To trope or not to trope…when writing become a cliché! #writing #amwriting

Today I want to talk about tropes. When to use them, when not to use them, and the vast gray quagmire that exists between.

What is a literary trope?

In the literary sense, a trope is a common theme, plot point, event or motif within a story.

What is the problem with using a trope?

There is nothing wrong with using a common trope, there are oodles of them out there and we love them, which I will explore in more detail below. The problem is only when they are overused…badly.

They make us groan, switch off, or even reach for the nearest trashcan to dispense of the literary waste.

Overused tropes and writing clichés are boring, disappointing, and leave the reader feeling cheated.

So, we should never use a trope?

Here is where it starts to get a little gray and fuzzy. It’s pretty difficult to think of something completely original and new. Humans take comfort in a story that triggers a familiar spark in our imaginations. Fairy tales and fables are the ultimate tropes, and even as adults we are happy to read them again and again.

Tropes become tropes, well, because fundamentally they are appealing:

  • They present us with the ultimate challenge > zombies hunger for human flesh or aliens experimenting on humans
  • They appeal to our sense of good and happiness > boy meets girl and lives happily ever after 
  • They identify stereotypes > grumpy boss, evil drug kingpin, nerdy IT student

The good the bad and the ugly…😱

“I can’t believe they did that. It was sooooo obvious!

Avoid overused character tropes like the plague!

Many bad tropes relate to characters, not all, but certainly many do. Not every character has to break the stereotypeI used to work in IT and I can definitely confirm that some stereotypes have a foundation in reality! But deviating from cliché characters can deliver amazing results when done right.

Look what happened when a desperate school teacher dying of cancer became a drug kingpin? Walter White is the ultimate anti-trope character and Breaking Bad was a huge success for exactly this reason.

Tropes we still love…Zombies want to eat us

The flesh-eating zombie trope has been, well, done to death if you’ll excuse the pun. But we still love this trope…there are books and books of this trope and I don’t think our enthusiasm for zombies has yet to show signs of decline. Sure, we can mix it up but fundamentally zombies love eating human flesh and we are still reading about it.

Tropes we love to hate…UFO abductions

Unlike the zombie trope, which might still have a little life left, excuse the pun! Aliens abductions has tipped over the other side. A couple of decades ago this might have been more common, but the basic alien abduction is definitely in decline.

Conclusions

A trope, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, avoiding any familiarity in a book or story is near impossible, and the occasional deviation towards trope-land isn’t going to kill your creation…but too much of it will. The subtle ways in which we explore our writing and challenge ourselves when it comes to tropes and clichés can make an average story, great. Not every character has to break the mould, not every plot point has to be unique (nor can it be!), but within those bounds we should strive to remain vigilant for clichés, and enrich our writing with events, people and circumstance that reflect the diverse and surprising nature of real life.

What are your favorite tropes?

What tropes do you love to hate?

Some great articles on tropes…

Six Unrealistic Tropes and How to Avoid Them

5 Clichés To Avoid In Your Fantasy Novel

Ten tropes you’ll find in science fiction – over and over again

Why feedback is so important… #writing #amwriting #writerslife

I was recently reading On Writing by Stephen King. It’s one of those books you dip in and out of and even re-read. While I love his candid style, it is something else within this book that I want to reflect on.

The importance of nurturing young minds

I have always been a reader; my earliest memories are of sitting with my head buried in a book. People would buy me books, my mum in particular bought me a huge number as gifts. I would read my favorites over and over again. I was never much of a writer when young though, and it wasn’t until I left university that I started to dabble in writing myself.

Whenever we come to the writing life, whether as a child, a young adult, or an older adult, we come to it with a measure of vulnerability.


“She (his mother) said it was good enough to be in a book. Nothing anyone has said to me since has made me feel any happier.”

~Stephen King, On Writing.

We all need someone to believe in us.

One someone is usually enough.

Just someone.

Someone whose opinion holds weight, whose opinion matters.

That doesn’t mean feedback should be sugar coated. It must be genuine, and better if it comes from someone who is circumspect with their praise. Most people, young or old, have an inbuilt detector for the disingenuous. False praise will fall flat, but the praise we have worked for will lift us up to a special place.

It’s also about timing. We are all vulnerable at times in our life, and that maybe when we are young like Stephen was when his mother read his first story, and it might equally be when we are older.

So, I am going to amend my above quote and say that there is an importance to nurturing all minds.

All writers are equal and different

I realize everyone is different, and that some writers might need greater nurturing than others. Some might even be comfortable with their own magnificence and need very little nurturing at all.

I think most writers are imperfect perfectionists who are never really satisfied with what they produce and are always seeking to do better.

And I think all writers need someone to believe in them. I know if someone offered me an option to have a hundred dollars or a hundred reviews from people who enjoyed my work,  I would pick the reviews every time.

It doesn’t matter how many books you have written or how successful you are as a writer. Success is subjective, after all. But I love that Stephen Kings greatest source of writerly pride was getting a quarter for his first book from his mother.

Somewhere new! #writing #amwriting

I don’t normally work in the dining area, but it has started to turn chilly in the evenings so I cranked up the log burner. The table just happens to be in comfortable proximity, and I can make the most of the toasty warmth while I write.

Toasty warm!

I also happen to live in a house with walls that look like a castle (and they are about as thick), which creates a good writerly atmosphere. My office doesn’t have the mighty walls so it feels interesting sitting down here for a change.

I’m doing a little rework on my new book this week. Added about 5k to the start after some feedback, and I’m pleased with the way it is going. I love getting beta feedback and I have plenty to work on at the moment before I move on to my next book in the series.

I’ve been playing about with section breaks. I usually write quite small chapters, but this time I’m going larger, and trying POV swopping where the scenes flow into one another. I never realized this was so complex! If you are looking for some information on chapters and section breaks, here are a couple of great articles I found.

7 Methods for Handling Point-of-View Changes

The Secret to Section Breaks

Happy writing 🙂

Holidays, books and being a writer! #writing #amwriting #writerslife

“I’m a writer. My hobbies include not writing.”

I have a bit of a fixation with writing memes, and the above was my favourite from this week. I’ve been on holiday in Brisbane for the last 10 days, and even though I’m on holiday I’ve found it hard to tear myself away from my story. I was sitting in a coffee shop, doing the final read of book 3 from my trilogy before hitting publish, when this meme popped up. Needless to say, it made me chuckle.

I dabbled in writing for so many years before I published, and the moment I did publish it was like BOOM I’m addicted. I really don’t have any other hobbies now…except walking or maybe gardening, because walking and gardening mean you can still think about writing!

Win, win!

Some pictures from my Brisbane trip…

Enoggera, QLD…yes, that is me and not the back of a random person!
South Brisbane Foreshore
South Brisbane Foreshore
Cute Koala at the Lonepine Koala sanctuary
Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
Toowoomba, QLD

The end of the Divided World…not quite so divided anymore…more of a…well, you’ll have to read it to find out 😉

It’s taken me nearly 18 months, but I’m finally at the end of the trilogy with the 3rd book out on Amazon in print, and ebook on pre-order!
There will definitely be more adventures for Tanis and perhaps even spin-offs, but for now I’m starting a new series.
Such a great feeling to get to the end. And super excited about the next chapter…pun intended

For those who love sci-fi with a touch of fantasy and a lot of conflict!

Divided Serenity (Divided World Book One)
http://hyperurl.co/yfi7m2

 

 

Serenity Falling (Divided World Book Two)
https://hyperurl.co/1j9tol

 

 

Revealing Serenity (Divided World Book Three)
Available on pre-order
https://hyperurl.co/ja0qrt

Using Third Person vs First Person Novel POV (Survey)

So far I have always used third person in my own work, but I have often wondered about giving first person a go…and I read lots of both.

What’s your preference? And why?

It’s been a while since we had a survey! 🙂

A great article on the subject.

Using Third Person vs First Person Novel Narratives (Link)

The Six Writing ‘Blocker’ Personalities #writing #amwriting #amnotwritingverymuch

Every writer loves to write, but with the best intentions, ‘stuff’ can get in our way.

Here are the six writing blocker personality types. Which is your favorite?

The star

You have an ‘amazing’ story idea, but you become distracted with how ‘amazing’ your life will be once you are a famous writer…

The minion

You have motivation, you have ideas…but ‘real’ people and ‘real’ life is demanding all your time!

The daydreamer

You have ideas, but the ideas are so much fun…and you just want to think about them.

The procrastinator

You want to write, you really do, but there are too many distractions in your life.

Like Twitter!

Or Facebook!

Or a snack!

Or a snooze!

The blank page

You’ve got nothing <sigh>. Absolutely nothing.

The cat wrangler!

The writing planets are aligned…unfortunately, there is something furry lying all over your keyboard.

Writing Tips – How to self-edit a book #amwriting #editing #books #writingtips

While nothing can replace an editor, there is certainly a lot you can do yourself before it reaches a professional’s hands to get your work into shape.

And your beta readers will thank you!

I’m definitely not claiming that this is the perfect way to self-edit, nor the only way! But this is what works for me.

What’s wrong with just reading it?

I am brilliant at spotting typos and editing errors in other people’s work.

I am utterly useless at spotting them in my own!

I do know a number of ‘lucky’ individuals who can spot what’s wrong in their own work…but this is not me. Once I have submerged myself in my story, I am pretty much blinded to a myriad of problems from that awkward sentence to that typo to using the wrong word!

So, I have an editing routine, and that forces me to explore my work in a way that brings the issues to the surface.

What tools do I use?

Word: I use Scrivener for writing, but I still copy and paste the manuscript into word between each round of editing.

Why do I like Word? Because Word still picks up a good number of simple defects, and if you are anything like me, you only need to look at a sentence to introduce a typo.

And it takes no more than 15-30 mins to check the whole manuscript!

Hemingway: Simple to use and cheap! I bought the desktop version, but you can use it on-line for free.

Why do I like Hemingway? It’s great for picking up passive voice, adverbs, and unnecessary words. A quick pass through Hemingway a chapter at a time clears out a lot of garbage from my work.

Grammarly: Simple to use, but with costs (monthly / quarterly / yearly subscription).

Why do I like Grammarly? It picks up an interesting set of errors that complements the Hemingway findings. For example word choice / better word pair / wrong word. I have also found it to be reasonable  on grammar. I will do a more in-depth review of Grammarly in another blog post. It’s excellent for that first draft!

The sequence of editing.

The high-level activities

  • Read the whole manuscript looking for plot holes (optional)
  • Word
  • The spreadsheet – list of words and phrases that are my personal weak spots
  • Hemingway
  • Grammarly
  • Read and correct a chapter at a time
  • Listen
  • Read the whole manuscript

Let’s get into the details…

I have managed to stop myself editing-as-I-go, which means the chapters can be in a pretty grim state when I start editing.

There is a temptation to jump into reading at this point. But again, I have found it more effective to get on with my editing routine. Things that are missing in the overall plot do still become apparent even without doing a whole read, BUT, I’m going to put it as an optional here as long as the first read doesn’t turn into a random editing session.

1. (Optional) Read the whole book looking for plot holes. No editing yet!

2. Search for the words and phrases on my spreadsheet. So what is my mysterious spreadsheet you might be wondering. Well, it’s a list of words and phrases I have noted to search for in my work.

For example crutch words like ‘just’.

There are over 200 different words and phrases I look for!

It’s not always a seek and destroy, some of the words or phrases just lend themselves to a poorly written sentence. Whenever I find them I can reassess that sentence and tighten it up. I’ll give you a couple more of my examples, however, I would suggest that any such ‘seek’ list is a personal list a writer builds up over time in relation to their own writing style and their own weak spots when drafting

  • Nodding, shaking head and other visuals. We all have our favourites, and most real people nod far less than you realize. Do a bit of people watching, you will be surprised!
  • Feel, feeling, felt – what is it they are feeling and is there a stronger word choice that will cover this (he felt sorry for them = he pitied them). Some of these may also indicate telling, such as ‘he looked angry’. I also search for ‘look, looked, looking’!

3. Put the whole manuscript through Word. By the time I have finish hacking the sentences about it’s usually in a bit of a state and a quick 30 mins to run it through word again will help.

4. Hemingway: Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, unnecessary words, adverbs.

5. Grammarly: Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, grammar, better words, wrong words etc.

6. Word again! Because I have an amazing ability to reintroduce spaces or typos!

7. Listen using text to speech: OMG this is the absolute best for spotting those sneaky missing words or even wrong words where autocorrect has jumped in.

8. Read a chapter at a time. REPEATEDLY. And keep adjusting those awkward sentences. Until I am 90% happy. (I say 90% because otherwise I would never finish!)

  • I also check for unnecessary backstory at this point…if in doubt hack it out!

9. Word again!

10. Text to speech again!

Done!

Now I can read the whole book from start to finish: By this point most (but certainly not all) errors will have gone such that I can at least read it with a level of flow. If you are anything like me there are many more iterations of reading.

And then you send it out to Beta readers.

And then you change it!

And then you edit all over again!

I do hope you found some of this useful! Happy editing 🙂

If you want to try Hemingway or Grammarly, here are the links:

Why I love books #writing #reading #books

For some of us,

books are as important as

almost anything else on earth.

What a miracle it is that

out of these small, flat, rigid

squares of paper unfolds

world after world after world,

worlds that sing to you,

comfort and quiet or excite you.

~Anne Lamott

Why I believe in setting new year’s goals #writing #amwriting

It’s been nearly four years now since I started blogging, and exactly four years since I set myself a goal to write a book. With this anniversary in mind, I thought I would share my own reason why I believe in setting new year’s goals. I still have a long way to go in my writing journey, but every year spent working toward my writing dream is a year well spent.

I just wished I had started working toward it sooner 🙂

You don’t have to set a goal on the 1st January, whenever you set that goal is the right time. But sometimes a new year provides an opportunity for us to assess where we are and where we want to be.

It can also be the catalyst for us to embrace change, set a new direction, and follow our dreams.

If you have read my about page, some of this will be familiar…

Why I believe in setting New Year’s goals…

I have never been one for new years resolutions, for making plans, or setting goals, or any of those things that most people do every year on the 1st January.

I don’t do diets – too boring.

I don’t want to run a marathon – too hard, jump out of a plane – too scary, or to ‘find myself’ in Tibet.

I have always been at heart a bit of a drifter, and a lot of a procrastinator, and yet at the same time I have never let go of my dream to publish a book.

I spend anywhere up to 20 hours a week working toward this dream and have done so for nearly 20 years. For far too many of those years I never actually committed to converting that dream into a reality…I am the living embodiment of George McFly out of back to the future.

On 1st January 2013, I watched the ball drop in Times Square, and like every other year I never set myself a goal.

The 1st January 2014 was a little quieter, and I had a little more time to reflect. This time, everything changed because I set myself a goal – just one – to publish a book.

It took me a lot longer to get there than I ever expected, but I’m always going to look back on that day and be thankful and grateful that I changed my mindset.

Happy reading and writing and dream chasing in 2018!