You Won't Be Spared

There are various conspiracy theorists out there spouting lies about the federal government. From blatantly false, such as the theory that government agencies are stockpiling ammunition and running concentration camps, to the paranoid and unpatriotic (The NSA 's data collection is completely legal and necessary for a free society. Anyone who disagrees will be tracked down and detained on suspicions of terrorism). Content creators also believe in such nonsense, seeing secret patterns, symbols, and plots everywhere. Except instead of analyzing video artifacts for signs of reptilian slits on world leaders, they tear apart fiction looking for tropes and archetypes.

Both breeds of conspiracy theorists abuse pattern recognition skills out of a misguided belief that there is some sort of overarching force that explains everything. For the traditional conspiracy theorist, they cannot believe that random events are up to chance. The ups and downs of the economy, tragic events, and even incredibly minor events are all the result of a secret cabal planning to enslave the world. For the modern creative theorists, they think that the trends of popular fiction stem are also intentional because the authors use the right combination of tropes, stock plots, and archetypes, looking for every possible permutation in popular media.

At the heart of such beliefs, both theorists have an undertone of hubris. Conspiracy theorists seriously think that discovering a plot by the Webcomic Police to round up every dissident artist and force them to produce state-approved educational material somehow makes them above the “sheeple” and will save them from this completely hypothetical fate. If the Webcomic Police were to do such a thing, we obviously don't consider these people a threat or we would have arrested them and wiped all proof of their existence out before they could even get online. And if the Webcomic Police were truly planning such a thing, how would a fringe group of conspiracy nuts who know about it be any threat to us? They would be just as easy to overpower and drag to the reeducation camp as the rest of the populace. And it isn't like anyone would notice if they were gone, since webcomic authors go on hiatus all the time. If we were actually doing it, of course.

Just like the traditional conspiracy theorists (and the fake conspiracy theories spread by the government to confuse the masses), creative theorists think understanding how many different plots there are, the plotline of every hero myth in every culture, and the character archetypes in an ensemble cast will somehow improve their work. While authors do unconsciously borrow from everywhere, even other pieces of fiction that they've read before, this modern mindset seems to treat fiction like a mad scientist cobbling together various body parts from different animals. But instead of trying to make them mesh together, he's putting them together based on what would look cool together or would be more marketable, and the unholy abomination falls on the floor and bleeds out.

You'd think I was exaggerating, but I once saw a webcomic page on TV Tropes that was completely written by the person who made the webcomic, with a long list of every trope he used. I don't know if the author was a Troper or he joined just to promote his comic, but either way, the comic wasn't worth reading and adding a bunch of tropes he found on the site wasn't going to make it automatically better (I won't link to the comic or the page because that would be giving him the attention he wants, but trust me, the site has plenty of examples of people shamelessly self-promoting themselves and pitching stories in dense Troperese). Same with Joseph Campbell's Monomyth. The point was to show how the commonality between various cultural myths, not to create a literary cheat code.

The best advice I can give would be this: read a lot. Read everything. Read stories, do research, look at all the writing advice you want. But when you're ready to write your story, put all your books back in the drawer, close your web browser, and forget everything. Just like a musician practices chords but isn't consciously thinking about it when they actually play songs, don't consciously think about whether your character is an Iron Woobie or if it's too late to have the hero refuse the call to adventure, just focus on making a good story. Learning every trope and narrative device won't spare you from writing a bad story. And it certainly won't spare you from the Webcomic Police reeducation camps.


  1. Do you have against TV trope? this article somewhat sound like you see them in negative light. of course there are badly written page like you mentioned, but I'm just curious about your thought

    1. I think he was referring more to the fact that consciously putting a bunch of tropes in your work 'just because' doesn't make it a good thing. Using or pointing out tropes isn't bad as long as they're used correctly and in line with the plot or characters. Blindly stabbing your work with tropes that have no place being there just so they could be marked as tropes in TVTropes is not something to be proud of. That's my take on it anyway.

      P.S. Roby - Thanks for linking to that Hulk article, I've been reading his posts since I read this article.

    2. Anon #2 nailed it. I don't hate tropes or archetypical plotlines, but when you can tell that the author is just going down a checklist, then that's when I have a problem with it.

    3. oh thank, now I understand