Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing Exercises, Courtesy of TVTropes

I posted an earlier blog post on the Facebook wall of my friend Alex Hughes since I had referenced a comment she made during writing group in it.

This spawned a discussion about the use of TVTropes for marketing.  She is skeptical of the concept, while I think it would be a good way to do viral marketing.  Meanwhile, Terra LeMay warned that the Merriam-Webster definition of a "trope" also includes the word "cliche" and so if there are a lot of tropes in one's work, that might be a bad sign.

(Somewhere along the way, someone posted a "Periodic Table" of fiction using individual TVTropes as the elements.  That got discussed as well.)

Based on these discussions, I came up with a few writing exercises that could be useful for brainstorming or stretching one's writing muscles.  Both exercises use TVTropes.  Here goes...

Exercise #1: Take randomly-selected tropes and try to include them in a story.  Bonus points if they're from totally different genres, so getting a sensible storyline out of them takes hard work.

Exercise #2: Inspired by Terra's comment about how she only uses tropes when she wants to "upend or invert them."  Basically, your mission is to take one or more tropes and do the exact opposite.

Here's something I came up with as a joke to entertain Alex and Terra but figured could be an interesting "inverted trope" story element:

The only thing that really trips the "cliche alarm" in my opinion in Battle for the Wastelands is the destruction of Carroll Town, which begins Andrew Sutter's journey that will eventually take him across the Iron Desert and back again.  On TVTropes, this is called "Doomed Hometown."

So instead of the protagonist beginning his quest for revenge on the Big Bad after the Big Bad destroys his hometown, kills his family, etc., he begins his quest because the Big Bad has decided to make his hometown his new capital, a major military base, etc.  A lot people he knows lose their land (either through eminent domain or simply being chased off) due to the need for palaces, defensive works, etc., while others are forced to sell because property taxes have gotten too high for them to pay.

Perhaps the resulting conflict can be called the Gentrification War.  :)

That could be an interesting subversion of the "Doomed Hometown" trope because although gentrification will hurt some people, it will also benefit others (people supplying the palaces and military bases with goods or labor, frex)--destroying the town and killing or enslaving the people is bad for everyone.  If the hero eventually defeats the Big Bad, he'll find a lot of "his people" aren't going to be too pleased.


  1. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I only use them if I want to invert them. I do try to avoid them, though. Sometimes they happen anyway. Depends on the needs of the story.

  2. Oh. My bad. Should I correct the blog entry?

  3. I think tropes are something that occurs as a part of natural storytelling. They are glimpses of shared culture that resonate throughout the audience.

    Finding them is cool, but not a goal. Not something sought, but not something feared either.
    The destruction of a protagonist's hometown to set him on a path of vengeance is a trope because it reflects the universal truth that often to start over in life you have to let go or "destroy" your old life. This is the purpose of a trope, it is a shortcut to drive home the emotional subtext of a story.

  4. I picked "Doomed Hometown" because it was the most cliched of all the tropes I'd found in "Battle for the Wastelands," not because I really see anything wrong with it per se.

    My main purpose for TVTropes is marketing--I'm not writing the story to acculumate tropes like badges of honor. That would lead to the impression of un-originality. I already dug myself into a hole that way, personally and professionally, by admitting I started writing this after I read the first three "Dark Tower" novels in high school.

  5. I really liked your idea for the inverted trope. Makes for a very interesting motivation. And a gray one at that. Many people can root for the kid who wants to avenge the obliteration of his home. But can we all get behind the second version? I don't know.

    If we follow the logic, some people in the town would get rich off of it. Some prosper, some lose. So to them, his actions are evil. Very cool start to me.