Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You've got to pick a pocket or two... by Cathy Ace

CRAFT: Which writing advice tropes do you follow, and which do you ignore in your books and short stories?

“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


These days the word “trope” is often used to mean “cliché”, so I’ll take it in that form for the purposes of today’s post, which is therefore going to be all about this: it’s important to know what the clichés of your sub-genre are, so you can use them, play with them, or avoid them. Rather than talk about lots of them (and there are a good number, whatever your sub-genre) I’m going to pick on one, and talk about that in depth. It’s close to my heart, having been one of the pivotal factors when I was writing THE WRONG BOY, my most recent novel.

Having become “known” for writing a traditional whodunit series and a cozy PI series, it was a bit of a risk to write a psychological suspense standalone. I know this. So why on earth did I do it, instead of just writing another Cait Morgan Mystery, or another WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery? In all honesty, because I HAD to do it. The story had been squirming around inside my head for some time, but I had to fulfill contracts before I could focus on it…then I did.

If you’ve ever read (or even heard of) Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc. etc. you’ll know that the concept of “the unreliable narrator” is all the rage!  I've loved that premise since I first read THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, so decided to read across the sub-genre of psychological suspense for about nine months, and found myself an entire football-stadium full of these liars…but have to admit I got a bit fed up with them all, having seen too much drug-taking, alcohol consumption, somehow-induced amnesia, pure willfulness, and some truly bizarre physical and mental illnesses being employed to make the unreliability “play” better. 
Hallie Ephron's favorite book by Agatha Christie!
You see, for me as a reader, I began to open books expecting unreliability, and then the trope loses its edge. 

So – how did I plan to deal with it? Use it? Ignore it? Well, my approach was to write THE WRONG BOY from five distinct viewpoints – each one being “unreliable” in their own way, because each person possessed different knowledge about the facts, and none could see the whole picture not only of what was going on around them, but also of themselves.

I also enjoyed playing with the other key trope in this area I knew readers would expect – twists, turns and reversals. That was great fun! 

Oh, and one other thing, I called it The Wrong BOY, despite the fact the three core characters are female…because…well, you know, there are a LOT of books with girl, woman, wife, sister, daughter, mother etc. etc. in the title, and that was another trope I didn’t want to use – so I played against that one from the start, with the titular “Boy” only being shown to the reader through the eyes of other characters until the end of the book. 

Maybe you'll consider reading my work? You can find out more about me, and it, here:


Terry said...

This is a great post. You took the suggested topic and ran with it. I learned a thing or two!

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks Terry, it's one of those things I enjoyed sitting to think about - as is so often the case with these topics :-)

Paul D. Marks said...

One of the things they say is you have to know the rules to break the rules. So I think you make some good points in that regard, Cathy.

Susan C Shea said...

Love the chart! I took the question to mean "writing advice cliches" but you went to the more fun idea.

Cathy Ace said...

I like to know which rules I'm breaking ��

Cathy Ace said...

The chart made me laugh. Liked your points too.

Cathy Ace said...

The chart made me laugh. Liked your points too.