Two weeks ago, I brought up tropes and overused ideas, things that we’ve seen far too often in Christian speculative fiction. And a lot of you had ideas for things that had been “done to death” in your opinions. I brought up the Nephilim. Others of you brought up being transported to new realms through a portal, hidden royal children, and other plot points and devices that people keep coming back to.
One of the comments that stood out to me the most, though, was what Rebecca LuElla Miller had to say about tropes:
As to overdone tropes — none. I don’t think there are any. All of them can work if they’re done well. By that I mean they feel fresh, have an original spin. As you said, John, it’s ALL been done before, so we aren’t going to come up with that new trope that no one’s thought of before. And if we tackle one that hasn’t been done for a while, it doesn’t guarantee it will seem new.
I think that’s a fair point and one worth considering. As a wise person once observed, there’s nothing new under the sun. The same is true for tropes. It’s very difficult to find a truly unique and original idea that hasn’t been done in some way before. The key, it would seem, is to find a new way to present that trope.
What’s funny is that shortly after I posted my article on tropes two weeks ago, I found myself coming face to face with a “been there, done that” trope, one that one of you mentioned in the comments. I won’t say which trope it is, but I will say where I found it. I found it in the ABA YA book Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
If you’re unfamiliar with this book, it’s basically a retelling of the Cinderella fairytale set in the distant future. World War IV has been fought, uniting the world under a Commonwealth. Living in what was once China is a girl named Cinder. Cinder is a cyborg mechanic (as in, she’s a cyborg who is also a mechanic, not a mechanic who works on cyborgs). One day, she meets Prince Kai, the crown prince for the Commonwealth. Kai has a stressful life, believe it or not. There is a plague that is ravaging the population (including his father, the Emperor). Worse, the inhabitants of the moon are acting up, their queen making loud overtures about marrying Kai to “unite” their people.
It is very much the Cinderella story retold with cyborgs, a killer plague, and “moon magic” (don’t laugh, it works really well). I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
Except for the part where I hit a trope. As a matter of fact, it was a fairly obvious trope, one that one of you mentioned in the comments two weeks ago. I won’t say which one. Spoilers and what-not. But I had most of the plot figured out after that point.
The thing is, I really didn’t care.
The reason why is because Meyer’s story and characters were so engaging that even though part of the plot had a “been there, done that” vibe to it, I still had a lot of fun reading it. Actually, I devoured this book, polishing it off in just two or three days, and I’m ready for the sequel, whenever that may come out.
This taught me a valuable lesson about tropes. Do we have to avoid them? Well, we really can’t. Nothing new under the sun, right? The key is to find ways to use them in a fresh and new way if at all possible. Or, barring that, compensate for the trope by making the rest of the story shine. Then, while your readers may get frustrated with that one small trope, they’ll be willing to forgive because the rest is so very good.
But I’m not done with this topic just yet. In two weeks, I’m going to bring up another trope that we often see, a flaw that I think infects far too much of Christian fiction in general, not just speculative fiction. Until then, dear readers, let me leave you with a question: in what books or movies have you seen a trope used in a unique and surprising way?