Thursday, July 9, 2015

What the What?! :: Two Bits on Horror Tropes

Yesterday I was discussing horror novels with a loved one (name omitted to protect the idiot innocent), and the conversation turned to the crash of the paperback horror market. Yes, a lot of bad books were published during the 70s and 80s, but despite what Beloved Darling said, I don't believe for a minute that "the same old crap over and over" kills a genre. If that were the case, romance would've died out a long time ago.

That's not to say that trope trends don't go in and out of fashion. Tropes, subgenres, and even genres on the whole hit spikes in popularity then fade out. That's kind of how the market works. Someone publishes a popular book on an oddly-dynamic muffin eating serial killer, and the next thing you know, there are fifty muffin eating serial killer knock off books. It's not necessarily that those knock off books are bad (although the might well be), it's that they don't have the same spark of originality as the first offender, and that's what dooms the rest to the bargain bin.

At every conference I've ever attended, at least one editor or agent on every panel has stated "don't follow the trends", but in turn they have asked for novels that are "the same, but different". For what it's worth, they're looking for dynamic characters and popular tropes with a twist - yes, even in horror.

If you can bring something completely fresh and marketable to the table - great!  Otherwise, most people want a story that has interesting characters but is recognizeable in trope and tone. When people buy a book, they want to know beforehand what they're getting in to. I have never in all my life heard someone say, "You know, what I'd really like to read about is a generic person waxing poetic over scary existential philosphy in the middle of  magestic, wild-flower carpeted forest." You go ahead with that, if that's what you'd like. I'll take the book about the crazy old woman who feeds those annoying neighborhood kids to the slimy monster haunting the old boarded up house at the end of the street.

If authors are lucky, readers want to read books simply because your name is on the cover. But most of the time, when it comes to what people say they like to read, it goes down something like this: I want to read a romance. Or, I want to read something scary. Or, I want to read a story about a post-apocalyptic diner, a sexy billionaire CEO, a bad-boy cowboy looking for lurve, vampires stalking a small town, redneck zombies, or a travelogue set in Japan. Tropes (and genres) help readers choose the books they want to read.

It's true popular themes and tropes are frequently repeated, but that doesn't mean they are tired and should be retired. Even if a story incorporates several popular tropes, dynamic characters and unique situations (plot events) can make that book come across as very fresh.

So there it is. My two bits for the day. Don't let anyone kick you in the teeth over using popular tropes. They are popular for reason. Use tropes and genre to give your readers something to identify with, then blow them away with page turning plot events, deep emotion, and interesting characters. ♦



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