What makes a story unique? Amazing visuals? Memorable characters? A plot with more twist and turns than a bowl of spaghetti? All of the above?
The answer to this question, of course, changes from story to story. What I would like to do, however, is discuss one such way in which stories become memorable: taking tried and true tropes and crossing them in new and exciting ways.
I recently finished reading Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. In it, a young, newly graduated lawyer is handed the case of her life, which also serves as her make-or-break opportunity with the world’s most prestigious law firm. Oh, and by the way, in this world, law is synonymous with necromancy, where litigation is conducted with eldritch powers and contract interpretation can sometimes determine whether or not someone stays dead.
It’s a fantastic story, I recommend it. Plus, the lead character is a female of color, which automatically gets points from me. This story, however, is a great example of taking two tropes (law mysteries and necromancers in fantasy) and putting them together to create something spectacular. Gladstone’s combination of law practice and raising the undead gives a new perspective on both genres and how the laws of magic can be reimagined as actual laws in an alternate world. This is a perfect example of crossing tropes; we know about Lawyers, and necromancy, but the two together not only creates a new but yields a different perspective on the two original tropes used in the merger.
We can also look at the work of another particular writer whose stories often combine two different ideas to comment on the present state of the world. HG Wells (happy birthday, by the way, Mr. Wells) got his break combining tropes in his story The Time Machine (read it for free from Project Gutenburg). In it, he takes the growing criticism of the Victorian class system (a popular ideology of the late 1800’s) and uses Time Travel to create an allegorical futuristic society! Brilliant! Wells creates a whole world based on the question “what if this class system persisted” and flips it on it’s head, presenting the idea that society will actually degrade if the class system is upheld. The proletariat, for instance, although stuck in the mentality of the servicing the machines of their trade, actually becomes the powerful and feared group in the distant future. I won’t ruin exactly how it ends, but it’s a trip.
That mustache-twirling dandy Wells was onto something all those years ago, and it has only gotten harder for us writers today. But it’s possible, just look at Gladstone’s work. Let’s try it out real fast. Let’s take this month. We incidentally have the perfect trop to pull from: PIRATES! YEAAAARRGGH! September 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and we can definitely take the sea-faring bandit genre and combine it with something out of the ordinary… I would be tempted to throw them into some Lovecraftian conflict… but since we’ve already started talking about time traveling, why not create time-traveling pirates! Incidentally, Professor Brian Cox claims that building a time machine is possible, just to have you know. Men who sail the seas of time plundering famous people and places in history, in order to gather the most wondrous booty! And perhaps along the way we discuss the differences and similarities between the past and the present?
It’s not going to be that easy all the time, but it’s a great place to start. What will you think up? Put it in the comments! Finally, as always, remember to have a good day,