Friday, February 1, 2019

2019 - February - Setting Tropes

This is Part 2 of a 12-part series dealing with Story Settings
Catherine E. McLean ◆ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Setting is the bedrock of your story. 
If you choose a real-world backdrop, 
be certain you get your facts straight. 
— Lynn Flewelling

Be it contemporary, historical, magical, science fiction, or fantasy, the setting details of a story must suit the world not distort the world. 

Nor should those details be unbelievable to the reader.

When a new writer decides to play God-of-Creation, what they don't realize is what they've created likely has been done before, often many times, even to the point of being a trope.

What is a trope? It's a common or overused theme or device that has become a cliche. 

Not all tropes are bad because in some genres there are standard tropes that readers like and which never seem to bore a reader or go out of style. To use an old cliche, it's better to look before you leap by doing some research, or google a search, to see if your story idea and setting premise falls into a good or not so good story or setting trope.

You could start with some TV and movie tropes at the website below. Then ask yourself— Does my story's setting or premise fall into one of the tropes? If it does, what can I do to revitalize the trope, make it different, interesting, or give it a wow factor?

When it comes to revitalizing a story or setting trope, there are two basic ways to handle it:

1) Change the trope in a new and fresh way. Of course, you first must know what components of your setting will tip readers off to it being a worthwhile trope, something they're familiar with. Then hone in on what does the NOT EXPECT? Knowing the reader's expectations, you can change that expectation and thus keep the reader's attention.

Of course, in the process, you may also find a better direction for a plot point to take. For example, the legend of King Arthur. You would think this legend would have been done to death, but no, there is currently a new twist to the tale with the movie The Kid Who Would Be King. A new setting (modern world) and an old setting (medieval) combination. 

2) Switching Fantasy for Reality or vice versa. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. So, what if your fantastical setting premise were not a figment of the imagination but real? That it actually exists? Can it change or complicate things? Hopefully it complicates things, adds a freshness that wows a jaded reader, editor, or agent.

Although the above methods sound simple enough, they are not easy to execute. 

There are also other aspects of setting tropes. For example when a new writer ignores their story's world or setting or treats the setting as something static, a mere backdrop done with a huge watercolor brush. The reader just gets a foggy-vague look at the setting instead of clear imagery. Which means the reader is not anchored sufficiently in the world.

A good example of ignoring a setting is in dialogue where "heads talk." That is, two characters are in conversation and nothing else is going on—no setting props are in use or being handled, no wind, weather, smells, sounds, etc. that add realism and validity to the narrative. By the way, readers consider Heads Talking as boring stuff (and it is always wise to avoid boring a reader).

Another type of "boring stuff" goes to the other extreme—The Information Dump. This is where the writer dumps in information that they found fascinating when they discovered it during their research of a geographic area, its topography, climate, soil, vegetation, and fauna. So the writer shares their zeal by expounding for paragraphs and paragraphs, describing ad infinitum.

In reality, the reader wants to skip over all that text to get to the good stuff of action and drama. [Refer to last month's post and The Story Iceberg.]

The best way to avoid a genre trope is to read 100 or more books in the genre you want to write in. Not only will you avoid plot tropes but you'll also become a wiser writer by learning how other authors handled world-building, landscapes, and props.

********** March's Topic — The Protagonist POV-Viewpoint of Their World

# # #