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May 06 2011

Joss Whedon took my tropes. An urban fantasy writer talks about the tropes that Joss does best.

I'm reminded of a short poem that Dorothy Parker wrote about Oscar Wilde:
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

If one is writing in the area of urban fantasy, I think it's just safe to assume that whatever your ideas, Joss was there first.
Eh. Whatever your ideas about tropes, lots of people were there first. Joss is particularly good with them but he's just one example.
Random "two seconds' thought" counter-examples:

1) Kitty Pryde, one of Buffy's inspirations.
2) Seriously ? Joss supposedly invented the comic-relief sidekick [that's been around for decades/centuries] ?
3) Err, The Joker ? Two-Face ? Almost every other Batman villain ?
4) Notably absent from her examples is anything by Anne Rice.
5) Roger Corman for space cowboys ('Battle Beyond the Stars'), Xena's 'The Bitter Suite' for a musical episode etc.

And there're no-doubt loads more. IMO Joss employed some of those tropes better than anyone before (and maybe since too) so what's the big deal about first ? Why make stuff up/ignore the contributions of the thousands of creative people that went before and in their turn inspired Joss Hizzownself ? The guy's brilliant, 'genius' probably isn't too strong a word IMO, that's pretty good by itself without us claiming he invented the bloody wheel too.


ETA: It's a good-hearted article really so I don't in any way mean to appear mean spirited towards it, this idea that "Joss revolutionised everything ever !" just irks me is all.

[ edited by Saje on 2011-05-06 16:36 ]
Okay, yeah I agree he wasn't necessarily there with these tropes first. I do think he's done more clever takes on them than anyone else, and in that sense anyone trying to do new stuff with old tropes has a problem with the bar being set so high.

[ edited by barboo on 2011-05-06 16:51 ]
I always thought that Joss' greatest strength was setting up the cliche, so we all think we know what will happen next, and then surprising us all with a twist we did not see coming. There seem to be an unending number of movie/TV cliches to exploit, and no one does that better.
Absolutely embers and barboo. And somewhat ironically, setting the bar high for doing new stuff with old tropes and exploiting cliches better than anyone else both fundamentally depend on other people having done it before (in fact, in a sense, the more people that've done it before the better).
Well as the writer points out, maybe not first, but that Joss was there ahead of you.
(And took time to throw out the garbage that some tenants dumped on the ground, and find ways to improve the decor.)
Even though she says 'first', sure that reading makes perfect sense (i.e. not first, just earlier). Except isn't that kind of obvious ? Buffy (the character) is nearly 20 years old, Buffy (the show) is 14 years old - unless you've been writing for over 14 years (at least) Joss is going to have used the tropes (that almost everyone in the genre uses at some stage or other) before you. Because, y'know, time tends to progress in the forwards direction ;).

Just as when Joss used them, everyone else that had ever used them had used them 'first'.
Anyone else hate tropes? Or at least the analysis of them?
Because, y'know, time tends to progress in the forwards direction ;).
Maybe in your reality.
saje, are you saying Joss didn't invent the wheel???
I always thought that Joss' greatest strength was setting up the cliche, so we all think we know what will happen next, and then surprising us all with a twist we did not see coming.

What I was saying, only clearer.
(And maybe one of his great strengths, not necessarily greatest, just 'cos he's got so many).
Or at least the analysis of them?


They can take all the fun out of watching a tv show. They're getting to the stage of what "snark" was a few years ago. But each to their own.
"there is no new thing under the sun"
Personally, I've found the less I worry about being derrivative or unoriginal, the better my work (music) gets. Furthermore, the study of tropes or techniques or monomythic theory, etc, etc, gives you an understanding of how things have been done, and opens doors to put clever twists, as Whedon is very prone to doing. If you understand the rules before you break them, then you can break them with purpose rather than being different for the sake of being different. Another quote to end on:
"Good artists borrow. Great artist steal."
My only real issue with trope analysis is that sites like tvtropes.org a) will consume your life and b) tend to just list everything that's ever happened in fiction and call it a trope whereas to me there has to be an element of commonness to it, it has to happen a lot (maybe even bordering on too much) to be considered a trope, otherwise it's just an idea.

saje, are you saying Joss didn't invent the wheel???

Not the wheel (i.e. the one we're all familiar with). Basically, the one Joss invented was just too efficient (it went round without any energy input) so it was bought up by big oil. True story.

(yes, i'm saying Joss Whedon revolutionised the wheel. You may now commence the fruit/vegetable hurling ;)

Maybe in your reality.

So, you're saying you reject my reality and substitute your own barboo ? Well, there's a precedent for that ;).
Yet Simon, glistening vampires seem to be all the (out)rage.

Can I hide under my rock again?
What I appreciate most about Joss is the multi-layered complexity of both the stories and the characters he creates.
Tropes or no (and I agree with Simon, over-analyzing has a tipping point).
Saje, I live in the U.S., where the political parties each operate in their own separate realities, so I don't see why I shouldn't have my own personal one as well.
Indeed. If it's good enough for Adam Savage... ;).
Y'all are saying what I'd say - Joss didn't do most of it first - a lot of those devices are just the stuff of storytelling - but he does it damn well, and often upends the tropes as he's using them.

Here's a trope that usually annoys the crap outta me (such an elegant lady I am today): Our Hero appears to have joined the Baddies and is acting like a dick and/or doing suspiciously Dark Sidey things, but no! wait! He was just acting like that to get information/win their trust so he could subvert from within and defeat them! Quelle surprise!

Unless this is handled really well - and it almost never is - I won't buy it for a minute, and it just ends up annoying me and throwing me out of the story.

There! Finally got that off my chest. We were supposed to list the Tropes That Annoy us, right? ; >
Our Hero appears to have joined the Baddies and is acting like a dick and/or doing suspiciously Dark Sidey things, but no! wait! He was just acting like that to get information/win their trust so he could subvert from within and defeat them! Quelle surprise!

'Angel' season 5 may be the best implementation of that idea i've seen, partly because they maintain it for the entire season and partly because Ats was always more about means/ends than Buffy so Our Hero actually going to the dark side (ish) was maybe more plausible.

In general going forward, I suppose the question is now that fans are used to Joss doing the unexpectedly uncliched, can he keep surprising us by effectively doing the unexpectedly unexpectedly uncliched ?

(and "will they/won't they" is easily the trope that annoys me most, it's everywhere, it's almost always done in pretty much exactly the same way - cos really, how many ways can you do it ? - and it's almost always incredibly tedious at this point)
"will they/won't they" is easily the trope that annoys me most

It's like a disease. It seems that no procedural is immune.

My Most Annoying Trope (see what you started, QG?) is probably the two people who can't stand each other and are therefore destined to fall in love. Never had a problem with Xander & Cordy, mind you, but that one usually drives me nuts.
this is probably just hamemring on you "will they/wont they" point, but... my peeve is that when you have a man and a women workng together as partners. they always fall in love. its like they cant help themselves. that my 2 cents.

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