A Game of Tropes

A Game of Tropes

A literary trope is a figurative or symbolic metaphor in its most complicated sense. In its more homogenized definition, a trope is a technique or stereotype that uses commonly established archetypes to help convey meaning.  In all stories, we know that the Hero is special. He’s the Chosen One, who will affect change in his world; this one of the most common tropes in genre fiction. Another example would be the “evil galactic empire” reminiscent of Nazis, Romans, Fascists. They sport gray uniforms, and appear in Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Chronicles of Riddick, and a dozen others. In these pieces the “good guys” are always diverse and colorful—this is a metaphor or trope for an idealized way of life slathered in diversity and personal freedoms. Consider: In Star Wars rebel pilots wear bright orange—their enemy counterparts look like SS soldiers. In Lord of the Rings, the heroes armies gather with brightly colored banners of silver and gold, blue and green. The orcs mass under a variants of a black flag. An interesting use of this trope is Robert Heinlein’s StarShip Troopers. The narrator is, in fact, one of those gray-uniform wearing space-nazis. Though we are sympathetic to this character, there can be no doubt that he is from a less than democratic society—this causes a gut reaction in most Americans. Everyone around me is gearing up for the next season of Game of Thrones. While watching/reading, I see elements from many other very successful authors in variety of genres. One cannot help but wonder is George R. R. Martin a singular fantasy genius or simply a well read nerd? Neither is really a bad thing, but I want to point some of the methods he’s using to bring standard fantasy tropes to life in new ways. I may go so far as to say that nothing in the Game of Thrones series is new or the sole creation of George’s imagination. That’s okay. I once had a writing professor offer the quotation, “Young writers invent, published writers steal.” He was not of course encouraging plagiarism, nor am I suggesting George R.R. Martin is guilty of this most heinous of crimes. I am saying the George R.R. Martin has brilliantly woven in commonly loved cultural elements from a myriad of fiction sources, made them his own and taken us on a great ride. First let’s address some of the standard tropes within the genre of fantasy literature. The one that always gets my goat is the chosen one. How many Chosen One’s can there be? It is important that we understand the necessity of this element, but also that it is as old as the concept of the story...

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Heron’s Path by Alethea Eason: (sample)

Check out this sample from the upcoming young adult fantasy novel Heron’s Path by Alethea Eason: — — — On a hot day in September I found Celeste’s clothes scattered all over the barn, one shoe upside down next to Papa’s forge and the other inside a milking pail. Her yellow dress hung from a ladder like a bird suspended in midair. I pulled the dress down by its hem and three tiny blue feathers, nearly the same shade as my sister’s eyes, drifted down to the dusty floor. I caught one of them in my hand; I stood there puzzling over what might have happened that morning to make her run off again. I felt alone, as though a wind had come up and peeled Celeste from the earth. I told myself that she was playing the same old game she’d scared us with so many other times, but this loneliness—so odd and new—followed me like a ghost as I ran outside and shouted for Papa. I was afraid he wouldn’t come; I’d find our cabin gone, and I’d be without any family at all. Papa searched the woods. I took our dog, Rufus, and ran up and down the river bank. When I found no trace of her I followed Papa into the trees where there were more shadows than seemed right. I didn’t dare go in very far and kept circling the places Celeste and I knew well. I heard Olena’s voice in my head telling me stories. Her words dripping slowly the way honey falls from a spoon. Her stories always made me uneasy. She believed in ghosts, the last traces of the Old Ones, who were a part of the breath and spirit of the rocks and trees, of the river Talum, and the surrounding woods. But the wei-ni-la, the darker ones, were the shadows to really fear. They were ancient too, and lived in the empty spaces of the woods, filling them with whispering. All afternoon Celeste’s name echoed through the trees as Papa and I called for her. Finally, his shouting changed and Rufus started to bark furiously. I was so tired my legs were shaking. I was running on legs that wouldn’t work. When I finally found them, Papa was half way up a steep gully with Celeste draped over his shoulder. Her hair, a skein of golden thread unraveling almost to the ground, was the only thing that covered her. I thought she looked newly born or newly dead. “Is she all right?” I asked. My lips were dry and hurt when I spoke, and my words felt like spittle as they came out of my mouth. All Papa could...

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Read Stuff: Huldredrom – Dream of the Hid-Folk

Huldredrom – Dream of the Hid-Folk by Christopher R. Knutson   Review by Eric Staggs   This unique piece of literature came to my attention through pure chance. Since I have found that the best pieces of literature often do arrive via unforeseen channels, I agreed to read and review it.   I’m glad I did. The style of writing at first seemed simple, unsophisticated, but as I progressed, I found I was drawn into the unfamiliarity of the culture, the complexity of Norwegian proper nouns seemed to help heft the weight of their folklore and a new found Christianity.   The story takes place in a picaresque rural village; imagine fens and glens and heathers, buffered on all sides by brooding mountains whose caps are white year round. These snow caps help to anthropomorphize the mountains, giving them an ancient and wise presence. Within these mountains and valleys lives the Hid-Folk. Fey and spritely, these trolls, changelings and their kin live out long and mischievous lives just under the nose of the villagers. The Hid-folk have a habit of stealing human babies and raising them as their own.  The author opens with a classic I-told-you-so moment and the tragic disappearance of a baby.   The plot is at once simple and convoluted – the rules that govern the interaction of mortals and hid-folk are complex and not always logical, but offer a vivid peek into one of Europe’s oldest mythologies. Hid-folk live a semi-parasitic life, stealing lovers and food and cows and whatever else strikes their fancy from mortal villagers, who in turn have developed a whole array of protections against such incursions.   At times almost comical, these cultural clashes between the Hid-Folk and the Villagers carry with them a deeper sub-text. The old ways are under siege by the new Christ-God whose representatives have banned the worship of the Old Norse Gods. Yet, for our characters, the reality remains: Hid-Folk could be any stranger you meet while tending the sheep and elemental spirits might easily burst forth and offer you knowledge or simply wish for company. The only evidence of the truth of Christianity is the agony the cross and tolling bells causes the Hid-Folk.   Vivid imagery and thorough understanding of the culture push this story forward at a comfortable pace. Descriptions of place and time help bring to the reader’s mind concrete imagery and paint each scene in fluid detail – allowing for just enough personalization to make each reader’s experience unique.   Not quite a love story and not quite a fairy-tale laden with moral and metaphor, Huldredrom: Dream of the Hid-Folk­ by Christopher R. Knutson is an entertaining read for all ages...

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Magic

No, not the magic of writing. Well, maybe a little of that. Mostly it’s the magic of your fantasy world. Come on – you know you’ve written that next Lord of the Rings fantasy epic. You’ve done away with Orcs (Orks) and Elves and come up with something completely new and fresh. You’ve got an epic hero, who while still being “the chosen one,” manages to break all the stereotypes of fantasy literature and maintain the mythic cycle. You’re sure that Joseph Campbell would be bouncing with delight at your clever five act novel. You know that Ed Greenwood has nothing on the intricate fantasy realm you’ve created.   But there’s a problem. Your magic isn’t internally consistent. You might not even know it’s a problem. You might think it’s just some awkward scenes. Maybe you let your D&D group read the piece and they’re scratching their heads about the difference between Sorcerers and Wizards. Or maybe it’s something deeper, more subtle yet intrinsic to the plot.   Magic is a very slippery slope for a writer. Once the die is cast (or spell, in this case) there is not going back. If you’ve introduced magic to your world, your novel cannot ignore it. No one would. A magic-rich setting changes all the dynamics as well. Suddenly there’s no need to plow the fields – magic can do it. Suddenly, everyone carries a magic sword; your flaming scimitar of ass-kicking isn’t so special anymore. In fact, if everyone is walking around with a magic sword, mighty swords like Excalibur and Stormbringer suddenly become less wondrous. Even the Sword of Omens (Thundercats ho!) becomes more of a trinket or gimmick if every character has a magic sword. By the way, who is making these magic swords? If every man in the Evil Count’s Army has one, there’s no time for the Wizards to be casting their magic spells to plow the fields. Which puts us right back to where we started from.   You begin to see the problems with magic as a storyteller.   Finally, there’s the worst mistake a writer can make with magic – the dreaded Deus Ex Machina! Yes, one must never rely on magic to wrap up your plot. We see it all too often. For example, when the Prophets from Star Trek Deep Space Nine intervene (for unknown, undisclosed and unrealistic reasons) by destroying a force of thousands of Jem Hadar starships – we can call this a writer’s cop out, or a Deus Ex Machina Moment. Don’t do that.   Be the master of the magic in your world, not vice versa. Here’s how:   Be internally consistent: establish and understand the limitations...

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2012 – Let the End begin!

We all know it’s not going to happen. We’ve lived through one Rapture, this next supposed Apocalypse might be worthy of opening a bottle of champagne, but not much else. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want to read about it! “End of The World” stories are making their mark as one of the most popular sub-genres of Science Fiction, Horror and even some other less obvious styles. That’s why Spectacle Publishing Media Group LLC is assembling top-notch fiction stories for our upcoming anthology Omega. You got it my friend; this is a flat-out call for submissions! You want to be published! You have a story to tell! We want to publish you! We want to tell your story! Here are the details on what we’re looking for: End of The World, Civilization or Species  stories 2,500 – 10,000 words Strong CHARACTERS Unique Plots (or common plots told in face-melting style) Error FREE, proof read and spell checked submissions For inclusion in this Anthology email submissions@spectaclepmg.com with the subject line “2012 anthology” Short story submissions DO NOT need queries. DO NOT put your story in the body of an email. Attach as a Word doc or RTF file. Deadline for submissions: December 31st, 2011 (however, this date may be changed at our discretion due to scheduling and content needs) By submitting your fiction to SPMG, you are agreeing to allow us to publish in print and eBook format. As always, if you have a longer piece that fits this genre, prepare a query and send it to queries@spectaclepmg.com. Got it? Let’s review: Short Story about the end of the world go to: submissions@spectaclepmg.com (subject line: 2012 Anthology) Do not put your story in the body of an email Longer stories (novels) need a query and they go to: queries@spectaclepmg.com Hurry up! Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...

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Scary S@*#

Halloween is just around the corner. Or maybe it’s hiding in the closet or under the bed. It might be sliding from shadow to shadow as you wander wearily to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My bet is that it was watching you from the window, probably ever since you got home this evening. Did you lock the doors up? Do you dare go check? Whatever your relationship with Halloween, no one dislikes a good horror story. Everyone likes to be scared. It’s fun when you’re a kid, it’s fun when you’re an adult. The question becomes “what is scary?” There’s no shortage of Stephen Kings and Dean R. Koontzs and Clive Barkers, but is this stuff scary anymore? How many times can King tell a story about a haunted car? Three to my best estimation (Maximum Overdrive, Christine and I’m sure there’s one more…) The trend in “scary” has changed from that tingling uneasiness you get when walking in the woods alone at sunset, to scenes of gruesome torture and mutilation. Mutilation is not horror. Mutilation is a car accident or an artillery shell. Torture is not horror; it is a debased form of intelligence gathering. So what is scary? Well, it’s not vampires anymore. They’re too clever and charming, their fashion sense is overwhelming and with such perfect smiles, how could they instill fear in anything? Werewolves too, have fallen to the wayside on the highway of terror. Ghosts, while unsettling for most are recycled and trite. Zombies and some of the more gruesome undead seem to be holding out cultural attention. I personally have read a dozen books that treat the topic with excellent insight as well as innovation. Ever since the 2003 release of 28 Days Later, we’ve seen the Zombie sub-genre blossom like a yellow-musk creeper in corpse pile (old school D&D reference anyone?). Now that zombies are fast, can run and chase you, and want nothing more than to devour you, to eat you alive while you struggle vainly to protect your exposed flesh from their rotting, chipped teeth, they are a bit more frightening. The denizens of the underworld, demons and devils, always occupy a special place, a shadowy corner in the recesses of the minds of the pious. But is it the threat of eternal damnation or the threat of a being whose very existence is anathema to your continued survival that is scary? I guess we should check in with William Peter Blatty for that one. When I talk with writers about horror, about mustering up strange fears that often the audience didn’t even know it had, I always start with a conversation about what the writer...

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