Category Archives: Tropes & Archetypes

Ignorant Secret Troubled Love

whisper-408482_1280 One of my favorite tv shows of late is Castle. What’s not to love? Nathan Fillion is awesome, fights crime, and is an author! He’s who I want to be when I grow up. One of the subplots, and it’s almost getting to the point to where it’s cliche, is the love relationship between Richard Castle and Kate Beckett. Everyone knew from day one that the sexy co-star would eventually end up with the strong protagonist. In fact, I’m sure that even those who have never seen the show know exactly what I’m talking about. The formula is as old as time, so why does it keep happening? Or, perhaps a better question, why is it still so exciting?

If you’ve been following the blog all month, you have seen many examples of how love sells. We’ve talked about why it sells, the science behind it, the deep emotional depths, and the physical side as well. And, like clockwork, it comes up every year as we approach and celebrate Valentines Day. And, like the media we watch, it won’t go away. Cliche or not. The easiest explanation for all of this is that love if one thing that, no matter the genre, style, or age, will instantly connect to the audience. Everyone has experienced love and heartbreak. We all know the spark of attraction, the joy and embarrassment of dating, and the hurt of betrayal. And watching these shows, we can instantly bond with the characters and we have an idea of what they’re going through.

Another good reason is that relationships are a source of easy drama. Misunderstandings and clashing personalities are expected with any relationship. It adds realism, while still providing the tension that can carry an audience through the series. With episodic television, it’s somewhat expected that whatever problem is introduced in the beginning of the episode, it’ll be resolved quickly. This means that you can usually sit down and start watching an episode and have very little requirement in knowing the back story. Someone was killed, lets go find out who did it. The relationship drama, however, can last the entire show. Start watching in the middle, you can be fairy sure that you’ll know exactly where they are in the relationship arc and have a good idea of what came before it and where it will go afterwards. Despite this, it’s still able to elicit the emotions the writers desired.

And perhaps the best reason it still happens is that the audience will always want it. If Castle and Beckett never ended up together, it would be frustrating to much of the audience. The formula is so ingrained in us that if we see the potential and it’s ignored or dismissed, we almost feel that it’s a failure. The world practically revolves around these two characters. It’s hard enough to get through the beginning stage where they both have the feelings but they hide it and walk around in ignorance. After time, it would become difficult to balance the proximity the main characters have with each other with the expectations of the fans.

I will say that not everything follows this format, but even those that break it do so knowing what they’re getting into. We’re human, and we love. Disaster comes and goes. Worlds shatter, and murder cases are solved. In the end, it’s the relationships that will be remembered most. Which is fine by me. The world can always use a little more love.

For the Love of the Screenplay

A guest post by Tracy Mangum.

I have a confession to make: I don’t like many “romantic” movies. It’s not that I’m unromantic-it’s actually the opposite. The problem is that many “chick flicks” are full of cliches, stock characters, and predictable plots that kill any sense of romance. Most of these films suggest that a woman’s life is meaningless without a man, and that a woman happy being single is simply lying to herself. They teach us that love is only for skinny, beautiful people with straight teeth and perfect hair. The tell us that men are sex-crazed, commitment-phobic animals that have to be manipulated into a romantic relationship. He will ultimately reject the constraints of the relationship and hurt the innocent woman who only wants to care for him. After a period of time, she will begin to move on just as he realizes his mistake, and will demonstrate his newly discovered feelings with grand gestures that straddle the line between affection and stalking.

Romantic comedies too often follow the same plain and boring recipe.

  1. Boy meets girl (He is handsome, she is adorkable – equal parts awkward and adorable)
  2. Girl is obviously perfect for boy, but he doesn’t notice since she is awkward and doesn’t wear makeup
  3. Boy has a girlfriend, but she is a false romantic lead
  4. Girl will consult with the best friend (possible bad gay male stereotype) for advice
  5. Girl will get a makeover that includes a new wardrobe and is now stunning
  6. Boy will now notice girl and unresolved sexual tension begins
  7. Boy will say something stupid and hurt the girl’s feelings
  8. Girl cries and runs away
  9. Boy rejects false romantic lead and chases down girl
  10. Boy makes a large declaration of love – probably in a large urban area where witnesses ooh and ahh.

This formula is as stale as 11:00am movie theater popcorn that’s been reheated from the previous night’s shows. It’s easy to make these films, they cost less to make as they feature little to no explosions and special effects, and audiences will often just eat them up on date night.

So how do you write a successful love story that doesn’t fall into these tropes? You develop complex and interesting characters and dig deep into the wells of emotion buried deep in their hearts.

  1. Give me characters that I can fall in love with, so that when they fall in love with each other, I am already emotionally invested.
  2. Give me a credible reason to keep them apart. It can be anything, class differences, a sinking boat– but if the audience doesn’t buy in, you are dead in the water.
  3. Don’t write long scenes where your characters talk at a restaurant table – make your script as visually exciting to watch as your dialogue is to hear. “Jewel of the Nile” had the actors sliding down mountains and avoiding alligators and “Annie Hall” had the great lobster scene.
  4. Tweak the formula. Be clever and ingenious. “Defending Your Life” has the leads meet in the afterlife. “Sleepless in Seattle” has the couple meet in the last five minutes of the film. “Groundhog Day” has the boy relive the day over and over and over until he gets it right.
  5. Romance means sexy, and comedy means funny. Intimacy – either physical or emotional, leaves people vulnerable, exposed, and can be used for painfully honest comedy that reveal truths about your characters.
  6. Make it actually ABOUT something. Why are you writing about this couple? What about their story reflects some insight into the relations between men and women, or the human condition? What questions are you asking that the the screenplay’s story answers? Is it gender issues like “Tootsie”, or is it the awkwardness of adolescence like “American Pie”- what are you trying to tell us?

Let’s examine one of my favorite romantic films: “Up” by Pixar.

But it’s an animated film, it’s not a romance right? WRONG.

UpThe story begins in the childhood of Carl Fredricksen, whose love of adventure leads him to meet a spunky young girl named Ellie. In the first 20 minutes – a sequence that could easily be removed from the film and win and Oscar by itself – we watch Carl and Ellie meet, fall in love, plan for children and adventures that never come to pass, and eventually grow old together, until Ellie passes away, leaving Carl’s body and soul deflated like a balloon. Grown men are crying in the audience, and not one word has been spoken.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 6.05.32 AM

The house has come to symbolize Ellie to Carl, and he flies her to South America with hot air balloons to fulfill a promise they made to each other to visit there. Along the way, Carl “adopts” a boy scout, a talking dog, a large and awkward bird, and must deal with love, loss, regret, hope, and closure. Ultimately he has to leave Ellie and the house behind and go live his life, and have new adventures on his own. He doesn’t forget Ellie, but he doesn’t have to literally have her attached to him at all times.

The magicians at Pixar had us all thinking this was an innocent kids movie and while we were looking one way, they wallop us with emotions from our blind side. It’s unique, refreshing, and beautiful.

Write from the heart and from the gut. Make it real, make it honest, and make it count.

Tracy MangumAbout Tracy Mangum:

I’m a local Salt Lake City filmmaker and blogger.

My short film “Father Knows Flesh” won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor at the SL Comic Con FanX Film Festival last year. I cover the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agents of Shield, Gotham, and Disney for Lord of the Laser Sword.

I taught film in SLC for 10 years at LDS Business College.

Struggling to Define Love

A guest post by Stephan McLeroy.

Acid bubbled in my gut as I stared down at Jamie from the front door of my double-wide.

“Pat, come on, just let me in, just for a second.”

I took hold of the screen door’s aluminum frame and gripped it for support. The urge to look away so I could think through things for a moment itched at my eyes. But I didn’t. Jamie’d seen through my bullshit yesterday. Now I had to at least seem resolute as I made my choice: would I let us be together, or would I keep running the safe play.

“Damnit, Jamie, why can’t you just cut your losses and get the hell outta town.” I said, my voice stumbling over every syllable.

Jamie moved up onto the first step below the screen door. The rubber of Converse high-tops scraped against the sandpaper laminate, shaving away the edges of composure. Bright eyes, the color of pool table felt, stared at me with an understanding that called my bluff.

“Pat, come on, this isn’t cards here, I’m tryin’ to show you that you can have something better, something real, and I’m willing to work through all that baggage you got, but you haveta stop pushin’ me away.”

Without warning, I felt my sinuses tighten up, and fluid fill my eyes. I started to close the screen door, but Jamie had mounted the second step. Long, rough fingers slid over my hand and I felt my tight grip on the aluminum melt to butter. I tried to inhale, ready to make some excuse neither of us wanted to hear, but the air caught in my mouth as Jamie pressed against me. A river flowed through me, washing away the fear, the doubt, crashing through the calloused sphere I’d worked around myself. I’d loved and lost, loved and been hurt, but all of a sudden, with Jamie’s soft lips pressed against mine, it all didn’t matter anymore.


Whew! I hope that was as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Love is fantastic isn’t it? For me, I’ve always been keenly interested in the subject. It’s incredibly challenging to try and define love for others, but the task is extremely important when writing love relationships between characters. When it comes to love, however, there is one thing you can always count on: Everyone’s version is unique.

Let’s go back to the little scene I wrote above. You might have noticed I kept the two characters gender neutral. For fun, I let three friends read the scene and then asked them two things. First, I asked them what gender the two characters were. As you might have guessed, the genders of the characters changed with the gender of the friend being asked. Then I asked them to describe Pat’s relationship with love prior to the events of the scene. All three agreed that Pat, whether they were male or female, had been hurt and, as a result, had developed a fear-based relationship with love.

Now, don’t get me wrong, gender is a major source for experiences we utilize while building our individual definition of love. We use experiences to decide what we associate with love. For some that love feeling could come from a sense of security, for others, it’s centered on unconditional trust. Then you have other people who associate love with something specific like height or weight or how obsessed the person is with the band Gwar. A definition of love for any given person can be associated with almost anything. This can create great differences between two love definitions, but it can also allow for some similarities as well. We empathize with friends and connect with stories of love gained and lost because the love definitions we encounter resemble ours. However, at some point, deep down, these definitions will all diverge from your own.

Okay, let’s get back to your characters. As with real people, each of your characters will have been formed by their unique experiences; their current and former relationships create the patterns for how they love someone. With this in mind, you’re going to have to define love for them. Then the problems arise: how do we define someone else’s love without having lived through every single moment in their lives that could have affected their love definition? Ah, the glorious struggle of character development. I’ve found that dealing with this problem is often quite similar to dealing with other character development issues. For each writer it might be different, for me, however, it came back to that idea of people with similar life experiences. Who do I know that would be able to empathize with a character I have no shared experiences with?

To answer this question, I revisited some of my favorite fiction for characters I felt would have connected in the ways I was struggling to define. Not for a mirror but for a frame of reference. More importantly, I began talking to the people around me. At first, my intentions were to go about this wholesale; I intentionally went to people who either grew up in extremely different cultural environments or had very different love relationships from myself. I found that having these conversations expanded my view of what could mold love into definitions completely different than mine. Although I couldn’t experience the feelings associated with those different kinds of love, I could at least begin to see how my characters could begin to form their own love definition.

Love is a tricky thing to nail down in the real world and in fiction. Your definition will be different than anyone else’s, including your characters. If you choose to speak with other people about defining love, consider how the elements of their experiences could help to frame the ways in which your characters love. By reaching outside your own personal frame of reference, you can, in a way, ‘experience’ many definitions of love; perhaps foreign to you, but perfect for your character.

Stephan McLeroy is a historical urban fantasy writer based out of the San Francisco Bay area. He is currently working on a new novel, The Adventures of Lockwood and Blackfox. If you’d like to hear more of his thoughts on things like writing and Elder Fashion Cocktails, check out his blog:

The Monster Mash: Writing Sex Scenes, Part Two

A guest post by Joshua Essoe.

In part one we talked about if you should go all the way, how to decide, creating tension in all the right places, and what position you should take. Tonally speaking.

Today, let’s get into some specifics of when you’re trying to verb the adjective noun.

Your characters should inform everything that takes place between them. Who are they? Are they gregarious and shameless? Well then, yeah, a character like that might just throw their clothes off, give strip teases for the thrill of it, and view kisses as fun but meaningless.

Is your character shy? Well that character is very unlikely to just throw their clothes off or have sex in a changing room. Maybe they want the light turned off first, maybe they kiss tentatively, and slowly, maybe they need their partner to undress first.

And let’s not forget about laying down complications, hiking up tension, and stroking inner conflict. Maybe your character feigns confidence and it gets tested terribly when things heat up. Maybe they’re worried about some perceived physical defect. Maybe the character is married or committed to someone else–what kind of inner conflict would that engender? How would that other relationship inform their choices in the romance with someone else? Are they in love with two people at once?

Let’s get deeper into the question of how far you should push.

Just like any other scene, you focus on what you want your readers to focus on. And that is what your specific character would be focused on. What does your viewpoint character find attractive and sexy about the character they are with? Both physically and in their personality, their movements, their smell, the sounds they make. Maybe that shameless character is turned on by having everything articulated. That character definitely likes the dirty dirty. Maybe that shy character is focused on the eyes and minute facial expressions. Use all the senses. What is going to make it interesting and unique are the specific details you use. The more specific and narrow you make your focus, the sexier the scene will be. And yes, sometimes that means you’ll be writing about what parts go where and what that feels like.

The way you inform your readers of that, what words you use, will depend on your characters, the tone of the story, and how you’ve set it up. There should always be some words on your Do Not Fly list. Let me suggest a few:

  • Turgid, adj
  • Purple, adj/noun
  • Fleshy, adj
  • Wrinkled, verb (If this is an adjective, then please don’t send me this MS.)
  • Pert, adj
  • Moist, adj

These are not sexy words. Even penis. Penis is not a sexy word. They accurately describe something, sure, but analytically relating what a thing is, or what a thing does, does not sexy make. Likewise, be careful with the placement of your sexy words because it will be hard, err, difficult to keep from using them over and over. Keep track of those little buggers or everything is going to end up wet, or hard . . . or turgid.

But, like everything else in writing, it is a careful balancing act. Just like any other action scene, don’t go overboard with your descriptions or you’ll bog down your prose, and kill your pacing and interest. When I say focus in and use specific details I don’t mean that you should describe every single movement or action taking place. You can leave some things to your readers’ imaginations. They’ll fill in the blanks.

Be aware of the tropes. There are a lot out there, but here are some common ones:

  1. The woman or man is unattainably attractive.
  2. She has an apparent willingness to have sex with the male protagonist, usually as a means of manipulating him.
  3. The female character is duplicitous, and either secretly evil or forced to act that way for some reason.
  4. Rape. I can’t tell you how tired women, in particular, are of reading rape used as a tool to garner sympathy, or stoke conflict. But that is a separate article.

One final note. It’s worth talking about the actual, physical writing of these kinds of scenes. I heartily recommend your local Starbucks if you want the dude with the Beats by Dre, the man in the pinstriped shirt, and the cute, spikey-haired girl sneaking stares as your face flushes, your breath quickens, and you start to sweat. Just please keep your hands on your keyboard at all times.

Or maybe you should plan to write these things in private. And then you can let your hands do whatever they gotta do.

Wherever you chose to write your dive in the dark, don’t stop, once you start. Going halfway into the scene, then pulling out for a break kills your own tension and takes you out of the flow. It would be like texting with your buddy while you’re bed-pressing with your partner. Just like in real life you want the process to go smoothly without interruption. Write the whole scene in one ecstatic burst. Do not go back to read what you’ve written. Do not count how many times you’ve used the words “moist,” and “pert.” It doesn’t matter, don’t break your rhythm.

That means do not stop to edit yourself! The scene might suck, but that does not matter, just like any first draft, you’ll have your chance to go back and massage it into splendor later.

If you’ve never written a sex scene, and maybe even if you have, you may feel embarrassed, or even scared enough that you can only manage a tag to yourself, “put the sex stuff here.” For those of you that this applies to, take heart. You don’t have to view writing sex and romance as writing a sex scene or writing erotica. You’re just writing a scene. That’s it. You’ll do great. Let your characters guide you, listen to them, just as you would with any other scene, and write.

Joshua EssoeAbout Joshua Essoe:

Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.