My Week in Tropes | March 16

I’ve recently been told that I can be quite a frustrating person to take walks with. I will admit I’m easily distracted—after all, if you’re going to walk somewhere for fun, what’s the point in walking briskly, hands in pockets, eyes on the ground in front of you to make sure you don’t step in anything nasty? Especially when there are so many things you can see on walks: the engraved facades of old, crumbling buildings, the tiny yellow flowers just starting to bloom in the sidewalk planters, odd-shaped clouds and curious pigeons. In fact, just looking UP when you walk can be heavenly—so many people forget to look up these days, though that might have something to do with the fact that it tends to make you bump into things (other pedestrians, random trees, the person you’re accompanying, etc.).

Which brings me to this week’s trope:

Cloudcuckoolander

Though Luna Lovegood may perhaps be the most well-known (and best-loved) example of this trope, Cloudcuckoolanders can be found in every corner of literature, from the titular protagonist of Don Quixote, to Spinelli’s Stargirl, and in fact, the trope name comes from Aristophanes’ The Birds, where Cloud Cuckoo Land was an impossible perfect city in the clouds—and the Cloudcuckoolander has always embodied that wonderful, tragic mixture of idealism and impracticality.

That said, it’s all too easy to make the Cloudcuckoolander outright clueless or ignorant, rather than merely different. And at times, such as when such a character is shoe-horned into the role of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they can suffer every character’s worst curse: flatness. There are too many instances where a Cloudcuckoolander’s oddness becomes their only dimension, the author sacrificing the character’s humanity in favor of an oddball characature or stereotype.

Still, there’s always been something inherently endearing about the free-spirited Cloudcuckoolander. After all, each and every one of us has a unique and entirely individual way of looking at and interacting with the world. The Cloudcuckoolander merely takes the most exaggerated combination of these differences, allowing us to examine how looking at the world differently can give us insights, or isolate us: how different ways of seeing the world lead to different ways of relating to the world, as well as our actions within it.

In terms of my writing this week, the Cloudcuckoolander trope has been a main focus. I’ve been working on the second draft of my NaNoNovel, and among all the major changes I’ve been implementing in order to strengthen the characters and better develop the plot, I’ve found that one of my minor characters is becoming more important to the narrative. And working with her character was proving extremely difficult until I realized that her Cloudcuckoolander nature had to be balanced by her less savory character traits (namely, her propensity for lying).

Because it doesn’t matter how distracted we get by the clouds or the flowers, whether we see the world in black or white or shades of grey or in a particularly vivid hue of violet: the key to characters, in both fiction and real life, will always be our conflicting depths.

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