Disclaimer: TV Tropes is one of the more notorious black holes on the Internet. A common tale of woe told around monitors is that of a man who goes to TV Tropes and the next thing he knows is it’s a week later and he’s got Cheetos stains on everything. You have been warned. I’m a professional– don’t browse TV Tropes at home kids. It’s dangerous.
Things that you run into when you write any type of fiction: tropes.
Defined by the authority on tropes, TV Tropes: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés.”
A cliché is a trope gone to far– one that’s been done to death and back and no one wants to hear that bit again. However, even the most trite and overused tropes often get reinvented to add fresh air to an old concept– we’re still telling damsel in distress stories, after all, but in modern fiction (or, I should say, good modern fiction– trashy dollar store novels will use every hack in the book) it’s rare to see the textbook example. Everyone has read that textbook already, thank you.
So, to understand our source material a little better, I browsed through its entry on TV Tropes. I was saddened to find out that TDP isn’t a trope namer for any tropes, nor is it the first example of any trope.
Several tropes can get thrown out as unimportant– the fact that TDP, in the version we’re basing things off of, has no named characters is nice, but irrelevant. Disney movies have characters with names.
Per our preliminary notes, we’re already including a big, fancy castle, massive numbers of siblings, a protagonist that starts out pretty poor and some sort of dance. I’m currently scribbling down on a notepad what the basic consequences of having these sorts of tropes does to the narrative and characters. For example, seeing that large families these days are kinda rare, and households are having less and less children, how did it happen that a political figure in the far future has twelve daughters?
Magic? Strange political reasons? Really bad luck? Taking advice from rabbits?
Aside: Oh my god, I want to write that scene where the king, is his awkward youth, gets dating/relationship advice from a magical talking rabbit. I’m giggling just picturing that. Probably doesn’t fit into our story or target audience, but still. *snicker*
I’m not looking for a particularly compelling reason, or a rational one, or even one that I’m going to explicitly point to. Just food for thought. Another one: Dancing might be pretty rare, so it helps the princesses motivations along– they love dancing (get it from their mother) but this is the year 20XX. No one dances anymore. It’s a dying art.
Other things to look at are tropes that have become clichés (but weren’t done to death when the tale was written down) that we’re going to want to subvert or ignore. Everything isn’t better with a traditional princess, but I’m hoping to subvert that a bit. Personally, I’d like to bring out the political side of being next in line. The royalty in our story, I think, is going to hold actual political power, and Luna (and probably the next oldest, Zorya) are going to be expected to rule themselves one day.
That’s a heavy responsibility– it’s like being the President, but you can’t blame things not working on congress. Being a princess is not all fun and games and being frail and waiting for a white knight– that doesn’t feed people. Ruling feeds people.
There are several tropes in TDP that I hadn’t considered at all before looking over the tropes page. In the tale, the princesses evade getting caught through slipping drugs in wine to put the people sent to find them to sleep. The protagonist gets around this with some discrete drink disposal.
Even though I haven’t really thought about it, we can throw some quiet nods to both tropes all in two scenes. Maybe in our version of the tale, our protagonist (who’s name is Ivan, by the way), is the first person to try and figure out what the princesses are doing every night and one of them comes up with a knee jerk reaction to roofie him.
Our protagonist evades the ruse with the help of his animal sidekick, or his robotic arm (preliminary notes put Ivan as a cyborg. And of course he has a sidekick, this is a Disney movie) and the tale goes on as normal. I don’t know how important exactly the drugged drink is, but it is very important to note that the princesses do not want to be caught.
This helps tie into our already established themes about Luna– she starts the tale so resistant to leave the nightly dancing that she’ll resort to chemical warfare to keep things the way they are. By the end of the story, she’s the catalyst of change.
Other things we haven’t covered at all– the hero in the fairy tale gets help from a magical shady lady in a forest. I, personally, kinda dislike this trope. It’s a derivative of Deus ex Machina, which came about because the ancient Greeks sometimes wrote themselves into a plot holes and were kinda lazy (I think. It’s been a few years since I had to sit through an ancient Greek lit class). Unless we decide the story needs it, I’d be more than happy to never touch on this facet of the tale, and let Ivan win his battles on his own.
Ok, two more.
First– the ubiquitous rule of three shows up in TDP– the protagonist has three days to figure out where the princesses are going every night before he gets murdered by the king. His first two trips down to the hidden underground castle are pretty much the same, his last time down there has a twist. The twist, at least in TDP, is rather minor– the solder takes an extra cup along with him for proof to show the king. I almost want to ignore the pattern outright, but it’s such a common fairy tale rhythm that not using it feels wrong. Repetition is a tricky beast in stories– amazingly powerful when done right, but boring as hell when done wrong.
Finally, the fairy tale does do a bit of subversion– the youngest child doesn’t win. However, the youngest princess is totally onto the protagonist the entire time he’s spying on the princesses. You get the feeling he chooses the oldest as a bride because she’s a few light bulbs short of a full set and he knows he can outwit her. However, we want people to leave the theater with Luna as a confident princess, ready to take on the throne. What do?
Well, rather than just ignoring the subversion, I think we can play homage to it. Cassiopeia (our youngest princess) can find the evidence that starts Luna’s change of heart, thus keeping true to the spirit of both characters, while still letting us focus on the older one without making her kinda dumb.
This helps add dramatic tension as well– Cass doesn’t know the gravity of the evidence she brings to Luna (or even that it’s a bad thing), and when Luna uses it as a reason to stop the dancing, Cass can naturally resist, rebel and ultimately feel like it’s her fault for pushing her sister away.
Awww, yeah. Just what I like in my fictional characters– development and personality. Damn gurl, you look fiiiiine with all that character.