Wednesday, February 13, 2019

This All Seems Familiar

Thomas Pluck here, your usual Wednesday writer. From now on I'll be splitting duties with S.A. Cosby, author of the powerful debut novel My Darkest Prayer, and hard-hitting noir tales such as "The Grass Beneath My Feet" , which was my introduction to his work at Tough Crime. Shawn writes with strong chops and a lot of heart, creating characters cut from life with an expert's scalpel. We had a discussion at the Bouchercon bar over whisky about locked room mysteries, and his knowledge of the genre is as formidable as his skill with the pen. Please welcome Shawn Cosby to Do Some Damage.

knock 'em dead.


By S.A. Cosby

A trope is defined as a " a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or an expression.
A cliche is defined as " an opinion or phrase that is overused and lacks original thought."

I call them both valuable tools.

Let me explain.

There is a comfort in familiar things. A pair of old shoes. A favorite coffee cup. A weathered seat on the midtown bus. We seek the familiar because it grounds us. It gives us an anchor that allows us to feel safe. Humans beings are nothing if not ritualistic. When it comes to writing and especially when it comes to writing crime, noir and mystery tropes and cliches can give us , the reader, a comforting sense of place and familiarity. It lets us know that we have been here before and we know the steps to this particular dance. That's not to say we don't want to be surprised but the surprised is even more impactful when we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the good ol' fashioned familiar trope. This is when crime fiction actually elevates itself to another level. Books like Indemnity First by Sara Paretsky  take the usual gumshoe PI trope and use it to tell the story of tough,female detective V.I Warshawski. Devil in a Blue Dress similarly takes the trouble shooting PI trope made famous by John D. Macdonald  and turns it on it's head with it's African American protagonist Eazy Rawlins. These books and hundreds like them bring us into their world with familiar , often used tropes and yes cliches but then upend our expectations through the machinations of the plot and the unique voice of their main characters.

Of course some tropes are best left on the dustbin of literary history. The helpless dame, the fearful domestic person of color(Chandler was very fond of that particular one) the detective who is so tough he spits out nails and can take hours and hours of a beating without any lingering effects later in the story. These tools have lost their usefulness as we have moved past the antiquated thinking they represent.

However the trope of the detective in over his or her head after taking a case that promised an easy pay day. The crime story where that one last job leads to tragedy. The mystery where the solution was hidden in plain sight the whole time. writers continue to use variations of these themes because they do what they are designed to do.

They make you turn the page and keep reading. 

So don't be afraid to embrace the cliche and the trope. They are not poison. They are at worst a necessary evil. At their best they are bricks in the foundation of a larger tale.


scott adlerberg said...

Hey, Shawn. Nice piece. Good to have you here, and I look forward to reading you on your Wednesdays.

Thomas Pluck said...

Welcome aboard, and nicely done.

Holly West said...

So happy to see you here, Shawn! I think about cliches a lot while I’m writing (less so tropes but I think that’s because I’m not as well read in classic crime fiction as I sometimes think I should be). But as for cliches, I use them liberally in my first drafts because they often cut to the chase (cliche!), let me get my meaning down, without too much thought l. In revision I go back and really think about other ways I can express whatever it is I want to express. And rarely, but sometimes, I leave a cliche in if I think it’s the way a particular character would express him or herself. Anyway, good post.

SamB said...

Love to see a trope turned on its head, though. Instead of the girl in the fridge, for example, put the fridge inside the girl.

Claire Booth said...

Shawn, I'm so glad you're joining DSD. I agree with you about tropes, especially your point that they provide a sense of security. And I would have loved to have heard yours and Pluck's conversation about locked room mysteries. I'll bet it was fascinating!