Monday, February 1, 2010

Trouble Tropes?

Hi everyone,

One of the most fun things about writing romance is torturing my characters. I'm a wicked wicked creator, and I put my characters through the bloody wringer. I like thinking of new and interesting ways to push them to the limits of their endurance.

As I read romances, I can't help but notice certain "trouble" situations come up over and over again. Here are my top three, and why I think they're so popular in our favorite genre.

#1 I'm dying! Dyyiiinggg, cough, cough, sputter.

Okay, so there are few things that are as dramatic as death. Death is the ultimate end game, and the one thing that could potentially separate our hero from our heroine forever, unless you're writing about vampires, but we'll get to that in a minute. I think it is only natural to have our characters face death on a regular basis. Heck! I almost make it a point to nearly kill my characters in every book at least once, sometimes more than once. It's okay, they can take it.

So here's my take on the nature of the near death scene in Romance. The purpose of the scene is to make the surviving half of the duo face how they would feel if they really lost this person. That can be potent. Facing death is a great way to make a reluctant character finally admit what they're really feeling before it is too late.

Unfortunately, because they are so powerful, be careful when writing a death scene that it doesn't become a trope. How many times in a Historical Romance have you seen someone fall prey to a fever? Let me think. Wait, I've run out of fingers. You get my point. If you're going to nearly off someone, just be sure to mix it up a little, then really punch us in the gut. And for the love of butter, will everyone lay off the "willow bark" cure for the fever please? I'm a little tired of that one.

#2 We've got you surrounded.

So, our strong and independent heroine comes out of a club and has to enter the dead end alley, complete with garbage, and the occasional rat. Guess who she meets? I'm betting it's not the Easter Bunny.

Or maybe it is highwaymen around the coach, a hoarde of vampires around the ancient stone circle of whatever, you get the idea. There's nothing scarier than being trapped. And nothing more heroic than the lone hero (and sometimes heroine) either fighting their way out or fighting their way in. Either way, they get to take out a whole group of nasty thugs, save the day, and prove their heroicness. Awesome.

Obviously the dangers of this trouble trope are having the victim come off as TSTL for getting surrounded to begin with, or the baddies coming off as computer generated thugs in a video game.

#3 I could use a good nap...

Kidnap that is... Again, there's nothing more fun than having one of our characters stolen, because of course the other has to go find her and save the day. Here's my question.

Has the guy ever been kidnapped? Has the girl ever rescued him? Hmmmm, that stirs up some fun thoughts.

Now I know for a fact, I've included all three of these situations in my books. What can I say, they're intense. So how do we keep trouble in a story from becoming formulaic?

How do we keep it as terrifying for the reader as it is for our character?

And what do you think of trouble tropes? How many more are out there?

Happy reading everyone!



Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

I'm afraid that willow bark is almost as common as asprin because it contains the substances in asprin. So any time you want to give someone and asprin for fever or aches and they're in a culture which doesn't have a lot of refined medicine, willow bark is as close to asprin as those folks can get.

I learned this from Dad, in his capacity as toxicologist with a specialty in poisonous plants. He's interested that when folks who've been ingesting willow bark start showing symptoms suspiciously similar to an asprin overdose, that's probably because they've given themselves an asprin overdose from the willow bark. {Smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Jess Granger said...

I know that the willow bark is like asprin, that's what bothers me about it. The way it is presented, it's like some magical cure no one would ever suspect. Now that might be true, but the problem is, it is presented as the "magic" cure for a historical fever so often I roll my eyes when I see it now. My reaction goes something like, the old cook/fortuneteller/herbalist/widow/ comes in.

"Give him this!"

And I think, "Let me guess, willow bark?"

It's just not a surprise, so I feel like any time it is presented as a surprise I'm let down and annoyed a little. Does that make sense?

And now every time I see a heroine lost or hurt out in the cold, or a hero who cut himself and now it is infected, my first thought is "I need 20 cc's of willow bark, stat!"

That's the trouble with a trope. At some point it just gets silly.

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin said...

{SMILE} The only problem with 20 cc's of willow bark is that herbal cures aren't good at controlling dosage. One pot of tea might give you twice the recommended dose in a single cup. The next might give you a small fraction of the recommended dose. That's why Dad's so aware of the effects. {lop-sided smile}

Mostly I agree with you. Treating the source of asprin as some surprising miracle cure is just plain silly. It is no more of a miracle than aspirin. I don't see that willow bark should be a surprise, either. {Smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin