Beware, there are spoilers below!
Last week, I wrote about the Red Wedding as a case study for my own personal writing masterclass. One of those lessons was “Tropes can work in your favor.” George R. R. Martin (GRRM) knows his fantasy tropes, and characters avoid feeling clichéd and repetitive because he changes up the narrative. I discussed Robb Stark in my post last week, so let’s give two other Stark kids the trope treatment: tomboy Arya Stark and girly-girl Sansa Stark.
Arya Stark is our Action Girl. She hates all the things expected of a woman from a noble family. She hates needlepoint and loves her sword Needle. Her skills come in handy when she survives a brutal and ultimately fruitless “where in Westeros is Catelyn Stark?” quest. Arya starts to become a bit of an anti-hero with her shift from “noble daughter with tomboy tendencies” to “vengeful assassin.” I’m not kidding.
Sansa Stark is a naive “pretty girl.” She’s GRRM’s deconstructed Princess Classic. She wants to “have it all” like the ladies of songs and stories. That…doesn’t happen. Her betrothed Prince Joffrey is cruel, even (in some cases, especially) to Sansa. Her life at court becomes worse and worse, and Sansa eventually realizes that nothing is like the songs and stories. She’s a tragic figure, but she’s shifting from pure damsel in distress to political novice (IMO).
Arya and Sansa are foils for each other. They represent common female characters within fantasy, but GRRM changes the playing field on the reader. Arya descends into darker territory, which is especially evident when she murders someone in an alley. Sansa starts to wise up to the game of thrones after yet another traumatic family development, this time starring Aunt Lysa and political mentor/creeper Littlefinger. GRRM puts his characters in settings with other characters and conflict that force them to choose; over time, those choices deepen the characters and grow the story.
Being fluent in a language goes beyond subject-verb agreements and conversational translations; it’s knowledge of slang and idioms. GRRM succeeds in transforming tropes through attention to detail: within his genre, within his world, within his timeline, and within his characters.
Arya and Sansa go behind character tropes. To me, Arya and Sansa represent fantasy readers. Through Arya, we seek vengeance; we want to see wrongs righted and villains pay for their crimes (one of Arya’s “catchphrases” is her repetition of names of people she wants to kill). Sansa is our innocent “wouldn’t living in medieval fantasy be such a lark?” escapism voice. Through Sansa, we slowly come to realize that no, it wouldn’t. The way we experience the narrative changes as well.
How can you use tropes to change your narrative, both within your manuscript and for the reader?