The Trouble with Tropes

The Cinderella Trope

I’ve been struggling to finish my novel. And I’m not exactly sure why. I have a solid plot, solid characters, and a real place in which to base the story.

Part of the solution occurred to me as I laid down for a nap the other day.

The whole concept started with a lucid dream I had when I first moved from San Diego. That dream turned into a script for one of my Journalism classes at university. That script later transformed into a short story, which became the beginning of my book.

Last week, I talked about tropes and how agents, editors, and publishers seem to despise the idea of the main character (MC) waking up to start the story. But what if I start with an incident that occurs three or four chapters later?

Hmm. That got the wheels turning in a whole ‘nother direction with some of the other side-plots, too.

I don’t want to start all over. So, I’ll make notes in each of the scenes that will require a good rewrite and move the story forward with the new idea. I can use the first chapter or three either as backstory or as an element of magical realism. I’m leaning in the direction of magical realism based on events that occur early in the storyline.

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely why this story is moving with such difficulty. Background events mirror the world around us, some incidents that have occurred with the MCs are disturbing, to say the least. And with events moving fast, it’s hard to keep up. Their story derived from today’s headlines with a big “what if” thrown into the batter.

Now, part of the issue is that I might be writing one big cliché. The trick is to turn the trope around and make it meaningful for the reader. The trouble is we live in a world that seems to be falling apart around us while our day-to-day activities must continue. That is the intersection at which my tale begins.

So, what happens when external forces affect one’s life, so they feel they must run to survive? That is a question I am exploring with this book. We live in a society in which we are free to leave our homes at any time to visit a friend, run an errand, or attend a concert. But what if that changed overnight? What if, as you sat down to dinner one evening, trucks with bullhorns rolled through your neighborhood and announced that the area was under “martial law,” and you were to stay put until “an official” knocked on your door? What questions would run through your head? How would you react to the announcement? Some of that would depend on where you live and your lifestyle. Perspective would matter greatly.

This is a big story for me. And it gets bigger every day. The backdrop for the story is political, and I try to avoid politics, although it looms large in every conversation we have with others. We choose our words depending on who we’re talking to. We use one phrase with our families, and another, perhaps not as tasteful, phrase with our friends.

The focus of my story is on the characters who want to survive the backdrop events that cause them to react. As you might have guessed, it doesn’t always go well for them. I’m still slogging my way through the first draft, so don’t hold your breath for a call for alpha or beta readers any time soon. I’m forcing the tale out, word by painful word.

I don’t want to use clichés and stereotypes without finding a way to turn them around. At this point, the story isn’t satire or humor, so writing in the style of known satirists and humorists isn’t on my radar. Still, I never know how the story will evolve as the characters lead me through their experiences. I know how they got into their current predicament, I know some of the things that will help them, and I know where they will end up. What I don’t know are the details that get them from point A to point B, to point C, to the end.

My commitment to myself is to schedule time daily to sit down and transcribe the damned story. I have a lot to do, and I’m trying to be patient as time crawls/flies by.

What about you? How do you handle the stereotypes and clichés that creep into your writing?

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