M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing Success: Using Cliches and Tropes

Is there anything more cliched than a fairy tale? The story lines from the Brothers Grimm get recycled over and over -- with varying results, both artistically and financially. One of the most fun reworking of fair y tales, IMHO, is Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Series. While my computer was held hostage by my bedroom furniture [while getting to carpeting] -- I reread The Fire Rose [It was the easiest to grab.] for the ????? time.

Yeah, I admit I've reread her Elemental series over and over and enjoy each volume each time I read it. The question to ask is why on earth Why?

I'm sure you've already guessed the answer. It's the way she twists various cliches to make them her own and support her storyline -- in this case it's Beauty and the Beast. Some examples:

the poor girl all alone in the world:
In The Fire Rose, Lackey sets her story in the good old early 20th century USA. The setting is is academe, both institutional and private. Rose is a brilliant scholar whose fight for an advanced degree ends when her professor father dies. She uses her skills as an ancient linguist to escape her predicament ... only to fall into a deeper pit.

the werewolf:
The hero is the usual alpha male egomaniac. While he doesn't flex his abs, he does something more interesting. He turns himself into a half-man, half-beast by trying to use earth magic when he's a Fire master. The hero also learns from his act of hubris which includes accepting Rose as an equal.

magic base on the four elements:
Lackey's magical system -- based on fire, air, earth, and water -- is fairly simple, but it works within its logic. When the hero tries to break it, he is punished. [See above.]
societal conventions fill the pages:
The villains are even more arrogant the hero, and don't learn any lessons. Loved the way she used A. E. Crowley's arrogance to set up an alternative form of magic to break the rules of mastering the elemental magic.

Perhaps one of the more interesting is how Lackey uses xenophobia as an illustration of tolerance. The setting, San Francisco of 1906, provides Chinese traditions as a counter to the European magic system. It also provides allies to help the protagonists stay alive, against the way Chinese were treated in California at the time.

Out of her magical systems, Lackey gives a neat alternative explanation of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

Yeah, I realize that there are lots of story line cliches mentioned above. Doesn't matter to Lackey though. She makes the whole story fresh. 

May you write as well as she, them.
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I would argue that there is another piece of one word advice: Write.
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