POST FROM THE DEVIL ORDERS TAKEOUT

Inverting the Hero

Background image from thepatternlibrary.com.
As you read this, I am deep in revision hell, wrestling with Matryoshka. Because I need to procrastinate, this post is a throwback to the wonderful times I had thinking about the grand concept of this novel.

Shortly before planning, I read Aimee's post about nice guys in fiction, and I decided Thomas ought to be a nice guy. Except my inner dark side took over and decided he couldn't be too nice. But he was already perfectly situated to be the hero.

I then traipsed over to TV Tropes (see how much of writing is procrastinating?) and searched up The Hero and You Killed My Father. Then because I like to cause my own violent and painful death, I decided to subvert and/or invert as many of these as possible.

1. A hero is morally superior.

Thomas definitely thinks he has all the unicorns and angels on his side. And from a certain point of view, he might even be right. Seeing as Mallister is more or less a textbook example of manipulative bastards, pun not intended. But his goal is solely to avenge his less-than-virtuous father, not the country!! or the people!!! or even justice. (That last one is Kim's prerogative, anyways.)

If you'll forgive the cliché: doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. And even more than that, Thomas is his father's son, in that the means justify the ends, and the end is yourself.

2. A hero can bring together his allies as a team.


.. really, I should just re-use the gif, but I wouldn't want to bore you.

From the moment Thomas arrives at the capital, he becomes politically significant. And so there are quite a number of people who negotiate alliances with him. I chose to subvert this in two ways:

a) Most of his alliances were brokered by his mother and his uncle, not him. Plus, his friends are around for political benefits and such, not solidarity or loyalty.

b) Thomas alienates more people than he befriends. At least, the ones who don't look down on him for being a bastard stay well away from his brattiness.

(Thomas is the cutest brat ever, but gods he is a brat.)

3. A hero is skilled in swordfights or the equivalent.


... let's say this again. NO.

Thomas deals in words and politics and threats and he's not half bad at it. But the extent of his martial ability extends to dodging at the right moment. Still, because he's determined to make the world respect him, he does try to pick up a knife when masked miscreants (ooh, alliteration) crash his party. It doesn't end well.

(But really, it shouldn't matter. Because he doesn't want the world's respect, he wants his father's. Sad to say, neither knives nor words can impress dead men.)

4. The hero seeks vengeance for his father; his mother holds him back.


It would be more accurate to say Aisha groomed Thomas for avenging his father. Really, his mother does way more work than him. She does let Thomas do a few things for himself, but as said above: they don't typically end well.

Because really, what fifteen-year-old is excellent at politics compared to a forty-something lady who was a Governor's lover for two decades and in exile from a Prime Minister for another? To be honest, by the time I finished plotting, Thomas wasn't the hero any longer. The capital takes dreaming boys and buries them in graves where they can see the stars forever.

5. Miscellaneous other notes that amused me and therefore happened:

  • Thomas is not classically attractive (tangent: have you all heard of the Arabian guy who was deported for being too hot?)
  • And really, he never wants to kill Mallister per se. Fight him, ruin him, yeah — but Thomas thinks himself too mannered.
  • He's so wary and calculating that if I told the story from another PoV, he could end up being a literal manipulative bastard.
So there we have it. I write problemative-fave antagonists. I write problematic protagonists. There is clearly something wrong with me. (And all my characters, really.)

Did I play enough with the "hero" trope? What other archetypes would you like to see subverted?


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26 comments:

  1. I ADORE TV Tropes! It's especially fun to take tropes and invert them, or at least play around with them a bit. One of my favorite tropes is the one called "Ambiguous Innocence", and it works off the idea that innocence isn't so much purity as a lack of awareness about what's right and what's wrong. I think the darker, more twisted tropes are the best :) Anyway, Thomas sounds like a fascinating character, maybe even a bit of an anti-hero, and I can't wait to hear more about him!

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    1. TV Tropes is the best, except when it eats all your time and you didn't write anything at all XD Oh yeah, I think I read that article once (pfft, which article have I not read) and it was super intriguing.

      Huh, I didn't really think of him as an anti-hero, but probably he is. (This is why I blog about my writing. So you guys can point out glaringly obvious things I missed.) Thanks, Alex!

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  2. I agree, TV Tropes is awesome. Slightly (okay VERY) overwhelming, but awesome. They have EVERYTHING, and it's so detailed. It really just makes me go HOW CAN I AVOID WRITING CLICHES WHEN EVERYTHING IS ONE.

    I also agree that Thomas sounds like an anti-hero, which is cool because I like anti-heroes. One trope that I really like seeing subverted is characters being saved from making a tough choice at the last moment. It's one reason I love The 100 so much - they continually make their characters choose between bad and worse and they never save them at the last moment. Maybe it's more a TV than a book thing, but I'm sure it happens in both.

    Ahahahaha that story with the guys being asked to leave the country because they're too handsome. I mean I don't know if that was the actual reason, or if there was something going on behind the scenes, but I'd be telling that story to my grandchildren. Hell, I'd have it carved on my gravestone. "Was asked to leave this life because of being too handsome."

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    1. OH YES THAT IS TRUE. I don't think every trope is a cliche, or that it's possible to write anything without falling into one trope of another.

      Ohhh, you're just going to love Matryoshka, or at least my twisted mind. Mwahahaha. I really ought to read The 100 -- it's on my to-watch list after Mad Max: Fury Road! And oh my, that would be a LOVELY epitaph. Pun not intended XD

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  3. Thomas sounds awesome. The generic hero IS SO BORING, and I love it when I can find a character that completely turns the trope on its head. Who has morals and motives in the grey areas of life, because HEY that's where most of us live (to pretend we are all the hero in our own story is a little ridiculous. I mean, everyone can be selfish, and we've all done something [at least ONCE, probably more] that was for pure personal gain, and nothing else - OH SO VILLAINOUS).

    Anyway, I am so keen on reading this book because of all your posts about it! I feel like I know so much and yet still so little *screaming*

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    1. Thank you, Thomas! Oh yes, Thomas is a self-centred brat, he just doesn't quite know it. Not at the beginning, at least XD It's funny, though, because in the book only Thomas and Mallister, the most antagonist-y of my antagonists, are in it for personal gain. Interesting parallel, thank you so much for the suggestion! :D

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  4. Ooh, I love how you played with the characteristics out there so that Thomas is heroic but not TOO heroic, by which I mean not everyone would justify his deeds or find value in his virtues. I think it is amazing, and I'm also interested to learn more about the mother-son relationship, especially because that was explored in the Grisha Trilogy and that was fascinating.

    Keep revising, because this sounds great! :D

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    1. Mmm, right, Thomas thinks he's in the right, he might be in the right, a couple other characters think he's in the right. But he might not be, and basically I want to rip my readers apart when they teeter from one side to another. We shall see if I succeed. :)

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  5. Subverting tropes is legit the best. Also, looking for more ways to do it is a very, very fun pastime. ANYWAY ALL YOUR CHARACTERS ARE MY PROBLEMATIC FAVES (look, the caps have resurfaced; I knew they wouldn't stay away for long). Thomas sounds so fascinating, although it seems like he's taken a backseat because your entire side + villain cast is so amazing.

    He's basically surrounded by layered, complex women who are much more strong-willed than he is? I AM VERY HERE FOR THIS. *has feels for unread book* *is always having feels for unread books tbh*

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    1. A fun pastime. A procrastime, if I might make the pun. XD I THINK THE MAIN ISSUE IS THAT I CAN'T WRITE UNPROBLEMATIC CHARACTERS. I should blog about one of my cinnamon rolls someday. And yeah, I'm totally ignoring him in favour of thinking about my side cast. It'll help with curing his brattiness XD

      YAY JOIN THE CLUB. (And well, since I do the same for OtMS, I think you're slightly better off. At least MTY has a complete first draft. (Okay, okay, I'll stop guilt-tripping.))

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  6. I love a good trope subversion, especially when it's done in an unexpected way (since I feel trope subverting alone itself if becoming a trope)

    Thomas sound like a wonderful and complex hero, though! I especially love the sound of his motives and his inability to befriend people easily. Also, one must know, does he get the girl?

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    1. Hmm, yeah, some trope subversions have become tropes in their own right. Thanks for the reassurance Thomas is still a complex character -- and as for your question. You ask the right questions, therefore I don't give the answer. Muahaha. XD

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  7. GIRLLLL I LOVED THIS POST SO MUCH! *fist pumps* Also I recently posted about breaking some character stereotypes, so I'm still on the anti-stereotypes high. ;)

    I love all of your points, especially the second and fourth! The first and third *sometimes* happen (and boy do I appreciate authors who do so), but those other two, not so much. In real life, the "glue" who keeps groups together is usually the not-so-*there* one. At least, from personal experience. Also, this --> "Because really, what fifteen-year-old is excellent at politics compared to a forty-something lady who was a Governor's lover for two decades and in exile from a Prime Minister for another?" HECK YES.

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    1. THANK YOU AIMEE. I actually read that post a while back, and it was THE BEST. And yeah, I just started writing Thomas and said to him, "Like, you? You're never gonna have friends." And it just happened.

      I actually pulled the idea off Tumblr, or at least the articulation, but I intended from the beginning his family would be a huge support. That's not to say she's not protective, but his mother is THE BESTEST.

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  8. TURNING TROPES ON THEIR HEADS? YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU. I always prefer characters who are complicated and hopefully waltz in grey areas (hehe, yes I know I write too many black and white characters myself BUT MY FANTASIES ARE DIFFERENT, I SWEAR) and I looove heroes who have dubious sides. I don't even know why?! It makes them more relatable?

    And his mother is encouraging his revenge plot. Omg. I love this.

    Also fantastic gif usage. XD

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    1. YOU'RE VERY WELCOME. THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES COME FREE. Oh yeah, Tremolo didn't have much in the way of grey morality, but I trust your word ... but you MUST let me read your fantasies sometime. Or get them published so I can throw money at you. His mother is the best. I don't even know how someone so awesome can give rise to the brat-spawn Thomas.

      Thank you! I'm trying to use more gifs, so it's great to know it's working XD

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  9. OKAY BUT THIS. ALL OF THIS. This is perhaps the most ingenious character I've seen, but hey, everything I've seen of Matroyoshka so far has been fabulous. And I love the fact that you made sure that it was dad that needed to be avenged and his mom was the one who raised him to be that. I've seen this trope so much everywhere (think, for example, all of Supernatural) so yes THANK YOU. And I second Cait, that was excellent usage of gifs xDD

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    1. THANK YOU THANK YOU. My revisions will determine if I can execute this well, soooo. :S Actually, I suppose the You Killed My Father trope is pretty common, but a mother who encourages vengeance is rare, because apparently mums are all protective hens.

      Thank you for dropping by, Nirvana!

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  10. I really like this! I don't know what else to say, because I just really LOVE this!

    Okay, I'm done now.

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    1. Aww, thank you, Ashley! Great to know you love it :)

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  11. I.... need to learn more about tropes, ASAP! This was a really interesting article, Alyssa. I'll definitely be revisiting it as soon as I actually have a plotline in mind for my hero. As it stands... I got nothing. Expect that he likes the sea. Riveting, no?
    Beth x
    www.thequietpeople.com

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    1. Tropes are really fun to play with. So happy you find it useful enough to keep it for reference! And well, considering that I immediately have an image of a brooding merling, I wouldn't say it's not riveting. Quite the opposite :)

      Thanks for dropping by, Beth!

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  12. So first of all, I have to say: Your story ideas always sound so complex and political, and I think if I tried to write something like this I'd get hopelessly lost before I even started--so kudos to you!

    Aside from that, though, I think it's really interesting that you took the time to research hero tropes and then turn them on their heads to create Thomas, and he sounds like a well-rounded (if somewhat unlikable, haha) protagonist. Also, I feel like you just started this book, how are you already revising it?! (Good luck with revisions, by the way!)

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    1. Aaaah, thank you, Taylor! On the other hand, though, I'd be completely lost trying to write a contemporary, so go you for writing that too :) I actually ran out of ideas at the planning stage, so I dropped by TV Tropes for inspiration! And yeah, since this rewriting round is really just turning it into longhand prose, it didn't need that long a break. I'll be taking my break after the rewriting while my alpha readers tear it apart :)

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  13. This is such an incredible post Alyssa! I think it's so great that you're going against the norms and making a strong and well-developed protagonist that doesn't follow all the current fads and tropes.

    Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous post! ♥

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    1. Thank you, Zoe! To be honest, I am probably falling into another trope while trying to avoid one, but rounding characters out based on tropes is really fun. :)

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