Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Using Tropes

I was going to write this post about breaking rules. Not real rules, like the law or physics or grammar, but the sort of rules you find when you start stalking following agents. For example: don't ever have your main character wake up at the beginning of a novel. Sure Kafka pulled it off (note: he also turned his MC into a bug on that first page, so yeah) but nowadays you should just avoid this. As soon as an agent sees your character waking up in that first page, she's rolling her eyes and saying, "Good Lord! Not again!"

This past weekend I re-read The Maze Runner, in preparation for The Death Cure (which I also read and it was great). And afterwards, I thought "hmm, didn't James Dashner just break a rule by opening with an amnesiac?"

But as I thought about it, I couldn't actually remember an agent ever saying, "Don't open your story with someone who has lost their memory!" For some reason, my mind has it defined as a common trope but I can't remember any examples of a book opening this way, except for The Maze Runner. Sure TV uses amnesia all the time, but books? I can't think of a one.

Well, I can, but it's The Lost Hero, and I don't think it counts since it's equally new and wouldn't have created this trope.

But I'm fairly certain amnesia is something that is considered as a trope. So what makes The Maze Runner or for that matter The Lost Hero compelling despite the fact it begins with a classic trope that might cause agents to roll their eyes?

For The Lost Hero, I think it gets the benefit of a doubt because it's a follow up to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but I also think it's because there is no obvious (non god related) reason why this kid Jason should not have his memory. He's sitting on a school bus. His best friend and girlfriend have been with him the entire time—no time for him to stumble off and hit his head without him knowing. Somehow, just sitting on a bus, this kid lost his memory. Or else something else is going on. And that's what keeps you reading. What else could be going on? Or how could a kid just suddenly lose his memory?

But The Maze Runner I think just takes this trope and makes it new. How? Why? Well, let's dissect it.

"He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air."

New life? What new life? And does the fact he faced this new life, started it, standing up, facing it, taking it like a man—does that tell us something about this mysterious character? And why would a new life begin in such a cold stale dusty place???? These are the thoughts that would pull me in if I read this first sentence.

The next three paragraphs show us that this person (we don't know if he's a kid or adult yet) is in an elevator, and Dashner's descriptions are vivid. You can hear the grind of metal against metal and feel the shudder of the room. Why is this guy beginning his new life in an elevator? What does it mean?

It's not until the fifth paragraph and on that you realize this guy has no better idea than you where is or why he is there. Somehow this boy (for we do learn he is a teenager) lost his memory and he lost it STANDING UP.

Think about that for a moment. Usually if you experience head trauma that's bad enough to cause memory loss, you're probably going to be disoriented and lose your sense of balance. But our main character, Thomas, was standing up when we met him. Somehow, while standing up, he lost his memory.

I mean doesn't that just make you want to know what happened? How it could happen?

If that's not enough, the fear and confusion Dashner conveys about being in this awful, dank elevator also kept me going, but ultimately what won me, was what Thomas meets when he gets out of the elevator.

A community of boys who all arrived to this strange place via the same elevator and who all have no memory of any life before living in this community.

This isn't just an isolated, stereotypical amnesia. This amnesia is caused by something—some higher organization within the novel that is plotting something. That wants a group of boys who have no idea where they are or how they got there, other than an elevator.

Something is going on. And it's ultimately the question "What's going on?" that keeps me reading.

So think about that, the next time you want to write a trope. It can be done. It can be done well. But you have to do it in a way that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next and "What's going on?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Next couple of months

I know I promised every Tuesday and Thursday, but its not happening. It's just not happening.

Balancing school, work, and some semi-semblance of a life are just too difficult.

I spend my week working, as in a real job. My workday is 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. If I need to run any errands, I need to do it after work. And I have to take care of my dog. And by the time six thirty hits, I'm wiped and all I want to do is watch TV. But I can't because my apartment is a wreck and I need to clean it. Or I need to cook something so I can eat regular food at work tomorrow instead of eating fast food for lunch.

Why don't I do errands and chores on the weekend, you ask? Easy. Because I spend my weekends:
  1. watching lectures for my final class
  2. doing problems/tests for said final class
  3. trying to create the required Matlab code for my Master's Project which I have to finish by December
  4. trying to write said Master's project
Seriously, last weekend, I watched two 1.5 hour lectures for my class, took a seven question test that took me an entire day, outlined and planned out the actual writing of my Master's Project, and reworked some Matlab code to try to make it actually work, realized that wouldn't work, banged my head for two hours trying to figure out what would work, tried to implement said new work around, and realized this new work around required even more work than I anticipated.

So basically my life sucks. I don't have time to try to branch out and join groups to meet people so I can make friends in Albuquerque, where I've only been living for a few months. My only friends are my friends from work, and I can't even commit to a game of Settlers of Catan with them because I'm all "That will take hours!!!"

Seriously, one of my work friends invited me over to a movie night on a Friday night and I said, "Only if we're done by ten, because I'm getting up at seven on Saturday to work on my Master's Project."

Not exactly a conducive attitude to making friends. But a great attitude for getting work done.

But I have hope, because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mid-December the trials and tribulations of grad school will end. Then I won't have to spend my weekends on school stuff. Instead I can spend them making friends. I'll have time during the week to work out and then I can be in shape again. Life will be good.

Of course that hope is partnered by fear, because OH MY GOSH I HAVE TO BE DONE WITH MY MASTER'S PROJECT BY DECEMBER. I actually have to have a finished project. *pass out*

So thinking about my new shiny life on the horizon immediately leads to panic, which leads to me not doing my chores during the week, but instead banging my head against Matlab in an attempt to get something done, so my chores build up until it reaches a point of over boiling and I have to waste a weekend I should have been using to work on my project to clean house which then leads to more panic because OH MY GOSH I'M SO BEHIND!

Basically I'm a positive feedback system of panic and stress. (Positive feedback, for those who don't know, is bad. It's what causes that squeal that microphones make when they get too close to each other or speakers.)

So you'll have to forgive me if I don't post as regularly as I claim. I try, because writing these posts relieves stress. It doesn't relieve the amount of work I have to do, but it brings down my panic level. And a high panic level is not conducive to good work.

Please don't give up on me if the next three months on this blog are rough and not posted regularly. I promise I'll come back in January, full swing. Maybe even blogging everyday.

Because come January my life is summer all the time.

No more school. I can't even imagine how glorious it will be.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Smell the Pumpkin in the Air!

My friends, it's that time of year again! The time of year when normal people decorate their houses with ghosts and witches. When pumpkins are carved and become jack o'lanterns. And when Starbucks puts out pumpkin bread. Can you smell the scent of pumpkin in the air? It's Halloween time!

I've posted before on my love of Halloween. But I feel it needs to be revisited. Because I really do love Halloween.

So I'm going to try to discuss different aspects of Halloween at least once a week. I want to discuss my favorite horror movies, whether not I believe in ghosts, how much I love costumes, and just in general how awesome Halloween is.

Today's aspect of Halloween to discuss is the food.

Pumpkin is undoubtedly my favorite vegetable. Hands down. I like it in bread and muffins. I like it in pie. And I like just its seeds when they've been baked. Yum. And yet, despite this squash's awesomeness, it only comes out once a year. Why? Why do pumpkins only reign from October to Thanksgiving. Come December, Starbucks will put away its pumpkin bread. Einstein's will hide away the recipe for pumpkin bagels. And good luck finding a pumpkin in a grocery store! I mean, I get that fruits and vegetables have their appropriate seasons, but modern technology means that most are able to be grown all year long. Why not pumpkins?

And speaking of pumpkins, does anyone else out there love those pumpkins that are made out of similar stuff as candy corn? You usually find them with the candy corn, and both are delicious.

After all, what is Halloween without the candy? I never buy straight up candy during the rest of the year. I'll buy ice cream and cookies, but candy? It's too dangerous to keep in the house. I would eat it all the time. But at Halloween, I buy bags of it. I have a bowl at home full of candy and one at my office. And let me tell you, the one at my office, I have to refill daily. So clearly I'm not the only one with a lack of self control when it comes to candy.

Oh, Halloween. How you bring out the best sweets and treats!

Anyone else out there have a love of Halloween food? Does anyone have unusual Halloween traditions when it comes to food and candy?