personally, and employ several. Theoretically, I make them my own, but there’s no reinventing the wheel, so why bother – it’s almost an insult to the reader. What I try to focus on is to take that wheel and put it somewhere unexpected, or go further back, and discover why the wheel is the way that it is. (Well, not literally wheels, of course.)
There’s only so many ways that “departing from the classic tropes” can go, before they go too far and THAT becomes the new trope. For instance, ‘gritty’ is the new big thing – but that’s going to wear itself thin. Fantasy wasn’t built upon rape scenes, and readers will get tired of that, just like they grew tired of the peasant boy who becomes a king. After awhile, a good old-fashioned ‘boy becomes King’ yarn will be more popular (again) than Blackie McBlackNight the dirty rotten scoundrel’s tale.
What’s an author to do? Write a good story: cream always rises to the top.
Truly, this is a topic that I could go on and on for days about. But I have revisions to attend! However, if you want to engage the topic with me - revisions can wait, because this is my favoritest topic ever!
Anyway, what about you? Tired of the same ole stories? Do you want a refreshing take on the classic tale? Do you want something more realistic? Both? Neither? How about a re-imagined Middle Earth where the Dwarves aren't comic relief and the Elves aren't entirely feminine? Hmm? Hmmmmmm?