Troping against trope
The past few weeks this blog has been pretty heavy on the “business” side of my experiences, so I figure it might be about time to get back to discussing more creative matters. The idea of tropes raised its head again in the comic commentary recently, and this time for once it wasn’t me bringing them up but readers. Of course, at least one of them seemed a bit critical of the choice to have Muriel suddenly reappear for one last confrontation between villain and hero, considering it a played out sort of thing.
Now first, oddly enough, when I went to good ol’ TV Tropes to try to find the entry governing such matters, I couldn’t locate one. If it’s common enough for some to consider it tired out, you’d think it would have the good grace to be easier to find!
That is, by the way, free license for any of you reading this to roam forth and succeed where I failed… I didn’t look too hard. But even if it really isn’t there right now, I’d be the first to argue it’s perfectly worthy of a YKTTW attempt. YKTTW stands for “You Know, That Thing Where…” and is basically the way tropes get put forward as possible additions to the site, where they can be refined for consumption, or (as happens more often than not) outed as already being present on TV Tropes in some form. It means some patience and effort on the part of the sponsor, but it’s a fairly decent editorial process. I ran the gauntlet myself awhiles back when I put together an entry on people in fiction being able to hear each other perfectly no matter the circumstances, which I cunningly(?) termed Acoustic License.
I digress, however. Villain rises again for a last shot at the hero, sometimes in what is felt to be a far-fetched fashion. My gut tells me that yes, this is a Thing. As for my use of it? Well, from my perspective I didn’t find it out of the blue, since everything I’d shown (or more importantly, not shown) since the last time we saw Muriel left the question of her survival open. I myself know exactly what happened in that smoke cloud at the end of Episode 6, and what she did after, and even though the audience may never see it, that was enough for me to move forward with the narrative as planned.
And from a writing perspective, that’s just something you sometimes have to do. Sure, you can seek feedback from all manner of different folk and look at all manner of different approaches others have used for similar subject matter, but in the end the decision and the burden rests on you. And you’ll have to face the fact that not everyone will be happy with the direction you go.
This isn’t the first time a reader has questioned an aspect of the story or the behavior of a character, and it won’t be the last. It’s not the first time a trope has been invoked, and it won’t be the last. If you read no other article on TV Tropes as an aspiring writer, you should read the one I linked last week, but shall link again here: Tropes Are Tools. Hell, I recommend it for everyone. If you don’t want to take the time, the basic principles are that Tropes Are Not Bad, and Tropes Are Not Good… and no work of fiction can exist without them.
As with all tools, skill and experience play a role in the product created… but there’s also always a subjectivity involved in the creative arts. As far as comics go, for instance, there are many, many people who regard both Watchmen and Batman: Arkham Asylum as masterworks. And yet Grant Morrison was on record as considering Watchmen “the 300-page equivalent of a 6th form poem” (in U.S. terms, basically saying it was a college freshman effort at best), and Alan Moore in turn described Arkham Asylum as “a gilded turd”.
Truly, one man’s trash can be another man’s masterpiece, eh?
This doesn’t invalidate criticism, but it’s something to keep in mind. Mark Evanier, who I’ve mentioned before, is fond of saying that there are two truisms involved in any piece of creative work that achieves popularity: someone will declare it the worst piece of crap that’s ever crossed their radar, and someone else will be so impressed they’ll steal it and try to pass it off as their own.
For the record, I’m not considering Zombie Ranch a masterwork, or even all that popular. I work with my tools, and I do the best I can in the manner in which I feel best serves the story we want to tell. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have been disappointed along the course of that, whether or not they chose to express their disappointment vocally (well, as “vocal” as you technically can be in written forms). Even those of you who have stuck around probably have your own hopes and dreams of “What happens next?”, which may not jibe with what I have cooking. Every new comic comes fraught with the peril to underwhelm at least a portion of the audience… but if I spent my time worrying about that, I could never get the story told at all. Tropes are tools, and a writer should be aware of them, and perhaps even a little afraid of them, the way one would be cautious handling any potentially dangerous substance… but never to the point of trying to avoid them. That’s just troping against trope, and while I suppose that is also a Thing, it’s not a particularly productive one.