My Week In Tropes | Feb 9th

This week has been a mess of editing, catching a stomach bug, getting insomnia, and scrambling madly to finish work for my contracts on time. But in terms of my writing, I’ve been working on fine tuning my world’s magic—with special focus on editing the scenes in which it’s involved.

Trope of the Week: Functional Magic

“As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really.”

–Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass

It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that, if you have magic in your fantasy novel, it’s probably going to actually be effective at doing something. However, the something can differ GREATLY between worlds.

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(Actually, those two are pretty similar: a spell that wards away dark, evil, scary things.)

In any case, I’m not going to talk a lot about how the magic in my world works (when the book ever actually comes out, you can read all about it!), but suffice to say that, though the magic in my novel is effective at doing a good many things, most of those things aren’t entirely flashy.

So, my focus this week was on making the magic in my world feel more… well… magically functional, without betraying its base conceits (which are really very simple, in comparison to the system that ends up being built on top of them).

Much of this work has taken the form of rethinking my descriptions of magic to make them stronger—and no, I don’t mean making flashy lights prettier or explosions bigger or lighting bolts clearer, because none of those apply. Rather, I’ve been focusing on how magic feels.

This may be something of a weakness in the functional magic trope—by focusing solely on the function of magic within the story world and the plot, the things that make magic, well, magical, can suffer. Now that I’ve found a couple touchstones to refer back to and ground my magic in the experience of my protagonist—to describe how it affects her, both physically and emotionally—it helps make the instances when spells are used both work in terms of the plot and the action, as well as create the emotional impact that I think is at the core of writing about magic in any world.

My Week in Tropes | Feb 2nd

Nervous Wreck 

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I spent the past week or so waiting for a response to my current draft, and it pretty much drove me over the deep end, which made it very uncomfortable for the people who had to be subjected to my presence (family, friends, writing buddies, strangers sitting at the table next to us). So, yeah, slowly suffering a Heroic BSOD over the course of a week is one of those things I wish I could avoid doing ever again.

Or, you know, less than twice a month.

But that’s not going to happen.

Still, it did make ultimately receiving the response that much better! I might’ve actually ended up on the floor, unable to breathe for the hugs, laughter, and relief. And if you think there’s any possibility that “might’ve” means “might’ve not” you are very very wrong.

(The maniacal relief laughter lasted approximately a quarter of an hour.)

The Power of Friendship

So, maybe we’re not destroying evil or stopping the end of the world, but having friends to spend time with, even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye, is pretty much the only thing keeping any of us afloat.

And it’s an odd thing, how I see these tropes emerging, not only in my life, but also, ultimately, in my writing. At the same time that I’m thinking about what it actually means to be a friend—whether it’s more necessary to be nice or honest, how to show support even when you can’t agree—I see my characters playing out my struggles and realizations on the page.

In the end, I think, is the question of who you can rely on. Eventually my protagonist realizes that she can trust the friend she’s been fighting with throughout most of the manuscript—that they will be there when needed (even if, afterward, they have to lecture her on why she’s hopeless for putting herself into these situations in the first place).

Faux Affably Evil 

I’m pretty sure there are worse characters who can show up in your manuscript (unannounced and unexpected) than the Faux Affably Evil secondary antagonist.

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I just lied to you. I’m so sorry.

Anyway, spent the week working on a character who, yes, showed up in one of my newer manuscripts unannounced and unexpected. And yes, he did a lot of smiling and charming and being very affable, and really, I should’ve known all along that he was silently plotting the demise of pretty much everyone.

So that was fun.

Non-Indicative First Episode

Anyway, that’s been my week in tropes. Maybe you’ll get a second episode next week! Tune in to find out: same bat time, same bat channel. Maybe a completely different format. Who knows?

Things they don’t tell you before you get the agent…

You will wait for emails and the waiting will feel like an eternity being chewed up in the center of the frozen lake in the ninth circle of hell, but then the email will show up and you’ll end up rolling on the floor laughing maniacally, with your friends hugging you.

And then you’ll get up and know you have work to do.