So I fell down a black hole there for awhile (past two weeks, sorry about that) and survived on Diet Coke and Vernors and a LOT of romance novels. So now I have Thoughts. I wrote a whole post on “smirk,” and then realized I was just repeating myself–“Damn you, writers who don’t bother to know the precise meanings of words, get off of my
lawn Kindle!”–and nobody needs that. Then I started thinking about tropes.
A trope is “the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.). That’s the definition I learned doing my lit degrees. But “The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” And in fact, the Merriam Webster Thesaurus gives as equivalents “banality, bromide, chestnut, cliché, commonplace, groaner, homily,” and several more tsking equivalents.
While a trope can certainly become a cliche (star-crossed lovers, fake dating, dystopias with the Chosen One, space opera, mean-streets detectives, there’s a zillion of them), individual stories based on those tropes are not necessarily cliches. Look at Shakespeare: he not only worked with tropes, he stole almost every plot he ever wrote. Then why is he the giant in the field of drama? Because nobody ever told those stories as well as he did. Pick a trope, do it better than everyone else, be a genius.
So back to reading romance. LOTS of tropes in romance. Some I cannot abide and dump early in the selection process (“Can he protect her?”). Of course, I’m a big hypocrite about some of them: I hate romances that start with a bet, and yet I wrote one. (In my defense, I was rewriting a book that never sold and I was stuck with the premise after somebody bought it, but . . . nah, that’s not a defense, I could have changed it. I wrote a book about a bet. Damn it. There goes the high road.)
Some I should dump but I just can’t quit them. The Fake Dating plot, for example. It’s just the modern version of the Convenient Marriage, but it ticks so many boxes for me, including the one I love most, two people falling in love as they work together and really get to know each other. Hey, Fake Dating requires a lot of heavy lifting together (see Mhair McFarlane’s If I never Met You and Alexis Light’s The Upside of Falling). A sister trope to that one is the plot where something goes terribly wrong and now two people are stuck together because they have to fix it: they’re stranded by a snowstorm, a business deal they’re both involved in goes south, they’re sucked into somebody else’s problem (usually a much loved friend or relative) and have to figure it out together. Like the Marriage of Convenience, the key is “stuck together.” They can’t resign from the action because the stakes are too high, so they have to deal with each other. That’s catnip for me.
Then there’s the friends-to-lovers trope. They’ve known each other for years, taken each other for granted, and then it’s “Oh, hello.” Loretta Chase’s Last Night’s Scandal is a favorite, but I realized that Murderbot and ART are in that trope, too, although Murderbot would vehemently reject the idea that it’s in a relationship even though it almost shut down when it thought ART had been deleted (Network Effect, great book, but read the first four novellas first, especially “Artificial Condition” which is where Murderbot meets ART). I think I like that trope because it’s such a good basis for mature love: they already know pretty much everything about each other so they’re going in with open eyes.
So what I’m saying is, tropes can be good. They can guide you toward the story you know you need at the moment, they’re probably tropes because they work so well, and they’re a great place to experiment if you want a firm foundation before you spin out of control (say doing the stuck-together plot with an angry heroine and a dead hero from Hell) reaching for something new. Do not bad mouth tropes. If Shakespeare went for them, who are we to sneer? Or smirk. NO SMIRKING EVER. Unless you’re a bad guy. Then you can smirk your little heart out. Until the heroine slaps the stuffing out of you.
Where was I?
Right. Tropes are useful. Respect the trope.
NOTE: You will notice I have not mentioned TV Tropes nor provided a link. That’s because that place will suck you in and you’ll emerged dazed and enlightened many hours later. Although come to think of it, someplace you can lose yourself is a damn good idea right now. Here, abandon all sense of time when you enter TV Tropes.