Kill Your Tropes

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NaNoWriMo is nearly here, which means it’s time to prepare for insanity. For you sane people who enjoy November simply as a month of pumpkin spice lattes and fall leaves on Instagram, I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month — the glorious event in which crazy people around the world attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It’s madness. It’s awesome.

The novel you produce is usually terrible, but that doesn’t matter — because you’re holding the first draft of your very own novel in your hands. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I’d like to save us all some time by lightly recommending you keep these tropes out of your upcoming novel (or screenplay, or email to your mother — whatever you may be typing out). I’ll start with the Evil Gloating trope, because it’s my least favorite, but it still sticks its head out in many books and movies I love. To go with some popular culture: Voldemort does it. The Joker does it.

This is the scene where the Villain explains to our wounded Protagonist his or her entire Evil Scheme and the rest of us yell at the TV. Usually this lets our Protagonist wrestle their hands out from their binds and gain the upper hand, or it buys the Sidekick or Love Interest just enough time to save our Protagonist. Whew, wasn’t that lucky! Good thing our villain is totally narcissistic and can’t shut up.

The problem with this trope:

Let’s say I’m evil (don’t feel the need to agree with me too strongly here). If I put in years and years of work to pull off a scheme that relies on the death of one person who could still stop me or who holds the evidence to all my wrongdoing, trust me, the last thing I would want to do is sit down for a lengthy chat.

Do you know what guilty people actually do at scenes of heists? They shit themselves. Literally. They don’t pour themselves a nice bourbon and wax poetically on about their evil genius, cackling now and again. They get rid of the evidence as quick as possible and then they get the hell out.

Alternatives:

Here’s a good spot to do some tricky work with points of view so your reader gets a glimpse of the background to the Evil Scheme while leaving the Protagonist out of it. Or, even better, maybe have the Protagonist be clever and figure out details of the Villain’s plotting on their own. Or just drop some hints, and then trust your audience to be smart enough to piece it together. No one likes being spoon-fed.

And let’s be honest: even if our Protagonist manages to get bailed out during the Villain’s meandering confession scene, we’re always going to know that if it came down to a battle of wits, our Protagonist wouldn’t actually win. If the Villain had just been a little speedier, this whole story would have ended differently. How is our Villain smart enough to devise this entire scheme but then stupid enough to ruin it by yammering on?

Find another way to add suspense and draw out the final scene. As a reader, I’ll totally be complimented that you think I’m smart enough to figure our villain out without a longwinded speech. (Maybe. I might write you after finishing your book and say “Dude, help me out. I don’t get it.”)

But that’s a gamble I’m willing to take.

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