Friday, August 3, 2012

Fresh Baked

By Peg Brantley

Gayle's post yesterday left me wondering…

If there is an entire cadre of tropes (look at Gayle's post if you want the definition), then what are the notes that are fresh? What themes or devices excite you as a reader?

In Red Tide I had a pill-popping FBI agent who 'took the cure' during the story. Tropish, but readers seem to love him. The detective in the story I'm working on now loves to listen to jazz. It's not overdone, but it's there. Jazz and Twizzlers. And story number three features an emotionally wounded man who suffers bouts of depression. (L.J. will be happy to know that number three does not involve a serial killer plot.)

But if those are staid and tropey, what engages readers today?

Could it be something related to the main protagonist's career? Reporters and lawyers are a dime-a-dozen, but what about neurosurgeons or trash collectors? Could the clerk at your local Walmart find herself embroiled in something messy that doesn't involve a wretched collection of strange looking shoppers via an email? (Or maybe it could.)

Would a physical challenge present as new and fresh? Maybe the main character is blind or has muscular dystrophy. Maybe he's eighty-nine years old.

Anything 'new and fresh' will one day fall out of disfavor due to overuse. But right now I'm curious (and maybe a little desperate)… what unique protagonist characteristics are sending you over the moon? What attribute do you want to see that's missing in your current reading choices?


  1. Good questions! Readers can be fickle and give confusing feedback. They ding you if your character doesn't grow and change with time, and they complain if your character changes too much and becomes less familiar.

    Peg, your pill-popper didn't bother me because it wasn't a focus of the story and he quickly took care of the issue. And your second story wasn't a serial killer because he didn't kill for pleasure. It was a great story though.

    As a writer, when I do think of interesting character quirks, I hesitate to share them because I'll likely want to use them myself in the future.

    But I do always like characters with internal conflict!

  2. Sheesh! I wrote several really good paragraphs here and they disappeared into the ether! I give up - gotta get back to my editing! Sorry about that, Peg.

  3. Great questions, and really tough to answer. MONK was new and fresh for the first season or two, as was LEVERAGE, but it didn't take long for the concepts to become trite.

    I'm looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

  4. Here's the thing about new and fresh: we don't know what it is until we see it. We'd never seen an Adrian Monk before - could we have ever said, "You know what I'd like to see? A detective with OCD." And here's the thing about tropes: even they can be done in a way that's new and fresh. Most of my friends hate serial killers, EXCEPT for Dexter. They all cut him some major slack. I hate the damaged hero who's always too smart for the room, but I love Leroy Jethro Gibbs. We can rail against them all we want, but we still fall for them.

  5. Great post. I'm afraid I'm with LJ. I hate to share my quirks in characters because I plan on keeping them in my war chest. If they got out and took hold, they'd be cliche before I even get the book done. Sometimes writers have to hold some secrets. Overall, I'm not bothered too much by the overused, if they are true. Cops DO eat donuts!

  6. L.J. and Lala, I'm kind of with you, although I imagine that any one element we all shared would end up vastly different on each of our pages.

    Gayle, I think you really nailed it. We know fresh when we see it and can always find exceptions for characters we love even if they're not so fresh.

    So now I'm thinking about a character who has cancer and elects to live well while she can, rather than die after chemo. Or a beautician/mortician who is also a midwife. Brainstorming can be a lot like farting, have you noticed?

  7. This is why I have a private investigator who used to clean houses for a living. No traumatic past. No addictions. But lots of sass.

  8. It's all in the execution. No topic is tired and old--not one. It's the approach that is. Dexter is a prime example. Lindsay found a fresh new spin on a frightfully common topic, and yet he's been able to capture all the excitement and thrill as if he were the first author to ever write about serial killers.

    Don't worry about the topic. Follow and trust your passion--it will lead you. Find a way to tell your story in a way nobody ever has before.

  9. Thanks, Drew! That's pretty much what I said earlier, but my comment disappeared into thin air!

  10. LOL! Thanks, Drew. I can always count on you to say it better, anyway!

  11. I agree with Jodie and Andrew, it's all in the execution. I love mysteries. But, what I don't like are those in which the character is a trope (for lack of a better word, but that one's pretty good) and there's no character development. Basically, I think that any type of character will be a trope if that character is shallow. Those with depth and that are genuine, so that they don't sound contrived, will do well. If there's no depth to the character, then it really won't matter whether he's a cop, a garbage collector, or a rocket scientist, he bores me.

  12. I absolutely agree with you on that, Terry!


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