Monday, July 23, 2012

Face Off: Tropes We Want to End

'Stop sign 01' photo (c) 2011, Kirsty Hall - license:

Having read and watched so much in the genre, we begin to see elements that get repeated over and over again. Some of them we want to keep - as we’ve said with vampires and werewolves - but some we could really do without. There have been some items that keep raising their ugly heads more often than classic Dracula and we really wish they would be staked, beheaded and their ashes scattered over different bodies of water

Inconsistent Powers
Urban Fantasy tends towards long long series with multiple books. It also tends to have complex magical rules, rich worlds with differing powers and a lot to keep track of. And some writers don’t get it right, or they mold their world building around the story. So we get a character who can use a super power in one book or has a magical tool or ability, yet in the next they seem to have forgotten all about it. A dire threat becomes a minor inconvenience. Magical laws are shattered, creatures recover from their restrictions.

It’s a pet hate of ours - be consistent with your own rules!

No Angst Without Reason.
Angst is a staple of Urban Fantasy, we know we can’t be rid of it. The tragically tortured vampire is, alas, here to stay. But, we beg, if you’re going to make your vampire/werewolf/whatever tortured and sad give them a reason to be. We are beyond tired of beings lamenting the fact they’re going to live forever, be immune to any and all disease and have super powers as well. Oh, it’s such a hard life! They need a reason to lament their super powers - a curse, being hunted, some kind of downside. And no, “not being able to see the sun” doesn’t really detract from the whole living forever thing. Nor does “I just want to be normal” count - because, really, who is ABOVE normal desires mundanity? Really?

Someone who complains when they have little reason to is generally considered spoilt and whiny - it’s not endearing.

Ancient Teenagers
And lo the ancient vampire came into the room, the millennia resting on her shoulders. In her eyes you could see the weight of the centuries and around her everything felt weak, transitory, before her eternal presence. And then she spent the next 3 episodes obsessing about going to the prom. And oh, my god, isn’t that boy so cute?!

Yes, despite apparently centuries of age, so many of the characters we see in Urban Fantasy don’t act it. They’re indistinguishable from any normal 20 year old - or younger (and, yes, Vampire Diaries, we’re looking at you) and it’s frustrating. If a character has existed for centuries, then I need to feel his age.

Magical World Sceptic.
In our world, if someone comes to you and says that magic, vampires and werewolves are real, it’s reasonable to believe that they are very very very drunk. Scepticism is to be assumed, scepticism is natural. The same applies to urban fantasy when the magic is hidden and concealed. It is reasonable not to believe the unbelievable.

However, if a character has seen demons rise from hell, angels descend from heaven, wizards throwing fireballs, witches slinging curses, werewolves howling, vampires biting and the fae just being, well, the fae, then at some point it becomes ludicrous to be sceptical about the newest supernatural twist. In fact, it’s ridiculous - a sceptic who demands to see proof before believing in the supernatural is reasonable and understandable. A sceptic who continues to deny and doubt the supernatural even while running from vampires and ducking werewolves makes as much sense as someone in our world declaring that bread rises because she leaves a saucer of milk out for the faeries.

Supernatural as a Metaphor for Marginalisation
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - stop comparing super powered beings to actual marginalised people. Especially since marginalised people are so routinely ignored in the media. It’s galling when vampires and werewolves are more universally accepted than actual marginalised people. Don’t turn major real life issues into casual fodder for supernatural drama - and the desperate scourge of werewolf oppression, vampires coming out of the coffin and the fairy civil rights movement.

So what about you, readers? What tired old plot points need to die yesterday?