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Oh the cliches, let me count the ways....

The Fiery Redhead

The Brainy Brunette

The Dumb Blond

The Hot Blooded Hero

The Overbearing Father

And on and on and on….

Cliches, types, stereotypes, tropes. History and fiction has a million of them (and counting).  Some authors try to avert or subvert these, others embrace them, but they never seem to go out of style, unless certain unfortunate implications kick in (race, ethnicity and religion are the first ones that come to mind).

And the one place festooned with them is speculative fiction. The beautiful blond princess whispers of purity, the fiery redheaded fire wizard (redundant, but of course) screams of swift retribution against those that offend her (or her gender).  Combat leaders are supposed to be either a father figure to their men or complete bastard that cares nothing for their well being and gladly trade their lives for a few meters of real estate.

Many a reviewer whines every time the pop up on the page and asks themselves why, oh why did the author go the simplistic route. Some even profess to closing the book and throwing it in the garbage if a plucky sidekick shows up delivering a few lines of comic relief in the middle of the final battle.

Cliches are out, they tell us. A mortal sin to have one anywhere in your book.

You look at your manuscript and panic. But my heroine is a plucky non-sidekick redhead whose main weapon is…well…fire!

I iz doomed!

No u iz nots.

They’re multiple reasons why these cliches became cliches in the first place and why they continue to appear time and time again (and why TV Tropes is so popular).

  1. They are true. We met somebody who fits the description. Or heard about it from a third party.
  2. Two, they are easy to identify with. We know them and don’t need to spend a lot of time figuring them out.
  3. They are unavoidable. Unless you make an effort to deconstruct every single character trope, in every single situation you are not going to avoid. In fact you are liable to either fall into another cliche/trope (not the exactly the same but functionally so) or if you’re lucky enough, create a new one.

So what do can be done?

Simple, go deep!

Use the cliche/trope as the starting point for the character or situation. By giving the character a bit of depth you can avoid the shallowness of the cliche, which is really what ticks readers off. Giving the reader a cliche and nothing else smacks of laziness and lack of originality. Exploring the reason why the person fits (or not) said cliche shows that you respect your narrative and your reader(s).

 

 

I like prophecies (at least in fiction). They make for great story telling frames. They are an easy way to establish The Call to Adventure. Nothings beats a prophecy when it comes to raising the stakes. It’s not just a master less mercenary saving the snooty daughter of the local lord from the monster of the week.

Oh no!

Now it’s the whole kingdom that’s at stake.

Tempt Fate if you dare.

Become a plaything of the Gods.

Having a tough time believing that the local yokel is destined to save the Galaxy from the Overlord of all that is Eveil? Just check the prophecy, second stanza, third line. Aren’t you the man Man not born out of a Woman (whatever the hell that means)? Great! Now grab the shiny sword your father buried in that big honking rock in the backyard and off you go!

Sounds perfect, got prophecy will have fantasy blockbuster.

Or not.

Wait…

What?

Like I said, prophecies are great but there are so many ways to screw them up.

Let me counts ways:

The Forgotten Prophecy. The one you see early on in the story and completely disappears until the second to last paragraph of the book. If it’s that important you would think it would exert some pull on the characters who know about it. Otherwise why mention it.

The Retconned Prophecy, or the I happen to have prophecy that explains what otherwise defies the internal logic of the book. You know the type that crops up on page 315. Mr. Exposition every illogical twist and turn based on the prophecy and the reader is supposed to accept his explanation without question.  It’s the speculative fiction version of in-story CYA (coughBSGcoughbushitcoughsomemore), especially when he knows how baldy he screwed up the internal consistency of the narrative.

The Detail Free Prophecy. Everybody keeps talking about THE PROPHECY but NOBODY bothers to tell the hero or for that matter the reader what does it say let alone how it fits the story.

The Nonsense Prophecy.  Look it, we got a prophecy! And after reading it backwards and forwards it means absolutely nothing.  Bring Balance to the Force my left nut! Now, prophecies, by definition, are nebulous things, but c’mon!

The Pulled it out of my Rear Prophecy. The writer started with a few verses of the prophecy and it was good. Then he wanted to do something else, so he needed more prophetic words to justify that. And then some  more because he just sign a 6-book deal and now he needs to write more prophetic sounding crap because the reason the hero is doing the whole save the Universe bit is because Fate told him so. Now everything he does has been foretold and it will ALWAYS fit with whatever he does or fails to do.

The Ripped from the Ancient Headlines Prophecy.  I need a prophetic verse, stat! Oh, here is one:

O ye men who dwell in the streets of broad Lacedaemon!
Either your glorious town shall be sacked by the children of Perseus,
Or, in exchange, must all through the whole Laconian country
Mourn for the loss of a king, descendant of great Heracles

Nobody with access to a computer and Google will figure that one out. Yeah, right. Now if your novel is an alternate history work, or some such, this would make a great shout out to the King of Sparta. Otherwise it’s pretty flimsy.

As cool as prophecies might be, they are not a cure all for what ails your story. So be careful how you use them, if you use them at all.

And now for another Nostromo AMV. Enjoy!

Yes, my vamps are different.

Please don’t hit me?

No hitting, good.

Mind you, I do agree that vamps have been domesticated to the point of absurdity. And my vampires do not share most of the weakness of “standard” vamps.  So much so, that I agonized over I should call them vampires at all. Then I proceeded to break down the vampire mythos to see if mine fit the bill, in their own way:

  • Undeath/Immortality: My vamps are not dead, their very much alive. However due to their “condition” they are immortal (or very long lived). Only an accident or a deliberate act can kill them.  Since the mark of both of these conditions is that the monster in question is very hard to kill it fits.
  • It’s in the Blood: My Vamps, being alive can reproduce, problem is that the survival rate of a woman impregnated by a vampire is extremely low (1-5 or 20%) which makes it hard for them to reproduce in large numbers. Also a condition of their demonic bloodline so it is transmitted from parent to child even if one of the parents is not a vampire. The type of blood line determines which type of vampire it is (Lust or Wrath).
  • The Hunger: Most vampires feed on blood (and to a lesser extent sex). Mine are a bit different. Their bloodlines dictate that they have to indulge in their ancestral demonic impulses. Those of Lust must engage in sexual acts which tend to be destructive to their victims (rape, pedophilia, sadism, torture and sexual slavery) while the children of Wrath seek to destroy/kill (murder, cannibalism, arson to name a few ways). In a sense they are consumed by their need to feed this hunger for destruction and failure to do so makes the impulse stronger until it drives them mad, not unlike an addiction.
  • Aversion to Sunlight: These vamps are not afraid of the warm rays of Sol but they do shun the spotlight. Secrecy is key to their survival, or as one character explains “we put power in the service of secrecy”.  They prefer to exist in a criminal/political underworld trafficking in weapons, wars and lives.  After all somebody who needs to murder another human being every few weeks/months needs a way to cover his tracks. After all even they can’t dodge a torrent of incendiary rounds flowing from a mini-gun at 3,000+ rounds per minute.
  • Other Weaknesses: Their immortality is based on their ability to regenerate, which means that while bullets will hurt nothing short of immolation or decapitation will finish them for good. A stake through the heart will leave a bruise and hurt like hell, but it is also a good way to piss them off.
  • Inhuman abilities: These vamps are at least 3-5 faster and stronger than your top Olympic athletes.  It would take a platoon of well armed me to take down a single vampire or somebody with magic sword. Somebody who is crazy prepared may, just may, stand a chance.
  • Vampires as Parasites: These vampires, like most vampires are also parasites of human society. They “feed” on human victims (those who are destroyed physically/emotionally by the Hunger) as well as human society as a whole. They lie,cheat and steal to get what they want. The foment wars, exploit conflicts, and play on addictions to gain power. They wrap themselves into the fold of humanity’s flesh like a leech and they are very hard to pry off.
  • True Monsters: They are not cuddly or cute (as if all the rape, murder and mayhem didn’t clue you in). They wear expensive suits, live in prime real estate and have just enough money to make Scrooge McDuck look like a pauper, they may even seduce the panties off a pornstar with a single look, but you don’t want to know what happens behind close doors once the Hunger hits, unless you’re into snuff flicks. They can’t be redeemed for it is in their blood.

So, do they fit the mold or break it? I betting that yes they do, although your mileage may vary.

And as a peace offering to the wild vampire fan spirits I offed this humble offering:

Were in:

The first villain (MC) meet(s) is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. In theory, as the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level.

A very common trope found at the heart of most comic books, action based TV series, RPGs and games (with a level system).  Serves as a plot extender of sorts. If you met the final Boss in the first chapter then it would be a short story not a novel.

From the villain point of you sending his strongest henchman to finish off the hero (if he even knows that he exists) might not be the logical first choice. First off if a disposable minion can do the job, why not send them, especially if they have a good track record. Also it would be easy to follow the trail back from the henchman back to the Big Boss, especially if the henchman is captured and made to talk.

For the writer the Algorithm of Evil helps in several ways:

  • Keeps the Big Boss hidden until it is time to reveal him
  • Allows the hero to grow through experience without the villain suffering from villain decay
  • Keeps the fights interesting. After all if the hero gets to strong compared to his rivals then they offer no challenge to him and the tension slacks to nothing.
  • Allows for a bit of detective work on the part of the heroes/MC(s). They have to go through the low(er) level mooks just to figure out who the Big Boss is.

When done right it proves the old adage that there is “always someone stronger”. Of course you may end up with something like Bleach or Dragon Ball type anime were an endless parade of more insanely powerful enemies come along to fight the already insanely godlike heroes (also common in certain high powered superhero comics like Superman).

I found myself doing the exact same thing in SuD but hopefully I avoided the pitfalls by:

  • Teaming up the MC with other heroes. Thus while the hero does get stronger, he certainly can’t fight all the bad guys by himself.
  • Brain over brawn: Both heroes and villains use more than raw muscle to survive. In fact the villains prefer not to get their hands dirty unless they can help it and the hero will certainly use other means to achieve his goals if they are at hand. Even within a fight sequence, the hero tends to use tactics and strength in equal measure.
  • Even mooks can hurt you. Just because you can dispatch a horde of X type of opponents doesn’t mean that they are still not a risk. If they score a hit or two, the hero will get hurt.

Well, I hope that I can navigate the waters of this trope safely and end up with a fun story at the end.

H/T to Marian for introducing me to the TV Tropes Wiki which served as an inspiration for this post.