Tackling Tropes

Hello Hello! This post is going to be a little different from the usual Personal Process series, since this week it’s a special request from my good friend Katie Koontz. I interviewed her about her character Bolte for an earlier post, and when she asked me to cover character tropes, I wholeheartedly agreed! Today, I’m doing a deep dive into how tropes are used in storytelling, some fun ways to play with them, and offering a few exercises to think about how they impact your story.

Tropes as Tools: Definitions, and how they differ from cliches.

There are a MILLION definitions out there but for the sake of this article, I’m going to use the broadest term: A Trope is a storytelling shortcut or motif that conveys information to the audience. If you notice a pattern, plot device, symbol, or archetype in three separate pieces of media, it could be classified as a trope. In fact, even the Rule of 3 is a ubiquitous trope. Every piece of media has them, and they aren’t objectively good or bad, they just exist. Saying you’re trying to write without tropes is like saying you’re going to write without a font.

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May Goals Recap

School’s out! This was my third semester of Zoom University, and I cannot tell you how happy I am to be done with that nonsense. I survived organic chemistry and thermodynamics, finished my business minor, and missed my GPA goal by only 0.02 points, so I’ll take what I can get. Thankfully, I’ll be back on campus for next semester, and I’m half done with my undergrad degree now, so I am looking forward to a quiet summer of work and catching up on my writing! I also can’t believe how much I was able to get done as soon as I wasn’t spending all my free time studying. This month was a win on all counts, and I’ve got big plans for break!

Overall Goals: Won by 6.5 points – 19/24

Creative Goals: Won by 1 point – 4/6

Publish the end of Four Hours for Bridge Four: This is my Stormlight Archives fanfic, now completed! I rewrote the sea shanty “Four Hours” by the Longest Johns into a bridge-crew work song, and wrote one-shots to go along with each stanza from the different members of Bridge Four. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and even more pleased that it’s done and I can add another WIP to the Completed Works bin. It’s on AO3 if you want to check it out!

Edit 10k in Storge: This month, I’ve finished chapters 5, 6, and half of 7, which translates to about 30K words and 60 pages total. I’ve also reworked my plan for the middle to resolve a lot of issues with exposition, pacing, and tying subplots into the main arc. Projected length for the book is 120K words in 26 chapters, which means I’m also about a fourth of the way through the edit. Small progress, but good progress nonetheless! If you’d like to read a more in-depth breakdown of my editing process, you can check out this post.

Write 5K in Runaways: Unfortunately with the way finals worked out in the first two weeks of the month, all my writing got pushed to the end and by focusing on Storge, I just ran out of time to finish this goal. Sometimes that happens when you prioritize, but at least I was able to mark off one of them instead of splitting my time and not marking off either.

Draw 20 things: I had intended to do mermay but between finals, work, and writing, I think I only did ten doodles and most of them were human OCs anyhow. I did a few illustrations for friend’s birthdays, and it was fun to work on new characters!

Catch up on Goodreads reading goal: A brief tangent, but is anyone else annoyed that Goodreads counts “Books” as the only metric of reading rather than pages, or time spent? It takes me a month to get through a Stormlight book and three hours to finish a middle grade fantasy – what gives? Podcasts also count as audiobooks now, apparently, so I was able to retroactively add the first 3 seasons of The Magnus Archives. When most of my reading happens through audio in the car, that’s a really nice feature. Not included in the formal count, but totally included in my personal count, is the novel I beta read for my friend Siarven: Dreams Shadow. It’s one of my favorites this year, and I was honored to interview them about it’s worldbuilding! If you’re curious, you can check out that article here.

Queue Website posts and post to Instagram 2x a week: Done! If you want to catch up, there’s an archive pinned to the top of my homepage 🙂


A short post for this week, since by the time you read this I’ll be on vacation, but hopefully it’s an interesting one! This month, I’ll be covering Tropes and Adaptations, which was a topic recommended by my good friend Katie. If you want to recommend a topic of your own, please feel free to leave a comment! Until then, Happy writing! 🙂

The Arena Attack

This month brings you a scene from the second draft of Storge, specifically the inciting incident in chapter 2. It is a fight scene, so content warnings for blood and two “on screen” minor character deaths. It’s 1470 words, so nothing tooo long. I’m super excited to share this with you since it’s one of my favorites and I’ve only ever shared isolated lines before, so please let me know what you think!


Every butcher, baker, farmer, tailor, merchant, laborer and beggar packed themselves into the cramped arena stands to experience the spectacle. Seldom did they see bloodshed beside their own, and they would not waste the opportunity for entertainment. Stuck as they were, Grace strained to see over the crowd. They held their breath against the stench of body odor and fish that baked into the air under the hot evening sun. Luca fought the urge to take off his long-sleeved shirt to cool off, but the sight of the Atilan viewing boxes made him think twice. He tugged the edges down over his wrists instead.

Venders hawked their wares to the crowd, hoping to make some extra money off the event by selling the oily, salty snacks of dried meat. The advertising cries drowned when the crowd rose in a sea of shouting as guards dragged the rebel Master onto the sand. He didn’t take arrest easily. Blood and sweat shone on his bald head and dripped down his bare, lash-scarred back. They chained his hands behind his back, but it didn’t stop him from straining against his bonds. It took three soldiers to force him to move. Jeers sounded as the people of the city unleashed their pent-up frustrations and anger.

The High Atil strode onto the raised dais that stood in the exact center of the arena and raised his hands for silence. Gradually, the crowd hushed and anticipation replaced the fervor. He sneered at the rebel leader and slowly stretched out his arm, pointing his index finger towards the ground.

Kneel.

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Perfect Prose: “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury

Today I’m covering a short story that may already be familiar to my American followers from our high school English classes. Ray Bradbury is the author of many famous dystopian, science fiction and fantasy works such as Fahrenheit 451, and I was introduced to “The Pedestrian” as the primer for our unit on that book. While most English classes focus on analyzing diction and prose, and I could have picked any of the countless pieces I had to dissect over the years, I picked this one because I remember how vivid it was, and how it was the first time I really understood the way words could be used to draw somebody into a story. 10th grade was the year I started seriously learning about the writing craft and working on my own books, and this was the first time I really read like a writer. The act of being able to pick apart a story and learn how it works and then using that knowledge to put your own stories together is a valuable skill that I need to practice more, and it’s what I’m hoping to share with you by doing this series of reading recommendations. So let’s see what we can learn together, shall we?

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Editing Your Novel: My Personal Process

Most writers have a serious love/hate relationship with editing. Rereading your old writing is a special type of painful, but the process of refining the words into something beautiful can be thoroughly satisfying as you watch your skill with writing grow. I’ve been editing the first draft of Storge recently, so I am closely acquainted with that feeling, but I’ve figured out a method at works for me and makes the job a whole lot more enjoyable. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but I thought I’d share it in case you could learn something from it!

For context, when I say I’m editing the “first draft”, I mean I’m editing the first completed draft of the story. It’s the first full manuscript I’ve finished, not the very first set of words I put to page. I started several variations of the story before realizing I had too many plot holes and characterization problems to continue. Then I would quit drafting after few chapters to go back to the drawing board. There were a few reasons for that original block. First, Storge is a very complicated story and I didn’t have enough experience or skill to execute it yet. Second, I was still figuring out my own process and didn’t yet know that I needed a detailed plan in order to tell that kind of story. I think this draft is the 5th version, but it’s the only completed one, which means its the only one that really matters for the sake of this discussion. All of my planning and scrapped drafting ahead of time helped eliminate a lot of plotholes and teach me about my writing process, but it’s not what’s actually being edited today.

I’m also planning to self-publish, and so this guide is geared to that end goal. I do not know where beta readers and professional editors fit into the querying and traditional publishing process, so I’ll hazard a guess that it’s best to go with what the professionals say. Additionally, this process focuses on long novels, but it can also be used for short stories and other works. The steps just would take less time and require fewer cycles of double checking. I wrote this to be as cohesive as possible, but you can always scale it down if needed.

That being said, now what? I’ve got a finished manuscript – how do I even start making sense of this 110K word thing??

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April Goals Recap

Hello and happy April! I don’t know about all of you but I am Thrilled that spring is finally here (at least where I live), even if it means I’m going a bit stir-crazy during my online classes. This was a busy month for me – though to be fair, I don’t know when it isn’t a busy month. I’m happy I was able to get so much done between my classes and job, but I’m looking forward to the summer when I can make faster progress on all my fun projects.

15/24 Overall

7/9 Creative Goals

Do basic website “housekeeping”: As I learn more about building an author’s platform, WordPress, and web design, I realized that this blog was a mess. There was no homepage explaining that it is a writing blog, navigation was convoluted and out-of-date, and the blog feed included the whole post which made it a pain to scroll through. I didn’t understand why my traffic stats were so bad when I was putting so much work into my posts, but once I figured out what I was doing wrong I was able to put some temporary fixes in place until I have time to do a proper overhaul (and teach myself HTML and CSS) over the summer. I’m really proud of how this turned out! If you have a minute to spare, click around the site and see how everything looks. I also made a survey so I can see what content is your favorite and how I can make this blog better. If you could fill it out that would be such an incredible help to me!

New updates include:

  • The menu is organized by topic, and under the “My Writing” page are sub-pages for each of my main WIPs.
  • The pages for each WIP have been updated to include a synopsis, excerpts if possible, featured posts, and a master list of post links for that topic so you can easily find all the information for that story.
  • I figured out how to use the special blocks on WordPress so now my featured/related posts sections look pretty
  • I edited each post to have related post links at the bottom so that you can easily click from post to post without having to navigate back out to the main menu. I also edited them to have “read more” links, so you don’t have to scroll though the whole thing to get to the next post on the main page.
  • The main landing page for the site is still a chronological blog feed, but there’s a sticky post at the top which includes information about what I post, navigation menus, master-links, featured posts, social media handles, and a search bar
  • Misc. editing and updating to individual posts and pages to make everything up-to-date
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April Special Feature – an Interview with Siarven

Welcome to April’s Special Feature! Today I’m talking with one of my great writer friends about how they create epic immersive fantasy worlds! Siarven is an incredible author and illustrator, and I’ve recently had the absolute honor of beta-reading their WIP, Dreams Shadow, which features in this interview. I’m super excited to share their cleverness and creativity with you all today! For this interview, my parts and questions are in the headings, and their responses are everything written below.

Question 1: First can you tell me about yourself and what you write? 

Hello 🙂 I’m Jana, I go by Siarven online 🙂 I’m 24 and currently study VFX with a focus on Concept Art. Storytelling has always been my first and most powerful passion, from telling stories out loud to myself (and my little brother) when I was small, to visual storytelling in various different forms, to loving film scores most of all because they tell a story with sound. Besides art and writing, I also play the flute & piccolo and love to sing because music has always been incredibly important to me. I adore the natural world (plants and animals and fungi and such) because it’s deeply fascinating to me and am very passionate about protecting it from destruction. Also just in general, I’m absolutely obsessed with how our world “works” from a cellular level upward, geography, biology, physics, how everything interlinks to make our world the way it is. Most of this stuff ends up in my wips in one form or another 😀 I also love hiking and going places by bike, and usually take my camera because nature photography is also my favourite ❤ 

I’m from Germany but prefer to write in English because I like my writing style a lot more and the German publishing industry kinda sucks but that’s a whole other can of worms… I mainly write hope-punk dark epic fantasy stories, but, to be fair, they’re usually a very wild mix of things that interest me, so you can find elements from all kinds of genres in there 🙂 The general important things are that it’s all rather hope punk, both protagonists and antagonists have rather grey morality levels, there’s a variety of cool creatures, powerful platonic relationships of various kinds abound, and there’s an often rather mean magic system. Basically all my characters are some shade of queer because that’s very important to me personally. It also almost always spirals out of control because I love complex, interwoven story lines the most, which is very unfortunate for me. XD  

Question 2: When you start a WIP, what’s your starting point? Do you build worlds from the ground up, or does the story come first, and you paint in the world as a backdrop as needed, or something in the middle?

Interesting question! 😀 I’d say it varies, actually? My main WIP Dream’s Shadow grew out of an image of a young boy’s ghost standing behind his grieving mother at his hospital bed. Like Dragons of Old grew out of roughly 20 paper scraps where I’d scribbled small random ideas like character names, character relationships, a striking visual, things like that. My newest WIP seed (I haven’t started writing it but I could in theory start now if I wanted to) grew out of an art I started for a uni course and two picrew portraits. xD In general, I think I start with two or three characters and how they relate to one another and the world around them, and all of that kind of grows organically at the same time. I don’t excessively world build, character-build, or plot before I start writing. I have a beginning, an ending (where the characters start and where they end up), I have a rough idea of what their world might look like, and then all of those things grow and develop as I write. But, mind you, I’m not sure how all of this will develop in future WIPs 😀 I’m still quite far at the beginning of this entire journey, and I usually only plan ahead a bit and then see how stuff works out 🙂 

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Worldbuilding The Laoche Chronicles

Welcome to the world of Laoche! This is the home of all the stories in the (appropriately named) Laoche Chronicles, including a main trilogy (that has yet to be named) and the prequel, Storge. I first came up with the story in middle school, and as I learned more about the writing process, realized that I would need to write the prequel first to set everything up for the series. Now, I’m returning to my original concept, and revising it, which includes some updated worldbuilding and a new approach to my process.

All of this would be explained in-story as well as the reader follows along with the main characters going about their lives and navigating the conflict, so this isn’t strictly necessary to know before getting into the story. However, I’ve found that explaining it in an informational way like this helps people understand what on earth I’m talking about online, so I wanted to share. I also hope that a case-study like this will help be an example of what works (and what doesn’t) when you’re making a high/epic fantasy. 🙂

To start I’m going to share a map, so that all of these locations actually make sense.

When I first revisited this story, I realized that A) I’d lost most of my notes when that thumb-drive got stolen in 10th grade, and B) Most of it was pretty cliche, since I was 14 when I came up with it. So I pitched everything but the premise and my three favorite characters to start over from scratch:

The Premise: Madelyn (a mage with malfunctioning magic) and Seth (ex-prince of Arga) discover a magical artifact that changes how they view magic, and shifts the balance of power in the world, then have to deal with the ensuing fallout.

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Reading Rec: Worldbuilding in The Spiderwick Chronicles

Welcome back to the Reading Rec series, where I rant about my favorite books and talk about how reading and analyzing them can make us better writers. Following last week’s post about where to start worldbuilding, today I’m looking at a story that takes place in a modern earth setting but includes fantastical elements, and how the authors fit those two worlds together. In the interest of not doing another long ramble, and to show how to simplify the process, I wanted to look at a shorter children’s book. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a 5-book middle-grade series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black that follows the adventures of the Grace children as they encounter the faerie world.

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My Personal Process: Worldbuilding, and Where to Start?

When I first started writing this post, I thought it was going to be an easy one to write. When I first started worldbuilding the world of Laoche, I found a bunch of question lists I liked online, and put them together into my own questionnaire that I thought encompassed everything you could possibly need to worldbuild. I’d just copy/paste that list of from my “blanks” document, mess with some formatting to make the enigmatic WordPress happy, and be on with my day. That’s when I stumbled across this website, a comprehensive worldbuilding checklist that includes more details than I could ever hope to come up with. It’s a great resource, and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference, but now I realized that I could just share this instead, and be out of a blog post. Instead, I’ve decided to explain how I decide where to start worldbuilding.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the world past the point where it’s relevant to the story. Big lists of things to consider don’t help with this either, because it’s easy to feel pressured to answer all the questions up front and build yourself a cage made of potential contradictions, or so overwhelmed that you consider switching to contemporary Earth. It’s also very easy to focus on your plot and characters so much you forget to put infrastructure into the background of the world, then struggle to fit in unique settings around the existing story that fit the themes.

I think it’s the most useful to start by asking cause and effect questions like, “What about the world influences the way my characters think?” and “What do I absolutely need to know to inform the plot?” These lists are supposed to be a guide where you can pick and choose what you want to work on, and what works for the story, then ignore the rest to figure out later, so your outline-stage worldbuilding can be as detailed or vague as you need it to be. If you find you need a certain gesture or fashion description as you write, then you can just come up with it on the spot, choosing what makes sense in that moment. Then add a comment or highlight to that section so you don’t forget what you came up with later. Your editing self will thank you for it. That all being said, I want to share my process on how to approach what aspects of worldbuilding in what steps so that I don’t get so overwhelmed and work on the most important things first.

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