My apologies for being absent on my blog. We got back from our trip and I had hoped the Internet would be up and running by the time I returned. Guess what? It wasn’t. Thank goodness I know friendly writers who are willing to help me out. I hope you enjoy Margaret’s piece and when I can I’ll visit all of your blogs. Take care everyone and happy 4TH of July to all my American friends!
Take it away Margaret.
I’m a fairly middle-of-the-road self-published writer. I got into the game a few years ago and by now I have three books and a couple of short stories on Smashwords and Amazon. And I am an avid TV Troper.
The Internet provides a vast set of resources for writers (Project Gutenberg!), so it might seem a little curious that I’d recommend a website that grew out of a fan discussion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2004. TV Tropes may not sound too literary, but in reality it’s a treasure chest for writers. If you’re a chemist, a good working knowledge of the periodic table of elements will help you to be a better chemist. TV Tropes works that way. It’s a giant database of the building blocks that people use to tell stories.
For example, let’s take a work that most people agree is great stuff: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet’s entry on TV Tropes tells us that it contains examples of these storytelling techniques: Anachronism Stew, Black and Grey Morality, Karmic Death, Obfuscating Insanity, and many others. Each entry contains an explanation of the technique used and how it fits into the play.
There is a trope in this database for every technique a writer could possibly use, good or bad. If you spend a lot of time on the site (and you will), you’ll become familiar with the most popular tropes. And once you have a name for what you’re doing, you can write more consciously. You may realize you want to use In Media Res in your own work. Or you may notice your main character is straying into As You Know and correct it. In my most recent work, I got the idea for one of my side characters from the trope page for Morality Pet.
You’ll also develop a vocabulary for talking about fiction with others. The mission to develop a standard vocabulary for writing techniques started long before TV Tropes with the Turkey City Lexicon. In 1988, a group of writers at a conference in Austin, Texas came up with names for common genre fiction problems so critiquers could point them out when giving a review. The Lexicon has since been enveloped in the TV Tropes website, and since TV Tropes is a wiki, it’s expanding every day.
Often, at my writer’s group, I’ll make a note in the margin that reads something like this: This story contains an example of the Hitler Time Travel Exemption Act. You might want to check out the TV Tropes entry for context on what’s been done with this trope before. The entry page usually makes my point much better than I could have by myself.
Even if you don’t have a work in progress right now, check it out anyway. In addition to helping you to understand what you’re writing and talk about it with others, TV Tropes is a lot of fun.