Playing to type: Tropes and Clichés

There is a lot of advice for those writing, trying to write or even just thinking of trying to write about avoiding tropes and clichés. You know the sort of thing. Do you need a ditzy blonde in your comedy? Does your fantasy hero need to be an orphaned boy? Do things need to come in threes?

But tropes and clichés have a place.

My current work has an entirely typical and tropish character: she’s a drow who isn’t behaving much like a drow.

If you’ve never read any Forgotten Realms novels, or playing any Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) you may have no idea what a “drow” is. They’re basically evil elves that have black skin and tend to live deep underground. Whilst elves in DnD are somewhat based on the elves in Tolkien’s works (as opposed to more traditional fairytale elves, like in Harry Potter), the drow are Tolkien-like elves that embody all the nasty, selfish traits that elves tend not to have.

Drow came to some prominence in literature by R. A. Salvatore when he created the character Drizzt Do’Urden. Drizzt is a reformed drow who has turned his back on the drow society and lives peacefully amongst non-drow on the surface.

This isn’t entirely new. It isn’t even terribly original. But it was very well executed. In most any high fantasy setting, there is something enticing about a race that as a whole is pretty much irredeemably evil – and there is something almost irresistable to have one outlier individual from said race who bucks the trend.

Fourth Edition DnD has a mechanic for high-level characters called “Reformed Drow”. Yes, you can play as a drow. Drizzt’s journey away from his racial violent xenophobia has been enshrined in a game mechanic.

Tropish? Probably. So what? The vast majority of stories we read follow more-or-less the same structure. We’re used to it. We expect it.

My drow is busy overcoming what people in the rest of the world think of drow. And that’s a story.


Filed under storytelling, writing

2 responses to “Playing to type: Tropes and Clichés

  1. Old Bitey

    I like poking and prodding the tropes, turning them on their ear. I think that’s vital to keeping genre fiction fresh.

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