Monday, November 26, 2012

Tropes and the Unexpected

Last week, I blogged about how I think "The Walking Dead" does an amazing job subverting tropes. Today I’m sharing how I attempted to do the same while writing The Dead and Buried.

Sonia Gensler did a post a while back on “Bulletproof Kinks.” Which isn’t as dirty as it sounds. It actually just refers to any kind of plot, setting, character, etc. that you are consistently drawn to. For me, it’s always been haunted houses. When I was a little girl, if there was a ghost story in the Scholastic Book Club flyer, that would be the book I wanted. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were awesome for me because almost every publisher had a horror line in mass market paperback and they were churning those things out like crazy. I spent all my babysitting cash on haunted house books. And even now, whenever I see a book about a ghost or haunting, I’m like HERE’S MY WALLET. TAKE MY MONEY, BOOKSTORE.

So obviously I’ve always wanted to write my own haunted house book. But the problem is, when you’ve read that many, every idea seems like it’s been done to death. There’s only so much you can do with a ghost story. I wanted to put my own spin on it. So I made a conscious effort to take a look at haunted house tropes and clich├ęs…and turn them on their heads.


1. The house itself. When you think “haunted house,” you think of a big, scary looking home. Probably old. Maybe isolated. Maybe even with hidden staircases and rooms behind bookcases. I love reading about those houses. But I didn’t want to write one. I thought…what if my haunted house was…ordinary? What if it was a typical new-ish McMansion in a well-to-do suburb? A house you can picture yourself in. A house you might actually live in. A house that feels familiar. A hundred-year-old Victorian haunted by a ghost is expected. The supernatural disturbing a new colonial? Unexpected.

2. The ghost. Many haunted houses have old ghosts. Spirits that have driven out occupants for years and years. A legend old townspeople whisper about. So I made mine a fresh death. A girl who died only months before. A girl whose effect on others is still seen and felt.

3. Is the house haunted? Another trope has the reader wondering, sometimes for the entire length of the novel, whether or not the house is actually haunted. (Example: The Turn of the Screw. Sidenote: I’ve read two YA retellings of The Turn of the Screw this year and, really, I could read one of these a month. I love them. I want MOAR TURN OF THE SCREW RETELLINGS.) Again, as much as I love to read books like this, I didn’t want to write one. Whether or not the house is haunted is not my plot. I made it straight-up obvious that the ghost is real from a certain scene on and that’s where my book morphs from ghost story to murder mystery.

4. Just leave, dude! How many times have you read a haunted house book or watched a movie and thought, DUDE JUST LEAVE! GET OUT! Yeah, me too. So I needed to have a reason for my main character to stay and “no one believes me” isn’t good enough. There has to be something more. So I gave her a big, huge motivation. It’s a spoiler, so I won’t tell you what that reason is. But it was key to creating the book.

Lastly, I also worked hard on character tropes and bringing out the unexpected in seemingly familiar characters. But I can’t give you specifics because, well, spoiler city. I just hope you enjoy the read. :)