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.

My Week in Tropes | March 2

This week’s trope is brought to you by truth in television.

My week’s been a lovely mixture of waiting-for-Godot -type existential angst (while recovering after last week’s maelstrom of finishing things) and more nerve-wracking anxiety concerning every and all things that are my life.

In short, I’ve ended up in the place between things, and it’s a very unpleasant place to be.

Filler

In television and serial narrative, the Filler Episode (usually fluff, sometimes just a one-off monster-of-the-week type thing) is used to pad out the series, to space out plot progression, to give the audience breathing room between the ramping stakes and escalating conflicts. They may be extremely light on plot and are those episodes which contribute little or nothing to the main arc of the series.

And yet, while filler may be an undesirable side effect of needing 12 issues per volume, or 26 episodes per season—a demand of media convention and expectation rather than a narrative necessity, there is something to be said for breathing:

 “One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.” –Marshall Vandruff

The truth of it is, I’ve reached a milestone at this point. And though I need to recover, though I need time to breathe and live and BE: to allow the stakes to stand, the action to calm—while I do need time to refresh, it doesn’t feel so much refreshing as frustrating.

In short: My life right now is a badly done filler episode. Let’s hope next week brings back the plot.

Montly Reading Wrap-Up | Jan-Feb 2014

Monthly Reading Wrap-Up | Featuring my past two months of reading, because I’ve been really bad at keeping up with it 😛 BUT, I have been reading quite a bit, and I’ve been reading some really awesome stuff. For one, I tore through the first two books of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy–and I’ve also pre-ordered the final installment, because I have no words.

I also devoured A Darkness Strange and LovelySusan Dennard‘s sequel/middle act to the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy. As I’ve said before: Victorian-era zombies + steampunk? More please? Entwined by Heather Dixon was a present from home, a gothic-y retelling of the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses that was super fun to read, and in Middle Grade, I started the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch (you know, that guy) as well as a reread of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Over all, a lot of clockwork and airships this month.

Other reads this month, not in MG or YA:

Kindred by Octavia Bulter

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

My Week in Tropes | Feb. 23rd

So, this week, after a flurry of activity trying to get my current projects—both freelance and writing—DONE, I find myself suddenly in project limbo. And, since I am absolutely dismal at passing time with that thing that people do called “relaxing,” I decided this weekend was as good a time as any to commit to churning out 10,000 words over the course of two days on one of the first drafts that’s been wallowing in my drawer over the past few months. There’s already been some devastating betrayals and a couple actiony bits, but sitting down to write this morning, I actually stumbled upon a scene between my protagonist and one of the major antagonists of this new story. It was a short scene—maybe three or four pages, but what struck me in this scene was the dialogue, which I won’t, for your own sanity, subject you to at this point. Suffice to say, it made me realize the tropes I wanted to write about this week:

Themes vs. Aesops

MORAL

Children, especially pretty, nicely brought-up young ladies, ought never to talk to strangers; if they are foolish enough to do so, they should not be surprised if some greedy wolf consumes them, elegant red riding hoods and all.

—Angela Carter’s Bluebeard

There are far too many stories where the moral of the story is painfully, sometimes anviliciously presented, the most famous of which are Aesop’s Fables (hence, the tvTrope term for overt story morals: the Aesop). And while there is nothing particularly wrong with a story having a message, a story whose message is the only important thing about it can hardly be called a story at all. Because stories are not just pretty vehicles for messages which might be better communicated through the post: the best stories are living, breathing entities, with a logic and a morality and a reality all their own. They don’t give simple messages, because simple messages exist only in simple worlds: and the best stories, no matter where they’re set, say something about our world, which is anything but simple.

Themes, on the other hand, are very useful both in making sense of the stories we read, as well as clarifying the heart of the stories we write—because Themes, unlike Aesops, do not pare down reality or feeling to some pithy declaration of UNIVERSAL SIGNIFICANCE. Themes, instead, pose a question. Where Aesops are declarative, Themes are interrogative, and it is this open-endedness, this invitation for readers to engage with the story, that makes themes so important. Not only that, a theme helps focus your writing without oversimplifying it—because if you know the aspects of life that you want to explore, it makes it that much easier to know what situations and conflicts and characters will best illuminate those aspects: it can guide your plotting, your dialogue, your everything, without constraining you to a single foregone conclusion: the villain doesn’t always receive their just punishment; the hero doesn’t always win. And while such endings might be enough to break an Aesop, they may also manage to say something very important about a more general theme.

MORAL

Do not believe everything your English teacher tells you: more than likely, they are making something up.

This also applies to things you read on the internet.

Do not trust this blog.

Currently Reading

We believed them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong…

Currently Re-Reading | The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Just finished my reread of this first book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, and I need some time to be alone with my feelings and memories of my childhood.