Aug 2, 2014

Subverting tropes: a hard sell

I like to subvert tropes. I take traits that readers have seen too many times before--a gentle giant, for instance--and turn that character into something unexpected. Readers figure that a gentle giant will be misunderstood, considered a monster when he really isn't. The reader rolls their eyes ... until the plot takes an unexpected turn, and the gentle giant gains dangerous berserker tendencies that get innocent bystanders killed. Now the reader must reexamine their assumptions and wonder if he really is a monster, despite his depiction as kind and gentle.

The main character in my novel (Book 1 of the epic series) is front-loaded with tropes. He's a child genius. In a wheelchair. With telepathy. Mistrusting readers are rolling their eyes, thinking they've seen this before, in Artemis Fowl and Ender Wiggin and Professor X. Such readers assume that he's going to save the world (or his friends, or whatever) with his genius and telepathic abilities. They'd go on assuming that ... until he doesn't. About 30% into the novel, the story takes an unexpected twist, causing the reader to reexamine their assumptions about geniuses and telepaths and disabled protagonists. His strengths are being a child and being disabled; his weaknesses are being a genius and being telepathic. It's the opposite of what audiences are trained to expect.

I should have expected that this would be a hard sell. Holy cow. I'm running into a roadblock where industry professionals see the trope, assume that's all it is, and stop reading before the trope gets subverted.*

One beta reader suggested that I plant hints of trope subversion in the first chapter or two. I'm not sure that's feasible, since the beauty of trope subversion is setting up reader expectations before blowing them to smithereens.

Has anyone else run into this problem when subverting tropes? Have you found a way around it?

* The first chapter has other red flags for industry readers, but the trope assumption seems to be one of two 'kill switch' factors.  The other major red flag is the protagonist's young age, which industry professionals consider wrong for YA crossover or adult markets, A Game of Thrones and Ender's Game notwithstanding.

May 22, 2014

Writing Goals and the Odyssey Writing Workshop

In a discussion on Goodreads, author Susan Shell Winston asked if I'd started writing my epic science fiction series before attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and if the workshop changed my ideas about it.

Great question!  Yes.  I wrote the original drafts of Book 1 and Book 2 before I'd ever heard of Odyssey, and before I learned proper grammar. I just wanted to tell a good story. Despite excited beta reader reactions, my amateur manuscript gathered a solid wall of rejections from agents and publishers.  So I went to Odyssey in hopes of networking enough to get my manuscript read.  Plus, I was a fan of that year's writer in residence, George R.R. Martin.

During Odyssey, I learned so much, I added two new goals. I would: a) scrap those novel drafts and do a complete rewrite from scratch, and b) hone my short story craft and aim for at least one pro sale, since that credit might catch a literary agent's attention.

It took a few years, but I've accomplished both those goals.  Sadly, I'm still working towards my original goal of getting a literary agent or major publisher to read the manuscript of Book 1--the rewritten 2x version.  This ongoing quest has led me to co-found novelist groups, complete additional novels in my series, and gain a lot more practice at storytelling and writing.  At this point in my life, I feel capable of either accomplishing what I set out to do, or indie publishing a complete six-book series that will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Apr 10, 2014

Online Housekeeping

I updated my website, adding a section for my short stories, and a Goodreads widget to my book reviews. I also joined Wattpad. I'm preparing for a major round of novel submissions, so I'm forcing myself to work on the dreaded query letter. More to come soon ...