Hello and welcome back to the blog! I spent time querying both last week and this week. I have now sent thirty-five query letters to literary agents regarding From Darkness Comes… and have received twenty-nine noes without a single full manuscript request to bolster my outlook. Look, I try to keep positive about my writing—and I’m not giving up, for the record—but the writing seems to be on the wall for that project. I promised myself fifty plus queries if I didn’t procure an agent. That’s still the plan. Tropes and whether to follow the herd is on the docket for today. Remember you have your own opinions. What follows is mine.
So, what is a trope and why should you care? I would define a trope as a popular trend in fiction, where a particular plot device is used in excess by a mass of writers. These writers see that the reading public is enjoying a certain type of story or novel and open their Word document to tell their tale. Idiocy, that’s what it is. Pure idiocy. (That’s my opinion creeping in again.) Why should you care? Honestly, I’m not sure you should, except for one reason. To avoid falling into a trope by pure happenstance.
Hard as you try, chances are you’ve written a trope or two during the course of your writing journey, though you were likely unaware of it. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable, inevitable you might say. The ever-dynamic battle between good and evil has been a popular subject for as long as stories have been told. Well, dear reader, that’s a trope. Have you ever written about an anti-hero? Yeah, so have I. That means we’ve both written another popular trope. The love triangle is another trope that seems unwilling to fade into obscurity. Stories where the main character returns to their childhood home to either fight an evil force or find that it has changed beyond recognition is one I have noticed in recent years. In my somewhat humble opinion, entire subgenres can fall into the trope category when written about at a high frequency by a mass of writers who keep their fingers pressed to the pulse of the bestseller’s list. You want an example? Well, you’re getting one.
Constant readers of this blog are likely aware of this story. Yet, I think it deserves rehashing while discussing the topic of tropes in fiction. Fifteen years ago next month, a popular young adult horror* novel was released to the adulation of women of all ages. As you might have guessed that book was Twilight. As I sit at my desk, writing about tropes, I am realizing how many tropes are in that novel. A dark and brooding teen? Check. A MC who inexplicably runs towards danger? Check. The aforementioned love triangle? Check. However, the trope I wish to focus on now is that of the vampire. Yes, I believe Twilight turned an entire subgenre of horror into a trope. Here’s why.
*I can neither confirm nor deny whether Twilight is an honest to goodness horror novel, having only read half the book (I got to the sparkly vampire part and walked away forever). It does have horror elements in it, true. However, I have always thought of it as horror-light.
After Twilight’s massive success with readers, writers set out to pen their own vampire story. I was a young writer still searching for his voice at the time. Literary fiction and an occasional ill-advised middle grade novel attempt were my focus in those days. A year or two after the release of Twilight, I set my sights on the horror genre. While reading magazine’s submission guidelines online, I noticed something interesting. Several horror mags wouldn’t take vampire stories, with one reference the common trope directly. With time—we’re talking several years—the vampire trope calmed, as trends tend to do. It was only recently that I tackled my first vampire story.
I entered the writing process for The Vampire Story (yes, that was my tentative title. Original, huh?), I did so with two goals in mind. One, write an original take on the vampire subgenre, which might still be considered a trope even today. Two, respect the history of the subgenre while achieving goal #1. I created a story where a writer is tormented by a new type of vampire that he created, which fed on emotions during dreams. The nocturnal feeding aspect of the creature was respected, while attempting to pave new ground in the way the vampire fed. I believe it to be a uniquely interesting idea, and one that I haven’t seen before.
If you’re going to tackle a common trope in fiction, please think about it first. Can the story survive without the trope? There are times when the answer is a resounding no and that’s fine. If writers never tackled a trope or two, our bookshelves wouldn’t hold the multitudes they do. However, don’t jump on a bandwagon because someone else had a good idea. Get your own good idea. Whether you choose to trope or not, be original.
To receive free updates on the blog, click the follow button in the lower right-hand corner and enter a valid email address. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. @StephenRoth316 for both. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth