Ad Astra 2015 day 1: Deconstructing tropes


First, a disclaimer

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.

We good?

Alrightie, then!

Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Leah Bobet, Charlotte Ashley, K.W. Ramsey

KWR: What if you love genre, but hate tropes?

LB: Tropes are clichés. They’re mass produced. They’re widgets. Genre is more than just the tropes that are common to it. Genre is an assumed set of knowledge. This can include tropes, but it’s more enjoyable for most readers if the writer alludes to tropes rather than spelling them out in the same ways as other writers before them.

GZM: We have archetypes, the Hero’s Journey. That’s structure. To use a construction metaphor, not every house will be built the same way, even if the builders start out with exactly the same materials.

KWR: You have to understand the tropes to use them properly. When you understand what an FTL [faster than light] drive is, and the scientific problems attendant upon creating one, then you can use it well.

GZM: Butcher does that with Harry Dresden. He’s a wizard, and powerful, but he lives without any of the benefits you would think go with that power.

CA: Dresden is basically an import into urban fantasy of the hardboiled detective trope.

KWR: And there are writers who do this well. Firefly mixed science fiction and the tropes of the western. Defiance tried to do something similar, but they didn’t understand the tropes they were trying to use in enough depth to use them well. The writers behind Firefly were conscious of what they were doing and wrote around their tropes intentionally.

GZM: After the Civil War, people went west, not seeking adventure, but because they’d been on the losing side.

KWR: Defiance trots out their tropes too obviously: here’s the stagecoach episode, etc.

LB: A photocopy of a photocopy eventually fades to nothing. If we see the same tropes used similarly in story after story, they lose meaning.

GZM: If the writer wants to be successful, she has to bring something new to inform the trope and give it fresh life.

LB: We all read books for different reasons. Some readers want comfort and familiarity. For these readers, tropes are fine. Some readers want their minds blown.

CA: In that sense, Firefly does not subvert its tropes.

GZM: It’s not just the tropes, though. Characters can bring something fresh as well. Tropes alone will only get you so far.

CA: Comfort reading is like decor. Mind-blowing reading is deeper.

LB: The stories that meant something to us as children need to be reinvented for a modern audience.

GZM: Myth is bigger than the telling.

CA: Look at Diana Wynn Jones’s retelling of Tam Lin.

LB: The books that point out that “this is messed up” further the conversation. We need these conversations.

KWR: Literature is cyclical. It responds to what has gone before but also invites the next voice to the conversation. The pendulum is always swinging.

GZM: In the 50’s and the 60’s, the cold war was a huge trope in science fiction. Recent authors have brought that tropes forward successfully.

LB: There’s a genre fallacy that there should only be one conversation going on, though. For example, post-colonialism is not part of the SF conversation.

CA: A Stranger in the Laundry speaks to that.

[There was a short side-track into the Hugo’s controversy that I chose not to record.]

CA: Is Star Wars not a post-colonial narrative?

KWR: The Jedis are basically samurai. It all goes back to the Tokugawa gun law.

GZM: What about Carpe Demon? The protagonist is an everyday person. She has to get the kids to school, work, manage her household, and still fight demons.

LB: That’s just good writing. Rounded characters are the result of good writing. Kate Elliott is an underrated writer. Karen Addison’s The Goblin King is fabulous also.

And we were out of time.

Next week: You get a double shot. Science Fiction in YA from Ad Astra 2015 and my next chapter April update.

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