The first time someone told me about TV Tropes I didn’t get it. It was on a Facebook group and I thought I was being shown some online version of the dreaded (by me) writers’ manual: well-meaning books about well-made plays that sell better than plays themselves. Or Save the Cat, the most egregious example, which allows bad screenwriters to be just as emotionally manipulative as their heavyweight counterparts, through the use of bullet-pointed lists, like screenwriting judo. I haven’t actually read it, but I’ve never seen eye-to-eye with anyone who has.
Anyway, TV Tropes. It’s none of the above, and is actually fascinating. Yes, it’s reductive, but that’s the point. It’s MO is to spot common tropes in works of fiction, from Shakespeare to comic books. It’s not there to say whether they are good or bad: a trope is not necessarily a cliché, though the words are sometimes interchangeable. And the truly unique elements of any work by their nature won’t be in there. Thinking about what works have in common also helps us look at what makes each unique.
So, for the writer, it does have an instructive role, but without telling you to avoid or include certain devices. They’ll be there anyway. You have to resolve yourself to the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that anything you do, however original, will contain tropes used elsewhere. Then once you’re okay with that you can then think, am I using these tropes well? Am I subverting them? Am I making them feel fresh? I realise I’m guilty of using the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope a bit, and this no doubt says something about me. But confronting that fact at least forces me to think about how I’m using it, which is something for which to be grateful.
Just thought I’d share this.
I’m rapidly educating myself in the practical skills of film directing and editing. One of my ongoing stratagems is to write and make original 2-3 minute long short films as often as life will allow. To inspire me, and to keep things varied and interesting, I’ve been basing each around an existing piece of music, which then informs the mood and progression of the action. Some of the films are silent, others have dialogue. Some are acted, some are just slices of real life. Sometimes I’ll listen to something and it just suggests to me a line like, “I can’t believe they let me get away with it!” or “how the hell did we both end up like this?” and wherever that comes from I’ll just run with it, put it in the mouth of a character, and see what coalesces around it. It’s quite liberating to write something you’ve no intention to show publicly. Art for art’s sake and all that.
Here’s the list of pieces of music I’ve put together to select from, on Spotify:
There’s a kind of a logic to them, they’re all instrumental (with one exception), all under three minutes, and they all end with some kind of harmonic resolution (with a few exceptions) – they don’t leave you hanging.
Obviously, none of the results of this exercise can be released commercially, not without clearance of the music (and it’s a paradox of filmmaking that it’s almost always cheaper to commission new compositions than to use something already out there, however appropriate), but thanks to YouTube’s licensing agreements, most videos featuring existing recorded music can be uploaded to YouTube non-commercially, with any ad revenue going back to the musicians. I may post a few of them here on that basis in the near future.
In the mean time, you can listen and enjoy, and if anyone out there is getting into filmmaking as well, feel free to try the same approach. It’s pleasingly inverted, if nothing else.