Friday 1 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Two: Tropes

As a freelance editor can I just say that I have had enough of characters running their hands through their long dark hair on the first page of manuscripts. (@meandmybigmouth)

My pet peeve: The Woman Scorned Revenge Scene Trope – Please Don’t Write. (@jemartin)

Why does my dog look like she's explaining her master plan to the captured protagonist? (@SomeChrisTweets)

I see you, fiction-writers-who-signal-to-the-reader-that-a-character's-evil-via-their-immaculately-tidy-house. (@volewriter)

Another popular trope in Chinese literature of past two decades seems to be the accidental journalist who ends up fighting for the people. (@xuetingni)

Structuring trick that’s now de rigueur in modern crime fiction — Two Seemingly Independent Threads That Shockingly Turn Out to Be Linked. ( And not just modern crime fiction.)

Even Maugham, though, can't resist that favourite male author trope of the dress that looks simple but is not. Has anyone ever actually seen any such dress? (Clothes in Books)

Miss Durdon, nanny to generations of the family, is a wonderful creation – even though the figure of the devoted family retainer allowed her own licence is very much overdone in literature. (Moira Redmond)

The ancient doddery lawyer/factory owner is known as “Young Mr Smith”. (Are You Being Served)

Fainting ladies always land in a crumpled heap. (In the days of long skirts they probably did.)

Of an older woman “you could see she’d been pretty once”.

The pretentious shop (clothes, art, flowers) that has only one or two objects in the window.

The naughtiest girl in the school becomes a nun, and eventually Reverend Mother.

If anyone gets a telegram they “excitedly tear open the envelope”. Otherwise they “take in the situation at a glance”.

Common, vulgar characters wear too many rings (their hands are “beringed”).

Gay characters come singly.

Marvel comic-book heroes are all tragic, suffering, saviour figures.

In books by alcoholics characters drink all day but never get drunk. (See Kingsley Amis. And they never become unpleasant, abusive or incoherent, either.)

In Kingsley Amis novels, good women wear corduroy or denim suits.

Americans in 30s books by Brits are called Slingsbee.

If you are having an affair with a married man, and his wife is murdered, never say: “You killed her – for ME!"

An east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up. (Hosea 13:15  Quoted or referenced by Sherlock Holmes and John Jarndyce in Bleak House.)

The person who only thinks they are paralysed. Conversely, the wheelchair-bound character who walks about the house unobserved, or the “blind” person who can see.

Shadow takes on an independent existence and takes over its owner’s life. (Sometimes the shadow offers its original owner, now on his uppers, a job – as its shadow.)

The girl who is raised by her mother for a good marriage. The girl is beautiful – but in the style of the 1890s, and it’s now the 1920s. (Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate)

One of the members of an unlikely partnership explains “He/she is good for me.” (Helen Schlegel in Howard’s End talking about Monica, whom we never meet. And poor Monica gets left behind in Munich.)

Did we have to bring him? But Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, though cowardly and weak, turns out to have an ingenious mind and can usually think the gang out of their predicament. By the end of the story, they’re asking “What shall we do, Mr Baggins?”

A vulgar woman in E. Phillips Oppenheim’s Aaron Rodd, Diviner exposes “at least 12 inches of silk-clad limbs” and wears loudly squeaking patent shoes. Probably with too-high heels.

The spy or spies who are undetectable because they “live their part”. Also the spy who has such a nondescript face that he can play many roles. Plus “nobody looks at a postman/steward/maid/nurse”.

The stage lawyer “dresses in the costume of the last generation but seven”, says JK Jerome. “The youngest stage solicitor we ever remember to have seen looked about sixty—the oldest about a hundred and forty-five.” (See Ngaio Marsh’s elderly Mr Ratisbon, and Margery Allingham’s Mr Drudge who bucks the trend, being about 30.)

More here.

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