“A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” – Wikipedia
Siskel and Ebert
On Siskel and Ebert’s long-ago TV show of movie reviews, whenever they showed a clip of a movie with a car chase along narrow streets in an Asian city, they would often shout “FRUIT CART” when (inevitably) one or both cars would plough into a vendor’s cart or tent, sending chickens, fruits and vegetables and everything else sky high. This is a trope, often used (variations of it probably show up in the Bond films) and always a lame groaner.
Dark and Stormy Night
“It was a dark and stormy night” is a cliche, one used so often that it’s often pointed at with laugher and derision whenever it shows up. Stormy nights are often included in a series of tropes that used to appear in old movies:
A young woman is alone in a rambling mansion on a dark and stormy night, sitting at a dressing table with an open window behind her.
The musical program on the radio is interrupted with the breaking news that two dangerous men have just escaped from a nearby prison or asylum.
The power goes out. She finds a candle (which will blow out numerous times) and uses it to go through the house shutting windows where curtains are flying up toward the ceiling creating eerie shadows.
She hears a crash somewhere off in the house and wonders whether an old tree has fallen through the glass doors that lead to the garden or the escapees have broken into the house.
There’s a gun in the house and, while searching for it, she will open a closet door out of which an ironing board will fall (scaring her and the audience), make her way down into the seldom-used basement where we know a gruesome murder once occurred, or up into the attic where mannikins and other objects that look like ghosts or deranged people are stored.
Each of these tropes increases the audience’s fear, not only because they’ve seen them before, but because something in our human conditioning or nature makes us fearful of such moments.
Don’t Use The Damn Tropes
Stay away from such tropes unless you’re writing a comedy or satire that pokes fun at hackneyed set pieces. You can play on the readers’ knowledge of such tropes by coming close to using them, but then veering away, or by constructing a scene that’s the exact opposite, e.g., rather than a dark and stormy night, use a bright, sunny afternoon. Instead of sitting at a vanity, the woman alone can be cooking, vacuuming the floor, or using the Internet to do office work at home.
If you go to websites that list novel and film tropes, you’ll probably be surprised at how many there are. Gosh, there’s a lot of stuff out there a good writer has to avoid.
Today’s guest is Nora Caron, author of Journey to the Heart and the recently released sequel, New Dimensions of Being. From Montreal, Quebec, Caron works as a private English teacher and Kangen water distributor when she’s not in the American Southwest working on films.
She co-wrote the script for Wyoming Sky, a film currently in development by her own film production company, Oceandoll Productions.
Malcolm: Welcome to Malcolm’s Round Table. You’ve been busy lately touring on behalf of New Dimensions of Being. I won’t ask you to tell tall tales about appearing in multiple towns and multiple stores, but I’m guessing it’s been an adventure. What are the high points?
Nora: I adore meeting new people and not knowing who will show up. Every bookstore has its own energy and I never know what to expect! It’s like a dream every time in which I don’t know what will happen. In the past I used to try to organize everything and count on certain people to show up but now I just go with the flow. Sometimes people don’t talk and other times, like in Texas recently, they just open up magically and incredible life stories are shared in the room. The best part of touring is that afterwards, you come home with new friends and unforgettable memories, not to mention great new ideas for future novels.
Malcolm: When you wrote Journey to the Heart, did you know that your protagonist Lucina had another story to tell or did she start appearing in your thoughts and dreams later?
Nora: I had several people come up and ask me, “So what happens after? I want to know more! Please!” I had never thought of writing a trilogy but I realized after much meditation that Lucina’s story indeed was not over. When I started writing the second book, I had so much to say that I couldn’t wait to start the third. I literally wrote two books one after the other without taking a break, something I thought I would never pull off given all my other work that I must juggle daily. I can honestly say these books wrote themselves through my fingertips, as though powerful forces were pushing their way to print.
Malcolm: I can understand a resident of Quebec being fluent in French. But how did the German and Spanish come into the picture? How does being multi-lingual influence your work as a writer in English?
Nora: My mother speaks many languages and it was a sort of necessity growing up in our household to master different languages. I lived for a while in Berlin back in 2001 and loved the German culture very much, and it was at that moment that I began learning German. In 2002, I traveled to Mexico where I heard Spanish for the first time and couldn’t shake it from me. It was in University that I minored in German and Spanish because I knew that being multilingual would help me later down as I traveled the world. Speaking different languages allows me to study other cultures and people more in depth, and allows me to see more clearly how other people live and interact. The fact that I speak Spanish gave me an inside perspective on Mexico which is everywhere in my first three novels. I believe that to know different languages gives you freedom to explore worlds that remain hidden sometimes to the common outside tourist.
Malcolm: How does a person living in the ice and cold of Quebec become fascinated with the American Southwest? Yes, I know it’s warmer there, but I think there’s more to it than that?
Nora: Although I am born in ice and cold and gray skies, my spirit is far from that energy. It was in the south of the US that I started to feel myself fully, especially in California and Arizona. I find the people more welcoming and friendly, and I adore the dry heat. I am an outdoors person, I love running and swimming so winters in Quebec are a little death for me each year. In my heart, I am a true Californian: wild, free-spirited, open-minded, rebellious, and very liberal. Plus I love the joy and lightness of being in the southwest which is rare to find in my part of the world. Up here people are constantly fighting the weather hence that reflects in their personalities. Quebecers are rough, tough, and often not the happiest people on earth. I believe climate shapes people much more than we imagine.
Malcolm: You’re one of the few authors I know who also has an IMDb listing. What led you to acting and to your work in the Wyoming Sky project?
Nora: When I first went to Los Angeles seven years ago, I befriended a wonderful actor named Ingo Neuhaus who became one of my closest friends on earth. One day he threw me into a short film Online Dating and we had so much fun, that we decided to work together on other short films. I had done television and theatre in the past, as well as film studies, so I felt like I was re-connecting with a part of me that had been sleeping for a long time. Three years ago, Ingo and I started writing our first feature film Wyoming Sky and once the script was complete, we realized we had something really special in our hands. Several people in Hollywood jumped on board, and last year we formed our film company with Brad Neuhaus and we became Oceandoll Productions. Since then, we have been raising funds for Wyoming Sky and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for development money. It’s such a pleasure to be doing films with such talented men as the Neuhaus boys! There is never a dull moment and we like to think we are different from other filmmakers because we take time with people and listen to people rather than just think about ourselves. Hollywood can be very narcissistic at times, sadly.
Malcolm: In her novel The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt describes Nevada as a place of “wide horizons, empty skies, spiritual clarity.” I also get this feeling when I visit my granddaughters there, and I sense it lurking behind the scenes in your work set in the Southwest. How do you visualize the region when you approach it as a writer—and perhaps someday as a resident?
Nora: Since I did travel in Mexico, the scenes in my novel come from a first-hand account as well as much research about the places my narrator visits. I feel at home in places with wide horizons and clear skies, and one of my favorite places to visit was the Mojave desert in California. It was there that I heard the calls of the coyotes and slept under the starlit skies, and dreamed of shamans and witches and transformations. I hope that my descriptions of places in my novels stir that sense of wonder in readers, wonder about the mysterious unknown, the Other Side, the world of magic and spirits, and rebirth and death.
Malcolm: Thank you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table. Best of luck with your Kickstarter campaign for Wyoming Sky and your tour for New Dimensions of Being.
The Story: In New Dimensions of Being, Lucina is haunted by terrible recurring nightmares. Unsure of what they represent, Teleo and her seek answers but the quest opens up many new areas of life Lucina is not certain she can cope with. Discovering that she is pregnant, Lucina faces a huge decision: Is she ready to become a mother or not? As Lucina stumbles around to find the right path for her, she realizes that keeping love alive is much more complicated than she originally thought.
On the Web: You can visit Nora on the web here; you and learn more about her campaign to raise money for Wyoming Skyhere.