Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Breaking Tropes – Part 1 – Fantasy


Over the next few articles I will be discussing the breaking of tropes within genres and all of the areas of interest on this blog. For this first article, I shall be discussing Fantasy tropes. The second part of this series, which deals with Horror, can be seen here.

The Standard
When you talk about fantasy, you talk about the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Robert E. Howard (and to a lesser extent J.K. Rowling, and David Gemmel). One thing that all of these writers did (very heavily in some cases) was draw on the real world. They made the mundane fantastic. This is a very common standpoint for fantasy, and can be argued to be the common ancestor of all fantasy storytelling (even going as far back as the earliest human religions). Turning our world into something it is not, where people not unlike us can experience fantastic adventures and other worldly powers. That is the dream evoked by fantasy literature, but in our long years of exposure to this, we have become largely bemused by it.

Sure, we will still be thrilled by the greats (and possibly bored stiff by the Biblical listing is names in Tolkein’s works) but anything new that surfaces must break this standard to be accepted. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Trolls are all stock standard fantasy. A reader should be surprised and excited when they read about a fantastic creature, but now most readers are surprised if a book lacks one of these archetypes. That is simply the wrong way to go about the genre, at least, in my opinion.

The New Frontier
Writers such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have, in my opinion, created a new frontier for fantasy where they’ve made the fantastic mundane. Essentially, they have otherworldly heroes (or mundane heroes) thrown into mundane (or fantastic but accepted) situations. Instead of having a humble Hobbit overwhelmed by the scale of the world beyond his home, you have boys born as unwitting princes who travel to their true (and fantastic) homes and finding themselves fitting in better than they did in the mundane world. In this way, the Harry Potter series lies on the border between the two: Harry is bewildered by the new magical world before him, and still ends up in trouble when introduced to new concepts, but finds himself in a seat of power and comfort at Hogwarts where none such existed in the mundane ‘Muggle’ world.

Another stand to take on this system is one of new ideas: new mythological creatures (or perhaps no mythological creatures, or creatures that work differently), new approaches to magic (or, again, perhaps no magic what-so-ever) or simply new cultures given a fantasy treatment. I know I for one would love to read a story about Inuit/Saxons who live in a world with a massive distinction between insane magicians and transfiguring humans, and then everyone else (who maintains their power despite this). But, I guess I’ll just have to finish writing that before I can read it myself *wink*.
(Note, I am sorry for my cryptic tendencies, and please note, I am not really as arrogant as I might have seemed in the above. I was simply dropping in basic information about my ongoing writing project Vengr.)

So what can I do to seem fresh?
The easiest way to seem fresh is to plan. Plan and read. Then read, and read more, and when you’ve finished reading, you should try reading. Get as much information as you can, and then go back and plan again. What did everyone else do? What seemed interesting and exciting? More importantly why did it seem exciting? Jot a few notes down about what was done and why it was enjoyable (or why not) and ten begin brainstorming.

What can you do that hasn’t been done before that fits the moulds of Interesting that you read? Pass these ideas to your friends and see if they’d be interested in reading such a story. But make sure to ask your most brutally honest friends! Nothing is worse than getting ‘yessed’ at and finding out you’ve made a Narnia clone.

I hope to talk to you again soon,

Ben Scerri