Writing, Tropes, and Losing Yourself in the Details

I was tempted to call this post “Tropey Tropey Trope Tropes”, because this is the state of mind I am in right now.

In one of the writing forums I frequent, tropes in fantasy novels came up for discussion. The main post asked what we writers [as readers] thought the genre was lacking, and what we would like to see in the future. Most writers used the opportunity to list what tropes they felt were tired and worn out, but some of them listed things they would like to see. The interesting part for me was that before this post, I didn’t realize how many tropes my Atlantis: TVC series subverts or deconstructs. Of course, there are many that it plays true to; after all, tropes are tropes because they’re common, and they’re common because they work. [See, this is why I aimed for that title, because the word “trope” is going to come up. A lot. It’s going to look strange on the screen after a while, and by the end of this article it will become a mass of letters that not only will seem spelled wrong, but lack meaning. Also, that’s known as semantic satiation. Or you can be fancy and call it jamais vu.]

Fun and educational!
This post is fun and educational!

Obligatory TV Tropes Warning: I’m totally going to link to TV Tropes beyond this point. You will lose hours, possibly days by following these links. Stay strong!

Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let me start by saying this–and reinforcing an earlier point–tropes are not inherently bad. Tropes are tools. [See what I did there?] Like I said, I was surprised by how many tropes I unconsciously subverted. I didn’t intend to do this; the story just happened to take me in this direction. I wrote a post a while back and in it I stated how after I began taking my writing seriously, I became disenchanted with all media because I spent so much time dissecting it, trying to predict where the story would go. It became so bad that I stopped enjoying it. I had to take a giant step back and learn to turn my inner writer off.

[Note: At this point in the article, I went to look something up and wasted three hours on TV Tropes without realizing it. Let that be an additional warning for you, in case you were not taking my previous one seriously.]

I ended up having to take a long break from everything to do with writing–writing forums, writing guides, TV Tropes, actual television… and yes, writing. I was taking a trip to visit my parents for a few weeks, so I deliberately left my laptop at home. The only thing I’d have access to would be the tactics, and rhythm games I had on my 3DS, and the games I had on my phone. [Mostly puzzle games, like Sailor Moon Drops.] And of course, Reality TV, because that’s what my parents enjoy. I can easily tune that out though, so that last one wasn’t a big deal.

It worked. I came back fully reset and not only able to enjoy the things I used to love, but having a better idea of how not to fall into that cynical mindset again. Surprisingly, it helped me to see my own book in a new light, and I ended up tearing down a lot of the future events I had planned and reconstructing them from the ground up. I am really pleased with the direction I’m moving in now, and I feel my writing is stronger for it.

Oddly enough, this is what is allowing me to self-analyze my own work and see what I have done. Here are some of the tropes I have identified in Atlantis: TVC:

Note: I tried to not spoil anything crucial to the plot.

    • A Birthday, Not a Break – Achine. [I feel bad for her. It just makes everything happening at the time worse.]
    • Calling Your Attacks – This was one of my favorites. Subverted by Eruni in volume #2, then deconstructed by Varanis in the same scene.
    • Mana Drain – Played mostly straight.
    • Mythopoeia – True to trope. Atlantian gods, goddesses, and mythos are all figments of my own imagination and not based on anything in reality. [Excepting Atlantis itself, which was a myth in its own right, but nothing about my version and the common version match.]
    • Urban Fantasy – Slightly subverted, and partially deconstructed. Though in the story Atlantis exists in its own bubble in our times, Davidian’s explorations into “modern” society have inspired advancements in Atlantian science and technology–the most notable of those being the mana potion, which was already mentioned as being something he drove development of in volume #2. [Later in the series his exact inspiration will be revealed, but you can probably guess what it was if you think about it.]

There were more I wanted to mention, but I would be spoiling major plot points from the current and future volumes.

When I originally created the Atlantis: TVC series eighteen years ago, I had no idea what a trope was. When I was re-tooling it two years ago [By the way, today marks the two-year anniversary of when I started writing volume #1! Time sure flies, huh?] I knew of tropes, but didn’t really know what they were in detail. I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to write with a negative view of tropes stuck in my head! If I listened to everything I read, I may have never gotten past my notes…

At some point you’re going to have someone criticize your work. You’re going to read somewhere that writers who don’t go out of their way to subvert tropes shouldn’t be writing at all because everything has been done already. When you do come across this, put it out of your mind. Just because a formula is the same doesn’t mean it’s going to be written the exact same way. Every story is different, despite sharing tropes. That’s why people have favorite types of stories–because usually they share tropes! So when you encounter that, remember: only you can write your story.

P.S: Some of my personal favorite tropes are: Freaky Friday, Relationship Upgrade, Babies Ever After, Rescue Reversal, Firting Under Fire, Heroic B.S.O.D., Let’s Get Dangerous, Battle Couple, and Hope Springs Eternal. What are some of yours?

Shower Thoughts

I was in the shower and as I was shampooing my hair I found my thoughts drifting toward a strange subject–the fertility of long-lived species.

Well, specifically, it was elves. High elves, the original nigh-if-not-actually-immortal haughty bastards of fantasy. They live for a long time, and typically are portrayed as having small populations. Stories with these races in the world are often set long past their heyday, and it makes sense for a long-lived population in decline to be few in number. But, what if it was because of something else, like fertility?

In humans, females are fertile for twenty-four to forty-eight hours each month, and roughly from the ages of twelve to fifty. Males are fertile from the age of twelve until they die, but the quality of the offspring can suffer as they age. Animals are usually “in heat” once or twice a year, but for up to two weeks at a time. This starts around the age of six months and lasts until they until they die. [They also have shorter pregnancy cycles than humans.]

Don’t even get me started on Pokemon.

If elves [or any other long-lived race] are portrayed as similar enough to humans, then do their females go through a menopause? If so, since they have such long lifespans, when would it occur? Around the same time as a human female? That would make it fifty years old, which is usually interpreted as still being in childhood for these types. [Sometimes it’s literal–they still have a child’s body; or figuratively where they have an adult body but a child’s mind.] Under the assumption that the average age of death for elves is say, five-hundred–making their life-span five times as long as ours–then that means they don’t reach sexual maturity until they are sixty years of age. Still applying equivalent human time constraints, that would make them young adults. [About twenty-five years-old, which seems late for puberty now, doesn’t it?]

My main question is, when do they stop being fertile? Do they have a natural end to their fertility at a set age [At age two-hundred and fifty, if we’re still following humans.] or are they fertile until they die, like animals tend to be? If they’re continuously fertile, a small population makes sense if couples could wait to procreate because they never have the option not to–barring some factor like injury or infertility. This also means the number of children in the society at any given time would be low too.

On the other hand, if they had a set end to fertility I imagine a larger population since when you have a limited time to do something, you tend to start earlier rather than later. But they could start worrying about overpopulation, or some could choose to go child-free for various reasons–personal preference, available resources, etc. If enough of them start feeling this way, then the population will decline naturally as the elders die off. [This is happening in Japan right now.]

The only thing I can conclude is that a small population would be logical in either scenario, which doesn’t give me any answers. Of course, the author can write the elves [or other long-life race] however they want and absolutely none of this matters, but sometimes I like to take a good shower thought and examine all its facets under the light. In my Atlantis: TVC series, I have races with longer life spans than humans; most of them have small populations, and I can’t get into more than that because I would be entering spoiler territory. But this exercise makes me take a deeper look into my own races and characters–which is never a bad thing. In fact, it’s caused me to re-examine several future plot points and motivations. [In a good way!]

Sometimes shower thoughts are the best thoughts.

What do you feel causes authors to depict elves [and other fantasy races] as small societies? Do you feel it’s fertility related, or due to some other reason?