Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Guest Post: Writing from a Trope Wish List by Michael R. Underwood

Please welcome Michael R. Underwood to The Qwillery! Annihilation Aria, the first novel in his new Space Opera series, will be published on July 21, 2020 by Parvus Press.

Writing from a Trope Wish List

Some time ago, I heard author Annie Bellet talk about doing herself the favor of making a list of tropes she loved and making sure to use as many as she could to help make a book more fun to write, with the hope that it would then be more fun for readers as well.

The result was her 20-sided Sorceress series, which has done very well and, I think, completely validates this approach.

So, when it came to develop my ideas for what would become ANNIHILATION ARIA, I decided to borrow a page from Annie’s book and build myself a trope wish list.

I grew up on Star Wars as a foundational space opera influence, so anything I write in the more adventure-oriented side of space opera or space fantasy is going to bear the mark of that galaxy far, far away. For ARIA, that influence mostly shows up in the form of including Cool Swords in a setting that mostly features firearms. Lahra’s sword of station is also a BS Fantasy Sword – it would not be practical or effective for a human to use in reality, but looks cool and works for Lahra as an alien warrior hero.

Other tropes I wanted to play with included Found Family, Ship as Home, Gigantic Weird Location, Happily Committed Couple Having Adventures, Evil Super-soldiers, Cyborg Pilot, Last Member of a Warrior People, Friendly Megafauna, Cool Aliens, Space Magic, Hero From Earth Far From Home, and some that constitute spoilers, so I’m leaving them out here.

Building a Novel With a Trope Wish List

The idea with the trope wish list is to lay out some building blocks instead of developing the novel from scratch. The tropes to use constitute locations, characters, and some worldbuilding elements.

For my main cast, I have Max as my Hero From Earth Far From Home, Lahra as the Last Member of a Warrior People with the Silly Fantasy Sword and Space Magic, and they’re the Happily Married Couple Having Adventures. Then to round out their Found Family, I have Wheel the Cyborg Pilot who connects with/operates the Ship as Home.

Their main port/base is The Wreck, a Gigantic Weird Location (a crashed colony ship-turned city), and then there’s also a space city built on the backs of the Drell, giant space turtles that are Friendly Megafauna. The main bad guys in the setting are Evil Super-soldiers, the galaxy is populated by some other Cool Aliens like the avian Rellix, the Atlan (Wheel’s cybernetics-using species), and the clannish, mercantile Illhari.

Other Ways to Use Tropes While Building a Novel

A broader view of the trope wish list could involve trope-y plot beats, from the Double-Cross or the Hold The Line kind of battle to something like The War Council ala the Death Star briefing. I didn’t really use the trope wish list on the plot level, but if you really like certain types of scenes or are interested in building a story around set-pieces, this approach could be useful. It can give you pillars or centers of gravity for the plot, shaping a story around the core scenes you’re most excited for.

The Big Picture

Ultimately, the cool thing about using a trope wish list is that it can help you ramp up your hype for your own novel. Having spent a few years going from novel to novel and reading in the field and paying attention to trends, it was really liberating to re-connect so intentionally and directly with some of my favorite tropes. Tropes aren’t bad, they’re just building blocks. Especially since I ended up writing ANNIHILATION ARIA over the course of several years, revisiting it several times between other projects before taking it over the finish line in 2018.

Annihilation Aria
The Space Operas 1
Parvus Press, July 21, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Max is cheery xeno-archeologist from Earth, stranded and trying to find a way home. Lahra is a stern warrior of a nearly extinct race searching for her people’s heir. Wheel is the couple’s cybernetic pilot running from her past and toward an unknown future.

On Wheel’s ship, the Kettle, the trio traverses the galaxy, dodging Imperial patrols and searching ancient ruins for anything they can sell. The crew of the Kettle are deeply in debt to their home base’s most powerful gangster, and she wants her money back.  

So when a dangerous, but promising job comes their way, Max, Lahra, and Wheel have little choice but to take it. However, the crew of the Kettle gets more than they bargained for when they find themselves in possession of a powerful artifact, one that puts them in the crosshairs of the Vsenk, the galaxy’s ruthless and oppressive imperial overlords. 

Max, Lahra, and Wheel are pulled into a web of galactic subterfuge, ancient alien weaponry, a secret resistance force, lost civilizations, and giant space turtles.  The Vsenk will stop at nothing to recover what the crew of the Kettle has found and Max’s brains, Lahra’s muscle, and Wheel’s skills may be all that stands between entire planets and annihilation.  

Can they evade space fascists, kick-start a rebellion, and save the galaxy all while they each try to find their own way home?

About Michael

Michael R. Underwood is the author of over twelve books, including Annihilation Aria, Born to the Blade (an epic fantasy serial), the Ree Reyes Geekomancy series and Genrenauts, a series of novellas, which was a finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award.

Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and in East Asian Studies from Indiana University and a M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon.

In years past, he danced Argentine Tango and was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and studying historical martial arts. Mike has been a hobby game store clerk, a student archivist, a webmaster, a web design teacher, a bear-builder, a bookseller, an independent publishers’ representative, and more.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife, their dog Oreo, and an ever-growing library. He also loves geeking out with video & role-playing games, studying historical martial arts, and making pizzas from scratch. He is also a co-host on the actual play show Speculate! and a guest host on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.

Website  ~  Twitter @MikeRUnderwood  ~  Facebook


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