Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trope of the Week: #2 Genre Savvy

Yeah, I know these aren't exactly weekly but I like the name so I'm sticking with it.

Since my first installment was a trope I really dislike and want to see fade away, this time I'm doing one of my favorites: Genre Savvy. This is quite simply where your characters don't know they are in a story (no breaking the fourth wall) but they know how things work. So they aren't going to split up to go look for clues or walk down dark alleys in vampire territory unarmed.

I really wanted to illustrate this post with the song Bin There Dun That by Echo's Children which is basically an anthem to genre savvy but there's no video for it on YouTube and it doesn't appear to be available on iTunes. If you can track down the song I highly recommend it.

Why do I think this is a great trope to play with? Because it gives you the chance to show that your characters don't exist in a vacuum, they have some knowledge of events whether real or pop culture that resemble what they are going through. It lends more realism to fantastic situations.  This is particularly true if your story setting is modern day Earth, don't make your readers wonder whether the characters grew up without ever watching TV or movies. You also get the chance to inject some humor depending on how you handle it. There's the added bonus that most of the things you would expect characters to be aware of are really overused tropes anyway, like falling for the obvious trap or the villain revealing his master plan to the hero in a monologue.

It's also possible to have a story be genre savvy without the characters acknowledging that they are. Just by the simple fact that they have learned from past experience or they are generally good at spotting really bad ideas. For example the villain who has loyal and well trained guards instead of tolerating laziness and incompetence. Who, for example, makes them all pass a certain level of shooting accuracy so this doesn't happen:

There are some risks to having characters who are too genre savvy. You could cross the line into parody (unless you are writing a parody in which case ignore this warning). Or you could break your plot by having characters who know the game too well and that it would be too out of character for them to do something they shouldn't. To use my earlier example: If your characters have already said they shouldn't split up to look for clues it's going to be jarring to the reader to have them do exactly that later on. In that case either you are going to have to create circumstances that force them to act the way you need them to or you need to make your characters a little more genre blind.

I enjoy stories that use some element of genre savvy, your mileage with it may vary. However I think that if you are setting a story anywhere on modern day earth you need to at least give a passing nod to the fact that your characters have probably absorbed some pop culture.