Michaeline: TV Tropes, A Public Service Announcement

Old tile puzzle of a woman and boy feeding swans. ca. 1850?

Telling a story is a matter of getting the pieces to fit together just right. And making sure each piece is doing a job. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Does the jigsaw puzzle metaphor work for you when you are talking about writing? It sure resonates with me. Right now, I’m sitting here with a heap of wood chips, trying to see how they fit together to make a beautiful picture – something that the readers will then take out of the box, and fit together to make their own beautiful picture.

And right now, in the middle of the first draft, the wood chips are pretty rough and misshapen. It’s my job to give them well-defined curves and edges so they fit into one another precisely and with ease. As you know from last week’s post, I’m wrestling with the group of chips that is going to make up one of my plots’ antagonists, Kitty Van Texel, the were-cheetah who wants to marry Bunny’s boss’ son for his money. (Then dump his body on the South African savanna when she’s returned home.)

I’ve defined her as a shapeshifter, which is all well and good, but she needs more definition. Just exactly what is she doing? I searched my memory for role models and prior examples to help me carve her into something sharp and exciting to watch. And, I didn’t do too bad – I found a lot that works for me. But she was still fuzzy.

Then I remembered TV Tropes. Famous amongst the writing classes as a tremendous time sink, it also has catalogued a vast number of puzzle pieces across a wide number of genres and media.

I looked up Shapeshifter, and I suddenly had loads of role models to choose from. (-: I’d forgotten about the trope where the shapeshifters remove their animal shapes to go bathing or sleeping, and the hero steals their animal pelt so they can’t shift back into super-human form again. I don’t think it’s going to work for my story, but it’s still an important reference point.

I also stumbled upon aspects that I forgot to think about – the humorously named “Magic Pants” trope, for example. What happens to clothes when a creature transforms? I’m not going to spell it out in the story, but Kitty’s got magic pants, so far. I can’t see unexpected nudity making my story more interesting – it would just distract the reader with gratuitous boobies.

I don’t want my puzzle pieces to look just like the puzzle pieces that went before. But by looking at different aspects of shapeshifting, I can create a new puzzle piece that combines what happened before.

How about you? Have you discovered the thousand wonders contained in TVTropes.org? Did it help you with a story idea? I must admit, I’ve only used it as a reader when discussing fiction. I’m really pleased to see it works for writers, too, in defining fiction.

3 thoughts on “Michaeline: TV Tropes, A Public Service Announcement

  1. Damn you, Michaeline. I managed to stay away from TV Tropes when we talked about it in class, but I just clicked the link to Magic Pants and then there was another great link and … I don’t think this is going to help me with story ideas. I think it’s going to be a great, big, wonderful time sink 🙂

    Good luck with Kitty. I really like the sound of her!

  2. I stayed out of TV Tropes during class, too, because I thought I’d never escape. And I’m not clicking now, either, because I’m in a place with a slow connection, and I have other things I have to do today. But…I have to go there. I feel the itch.

  3. LOL, I know, guys. It’s a good place to go when you are itching with curiosity. And, it really is a nice tool when you need to refine upon a character, plot twist or other trope or meme. There’s so much info there that it’s quite easy to go through and go, “Yes! That’s her; nope, nope, interesting but nope, um maybe, oh, connect that with this and I’ve got a new idea! Ooops, no, I don’t — it’s been done before, but I think I can see how to make it fresh.”

    Nothing new under the sun. But plenty of new things for the individual.

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