What are some of the characters and narratives we’ve seen enough of? Is it time for the assassin with the heart of gold to take a break? Should the farmer keep farming and stop exchanging his rake for a broadsword? Could the squabbling will-they-won’t-they couple just get a room already? More generally, why are tropes used, and what are their structural, stylistic and political implications?
Postmodern literary theory states that originality is dead. All the stories that could ever be told, have been told. Or so the theory says. Every story published now is a derivative work.
(1) ‘Refreshing’ clichés
Certain tropes are overused. Kari hates the ‘kickass woman who was abused or raped’ as a backstory and using it as a call to action, while Laura hates the ‘hero’s wife and child killed’ trope.
Retelling clichéd or well-known stories in unique ways makes them fresh. The ‘how’ can be more important than the ‘what’. Tropes can also be subverted. Readers and cinema-goers may have come to expect the cliché as they do with romantic comedies (Pierre loves those) but you can change many aspects of those stories to make them appear new.
(2) Has every story really been told?
Certain cultures and characters are hugely underrepresented in literature or are stereotyped to the point of absurdity. This lack of diversity means we haven’t heard every story. We can still be surprised. Laura Lam has an intersex main character in her books – how many people can say they’ve read one of those?
Notes: Pierre was speaking French and was using Kari as his translator. Kari and Laura were both wearing corsets with Kari in black evening wear and happened to look like mother and daughter, respectively.
- Spirit Walker trilogy by Kate Elliott
- Pantomime (Micah Grey #1) by Laura Lam
- Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke