The great thing about being a writer is that it’s like having 10,000 teachers. Okay, maybe not that many; I don’t think even the most extreme bibliophile has read every great writer in history. However, every writer has their influences. I’m stating the obvious of course; every writer, no matter how well-known, is composed of hundreds, if not thousands, of influences.
In my second year of university, I was taught that “there are no new stories under the sun.” The oldest surviving authored story we have is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written approximately 3,800 years ago. Every author throughout history has laboured in the shadow of that person. Everyone: From Homer and Plato to J.K. Rowling and George Lucas.
So with that thought now stuck in your brain for the present, on to the meat of this piece.
There are as many books on writing as there are writers. Everybody wants to know the secret to getting on the New York Times Bestseller lists. So we read classics like Stephen King’s On Writing, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style; I’ve even read a few classic books on writing myself.
When I say classic, I mean classic! Stuff like Aristotle’s Art of Poetry and Longinus’ On the Sublime; writing advice that has survived millennia is worth reading, I should think. And you constantly hear the same advice: “Write what you know” “Read constantly”, “Write constantly” “Observe the world around you” “Do the research” etc.
Now with the Internet, everybody can publish; everybody can get their thoughts down, find their audience, everything they experience gets put online forever. This is the Age of Information. It’s a wonderful and terrifying time to be alive, if you want to make it in the writing business.
About five or six years back, after one of my favorite fan fiction writers (Bob Schroeck, look him up), had mentioned this odd little site named TV Tropes for the umpteenth time on his forum, I finally decided to check it out. Ever since then, TV Tropes has Ruined/Enhanced My Life.
Starting back in 2004 as a humble little fan site of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it grew immensely, as wiki sites tend to do. Now it basically acts as a catalogue/analytical site of the various tropes, clichés, and rules of drama used in every medium, from classics like Plato to the latest popular YouTube vlog series.
It is also a really awesome watercooler where Tropers can discuss storytelling amongst themselves; I’ve learned a lot just by following several forum discussions.
Although Most Tropers Are Young Nerds, the site’s popularity has started to become known in the mainstream. TV writer and producer Dan Harmon of Community fame has mentioned that he frequents the site regularly. Jim Butcher, who you may or may not know as the author of the kick ass urban fantasy series The Dresden Files, is also officially One of Us.
TV Tropes has all the expected advantages and disadvantages when compared to old media; its immense (many a popular work is so Troperrific that I have gone through several Archive Panics), is constantly being updated, and it’s just a blast to read. Nearly every entry is informal, informative, engaging and funny.
Although they may be a large group of enthusiastic amateurs, I have found the site to be equally helpful as all the advice on writing I’ve received from books, writers and my own teachers. Quite a few of these Tropers are much better writers than Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer in my opinion, but Your Mileage May Vary.
Now we must come to the downside. Like any other wiki site devoid of professional editors, peer-review or other “gatekeepers of truth”, pages are subject to constant revision, defamation, and misinformation. To be fair, TV Tropes does its best to avoid flame and editing wars, but human nature being what it is, this is inevitable. Many Tropers are obviously well-educated, or are at least enthusiastic about every subject under the sun, so it could be said that the site has achieved a (mostly) happy equilibrium between expert and amateur.
Can a guide on writing, no matter how revered its pages or its author, hope to contend with a wiki site that has is immensely bigger, is constantly self-correcting, and makes every little rule of drama into a catchy, easy to remember meme?
The question is a false dilemma, in my mind. New media couldn’t exist without old media. While I do agree with writers such as Nicholas Carr, Neil Postman and Sherry Turkle that new technology has negatively impacted the way we think and live, to deny the positive impact that the Net has had on the world since it was made open to the public in 1989 would be so wrong as to be bordering on insanity. So basically what I’m saying is new media is Not So Different.
My dad never liked the word “best”; people make “best of” lists all the time; who can say what is best? Why do we look at best of lists all the time, if we know it is just opinion? Isn’t aesthetic purely subjective anyway? I think I better stop before this goes off on too far of a tangent.
I think I can say with some degree of certainty that TV Tropes can teach you a lot about what separates good writing from bad. The fact that people have these categories of “good” and “bad” when it comes to art says something significant, I think.
Far more people prefer well-rounded characters to flat obnoxious Mary Sues. Writers who think Viewers Are Geniuses are held in much higher regard than those who think Viewers Are Morons. As are those who Do It For the Art instead of those who are just in it for the Money, Dear Boy. I could just go on and on ad infinitum with this, but indulge me a few more tropes if you please, dear readers.
Authors who have Shown Their Work while packing in as much Crowning Moments of Funny, Heartwarming and Awesome in their work as humanly possible are praised far more than writers who Did Not Do the Research, and have riddled their work with an equal amount of Wallbangers.
In any case, TV Tropes has definitely made me a better writer, while providing me endless hours of amusement, bemusement, frustration, and dare I say, enlightenment.
This site has made me want to achieve the best writing it is possible for me to achieve. I hope it can do the same for you.