Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Brief History of Cold Iron Badge, Part 4

Once upon a time, before Professor Stephen Hawking wrote his book, it was possible to write a brief history of something and call is something other than 'A Brief History of Something'.

Not afterwards.

At first it was a joke, an increasingly obvious and un-clever go-to reference. But then it stopped being a reference and, because of its ubiquity, simply became the natural way to refer to a not-very-long written narrative detailing the origin and development of something.

(There were other Brief Histories before Hawking's, of course. But he put the phrase on the popular cultural map in a way that it hadn't been before -- or, to use a more elegant and apt turn of phrase, he put it into IdeaSpace.)

Not to expend too much effort justifying my own lack of creativity in blog post titles, but it never occurred to me to call this series anything other than 'A Brief History of Cold Iron Badge'. And I'd be willing to wager that none of you saw that title and thought that I was referencing Hawking particularly, whether cleverly or (more likely) not.

A Brief History of Blah-de-blah has become a trope.

This is not the only evolutionary path that a trope can follow, but it's an important one for storytelling -- for fiction. Because, occupying a level of universality that lies beyond references, homages, rip-offs and cliches, tropes are fundamental concepts that don't need to be explained for the audience.

Whether something is really a trope, or merely a reference/cliche/et cetera of course depends on who the audience is. There are tropes that are common to every culture, every demographic, every sub-culture, even every clique, that someone from outside those particular groups wouldn't get on the same subconscious level... and there are tropes that are common to all of humanity.

Cold Iron Badge was deliberately designed to be very, very tropey.

I touched on this in my last post, but it bears repeating and exploring in more detail: There are a number of points where Cold Iron Badge pretty blatantly uses tropes -- touchstones, storytelling conventions -- from either fantasy literature, cop shows, or both. And this was entirely intentional on my part.

A story that is fundamentally -- as I also noted last time out -- a genre mashup absolutely depends on honouring the key tropes of the genres that it's drawing from (and sometimes on subverting them). It's important on many levels, but one of the most important is the most basic. Because tropes, especially genre tropes, tell the audience what sort of expectations to have of the story. And when those expectations are either entertainingly fulfilled, or entertainingly subverted, the audience is generally happy. Which makes the writer happy.

This is true of all genres, but genre mashups are particularly fun for this, because an audience familiar with the tropes of all the genres involved will understand when there's conflict between the tropes of the underlying genres. Which creates dramatic tension, interest, and lots of opportunity for expectations to be fulfilled or subverted in a most entertaining manner.

And this, more than anything else, is what pushed the evolution of the collection of characters and other loose concepts that I've been talking about to become Cold Iron Badge.

What, for instance, would cause an interesting dynamic between Christine and Delric, while also forcing them to work together? Why would people like Ray and Bunny -- with their, to be tactful, questionable degree of competence -- be front-line law-enforcement personnel? What would cops as we understand them have to do with Fairyland at all?

The answer came to me, as many do, on the subway. I couldn't tell you what inspired it -- well, the whole process I've been discussing in these posts inspired it, but I don't remember what specifically led to the, "Eureka!" moment.

But there it was: After a mysterious event opens the doors between Earth and Fairyland, people who are themselves strange and marginal enough to be able to cope with all the weirdness are tasked to watch the new border between the two worlds. To enforce the laws, prevent incursions and excursions in either direction, and to keep a fragile peace.

I liked it. It made sense to me, it made sense for the characters. It gave both fantasy and cop show tropes free rein and it provided a roomy stage that would fit all kinds of stories and ideas.

It worked for me, and a couple of emails later, I knew that it worked for Patrick too. We didn't have a plot yet, but the core of what was now definitely called Cold Iron Badge was all there.

Next step: Go from characters and concept to an actual story. More on that next time...

1 comment:

Patrick Heinicke said...

I went back and forth a lot about how to draw the elves' ears. One friend suggested that I avoid pointy ears because it was such a cliché. Stephen thought I should use them BECAUSE they are a cliché. Or more to the point, a trope that would help readers recognize the fantasy element when they saw it. That made sense to me. And besides, elves without pointy ears just didn't look right.