Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Bulletproof" Tropes

Supposedly, the new water heater cabinet door was going to be finished yesterday, so it's possible that the final work could be done today. Have I mentioned how much I'm ready to have this over with so I can go back to normal and stop spending my days sitting around waiting for people who might show up to either do or check on work? This is a silly little thing, but I really want to be able to go back to having breakfast while still wearing my nightgown instead of feeling like I should get dressed as soon as I get up, in case someone comes by early. And I want to be able to get back to sitting around the house in the kind of really comfortable casual clothes that I generally don't allow myself to be seen in public in.

I did get back to writing yesterday, but I didn't get much done because the scene I was writing suddenly veered in an unexpected direction. I think it's a good direction, but the fact that it veered meant I had no idea what happens next and couldn't finish the scene. Now I have to think about it. During the water heater and holiday hiatus, I realized that there's a good mythological model for part of the main plot of this story. I just want to find a way to put an interesting twist on it.

A couple of weeks ago, the Dear Author blog had a post about "bulletproof tropes," the tropes you love enough that you'll cut any books that have them some slack -- even a bad book with those tropes is better than a good book without them. If it's got that trope, it can't fail. I'm afraid I often have the reverse, the tropes I love so much that I get really irked when they're done badly, and I have high expectations for any book that has them.

One of those for me is the Friends Become Lovers story. I love the idea of it, but it's generally really badly executed. In romance novels especially, as soon as love enters the picture, they stop acting like friends and that side of their relationship disappears. Other genres where there's another main plot and the romantic relationships are a subplot do it a little better, but it's still a pretty rare plot line, perhaps because there's the idea that without angst and drama, it's boring. I've noticed in television discussion, if the woman on a show gets into a relationship with the "best friend" guy, the fans protest and claim they have no "chemistry." They prefer her with the angsty bad boy with whom she has a turbulent relationship laden with sexual tension. Then again, this is also something that's tricky in real life. I don't know that there are that many cases of people who have been friends without even considering anything else who then fall in love. Usually what looks like friends-to-lovers from the outside is really just a slowly building relationship in which there was a mutual initial attraction, but either due to circumstances or inclination they took it really slowly and built a solid friendship before adding romance or sex to the picture. I suppose one reason it does work better in other genre stories may be that if you're thrown into extreme circumstances, that might give you a different view of someone familiar whom you hadn't ever thought about in that way. At any rate, it's a story line I'm drawn to but almost inevitably disappointed by.

I don't know that I have any real "bulletproof" tropes because there have been things I hate even when they contain things I love, but I do have some things that I'm a sucker for and will forgive a lot if it does these things reasonably well.

One of these is time travel, but only some kinds of time travel. Not the kind of time travel romance that was really popular in the 1990s in which a busy modern woman gets sent back to medieval times, falls in love with a knight and decides to stay (as if). What I love are stories with complex timelines, so that things happen out of order and you get stuff like the son being the mentor to his much-younger father. However, you do have to be careful about it. I was rather creeped out by the bit in The Time Traveler's Wife in which he was hanging out with his wife when she was a child because that looked an awful lot like grooming or brainwashing. If someone's going to run into a lover when the lover is still a child, the adult may have the "oh, wow" moment and then try to avoid the kid to avoid influencing the child. A kid may not remember a brief encounter with a random stranger, so that's okay. Showing up for regular tea parties with a child you know will grow up to marry you is a little predatory, and you can never know if your future spouse marries you out of real love or because you've been such an influence.

I also love most stories involving people traveling to other "worlds," whether it's an alternate world like Narnia or a fairy-like realm. In some respects, I think it's related to the time travel thing. If you're going through a portal to a fantasy world, then you can have the fun part of medieval times without the ick that shows up in real history. This kind of story is very "monomyth," since the Joseph Campbell heroic journey is classically one to an otherworld. There's that sense of going into the "other" and returning changed or changing enough that you can't return. Though I have to like the characters (and thus, I didn't get past the first chapter of the Thomas Covenant series).

I'm a big fan of the ordinary guy hero -- not the type who may be toiling as an apprentice underwater basketweaver but who is really the long-lost heir or the destined, chosen one whose time has come, but rather the guy who doesn't have any particular destiny but who is in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it), gets caught up in events, and isn't the sort of person to turn his back when something needs to be done on behalf of other people. I think I'm drawn to the idea that you don't really know what you're capable of until you're tested, and the worst thing that happens to you can actually be the best thing for you if it allows you to achieve your potential. Our ordinary guy may have been a decent farmer, sailor, merchant, etc. I could even deal with him being a run-of-the-mill wizard. But then he gets caught up in events and his achievements raise him to a new level. If I see any hint of that sort of thing on the cover of a book, I'm generally sold. I think this is why Neverwhere is one of my favorite books. Not only is it a journey through another "world," but it's an ordinary guy who gets stuck there just because he was nice to someone in need, not because he was special or had special skills.

I suppose I should take a good look at my bookshelves to see what other patterns emerge, though I think that a lot of my favorites weren't always things I expected to like but that took me by surprise. There's not a particular trope there that draws me, but rather the individual characters and their particular situations.

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