How Did It Turn Into Friday So Fast?


I promise, I meant to post yesterday. But then I blinked and yesterday turned into today and I’m still not sure how that happened. *sigh*

Have you ever been talking to someone about the book he’s writing and heard something like this?

“Okay, so there’s this goatherd, and he’s out in the pasture one day when he finds a sparkly green rock. When he shines the rock on his shirt, a white-bearded magician appears and tells him he’s the reincarnation of the greatest warrior the land ever had.  He’s a born swordsman!  He has magical powers! And he has to accompany the magician on a quest to find an object of power that can save the kingdom from the evil Flogmuddles who are threatening to take over.”

The peasant-boy-with-a-mighty-destiny is a fantasy trope, a common theme that’s become a cliche. As writers, we do our best to avoid tropes, to create a story that’s fresh and different.  There are a few writers who’ve made a career out of writing tropes in a funny way (Diana Wynn Jones is a master!), but most of the time, they feel like the same-old-same-old.  I was talking to Faith the other day, and I mentioned that a book had disappointed me because it used my least favorite trope, the Magic Baby.

You know the Magic Baby, don’t you? It’s when the heroine or main female love interest suddenly turns up pregnant (usually at a very inconvenient time, say while the world is ending or there’s a battle being waged) but instead of the usual span of several months, she gestates in a couple of weeks, giving birth to a child with “eyes as old as time” or something equally hokey. The Magic Baby is talking intelligently at three hours, walking at one day, grows up within a week, and either becomes an evil, omnipotent monster or else saves the world, dying tragically in the attempt. It’s been a common trope in fantasy literature, movies and television for a long time now, and it’s pretty much a deal-breaker for me. It weakens the female heroine, since she can’t very well battle her own body. Then there’s that  mother instinct that forces the heroine to defend the baby even while it’s melting the countryside with its laser vision.  I adore my offspring, but if he started consuming the neighbors’ life forces I’d march that young’un out behind the woodshed and put a stop to that nonsense. I’ve stopped reading books that are otherwise excellent once the Magic Baby came into play. It just doesn’t make any sense in my world.

So tell me…what literary trope pushes your buttons?


10 comments to How Did It Turn Into Friday So Fast?

  • My biggest issue with the “goatherder saves the world and is crowned king” story is the sad reality that he probably wouldn’t last the year as king having not the slightest clue about court politics.

    One of his handlers would eventually say “Thanks for saving the world kid, but step aside and let someone who knows what they’re doing run things, there’s a good lad.” while slipping a knife between the king’s ribs.

    One exception to this is how Jordan was handling Rand al’Thor’s journey from small town kid to the most powerful person alive. This is where the length of the Wheel of Time comes in handy to allow plenty of learning and growth time for the characters.

    But overall, I’m not a fan of the things you mentioned either.

  • Uck. Ick. Gackkkk.
    *sound of me sticking my finger down my throat at over-used … um … tropes*

    In the lab, tropes are something else entirely and quite icky all on their own. But I digress.

    How about the *evil warlord turns out to be the hero’s son/daughter from a misspent youth or stolen spem/egg*?

    Whatever the trope it is a sign of a lazy writer. Why would I bother to create something new when I can just use the old? I know. I did it myself a time or two when deadlines loomed and I was so freaking behind. In my own defence, I did try to hide it in a fresh new wrapping. And no, I won’t share when/what/or how.

    I am dealing with that very issue right now. I want my character to do a certain thing while not using a tried and true and reduntantly overused motivation. (He’s psycho and can’t help himself.) Okay, he can be psycho, too, but there has to be underlying motivation. Somewhere. Something fresh and new.

    I actually have plot twists which are in place except for the motivation. And I can’t submit the proposal until I get this right. It is taking a few days….
    But. *talking to myself,* I will get it. I will. I will.

  • Amy

    You read “Breaking Dawn,” didn’t you? 🙂

  • Amy said, “You read “Breaking Dawn,” didn’t you?”


    Actually, no. I read “Twilight” and that was enough glittery vampires for me. But I masquerade as a mild-mannered middle school librarian by day, and I needed to know about the plot in order to communicate with my kids.

    So I cheated and read a wiki. 😀

  • What about the ‘screaming defenseless woman thing’ that turns up often in books and movies/tv. It’s one thing I hate, stereotyping females as helpless perhaps the mutating baby could come along and slap the mother/woman in the face to get her to balls up and do something to save their lives…
    just my two cents worth.

  • A word in defense of tropes (NOT in defense of the Twilight books, which currently are the bane of my parenting existence): Tropes are not always a sign of laziness. They’ve become tropes for a reason: because at root the narratives are compelling. For instance, the idea of the young man/woman who believes he’s/she’s a simple farmhand when in fact he/she is so very much more. Yes, it’s been done again and again and again, beginning with King Arthur. But that’s also the story of Luke Skywalker, and by using that particular trope (and even bringing in a form of the magic sword) Lukas made a story that was both familiar and stunningly new. Tropes handled poorly can suck. Tropes used in an original way draw on tradition even as they innovate, and I think that can be kind of cool.

  • David, you are so right. *slaps self*

    Luke Skywalker is my very favorite hero. I have also used trope forms in my own heros, though have tried to change them ehough to make them fresh.

    A (very) short list?
    Pregnant mom loses husband and is accused of his murder.

    Nonhuman magic user raised hidden among humans.

    It is the originality that a writer wraps around a story or a character that keeps it quirky and new.

  • David said “Tropes handled poorly can suck. Tropes used in an original way draw on tradition even as they innovate, and I think that can be kind of cool.”

    Very true. And God knows we as writers are trying our very, very best to produce work that’s fresh and original while simultaneously familiar and attractive. A new approach to an old story is a beautiful thing.

    But I can honestly say that the Magic Baby is going to turn me off forever. I don’t know why it annoys me so. I can’t imagine a Magic Baby scenario that would please me. It’s the one plot that will yank me out of a story instantly.

  • Misty wrote: “I can’t imagine a magic baby scenario that would please me.”

    Liar! You can’t tell me that the two week gestation doesn’t have SOME appeal.

  • Yeah, but those babies end up wanting to eat the nurse’s face! Or worse, they’re grown in ten days, and who has time to save for college so fast? 😀