This month’s topic is tropes, and I have decided to swerve a little into another interest of mine for this months blog, although it does touch on another form of writing. The kicking off point for this blog came from a comment on an interview I listened to a month or so ago where the guitarist of Alice In Chains was talking about, among other things, the bands new album. The guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Cantrell, said that he had not written what he called a “bendy riff Alice tune” for this album, but his fellow guitarist/vocalist, William Duvall had. The reasons this simple comment was interesting are:
Jerry is aware that his band is known for bends in their riffs.
It is such a big part of their recognizable sound that his bandmate, who he stated didn’t like the bends to begin with, has now started to use them.
This example is just one of Alice in Chain's creator tropes. Creator tropes are instantly recognizable and the hallmarks of a creators style. They span the whole creative spectrum, from writing in all its facets, to art, film, music, and crafts. It’s Tim Burton and his use of vertical stripes. Terry Pratchett and dry wit. Zakk Wylde and pinch harmonics. It may be linked to genre, but it is separate from it, often following a creator as they stretch into other genres and mediums.
The interesting thing about the Alice in Chains example is, although the bendy riffs originated organically, and is a trope Jerry has carried into his solo work, it has now been adopted by a band member who joined almost 20 years after the band started. The band has an awareness of this trope and maybe others they are known for to the point that their newest member has incorporated it into his playing. So why does it seem like the originator of Alice in Chain's “bendy riff" trope not create one for the new album?
Unless he decides to tell us we will never know if it was a deliberate choice to step away from the trope or he simply didn’t have an idea for that kind of riff. What we do know however, is being made aware of our little quirks can make us extremely self conscious to the point that we try to stop the behavior. Things like twirling our hair around our fingers, or a particular way of saying something can be with us for years, but all it takes is one person to mention it, whether nicely or not, for us to retreat from the behavior as fast as we can. Sometimes, the backing away from the behavior is not deliberate. In a long running collaborative role playing story, my fellow writer pointed out that one of my characters had nicknames for four other characters, and he never mixed them up even though they were all variations of “sweet one” or “precious one”. I was aware of the nicknames, but not the fact the four characters had their own. As soon as I was aware I started to mix them up. This was not deliberate, I just became hyper aware and second guessed myself every time. Maybe it is the same with creator tropes? Being made aware of them makes us super self conscious of their existence and , in doing so, makes it less natural and more a deliberate choice to include them.
Unfortunately, being made aware of our own creative tropes is not something that can be put back in the box, but the awareness will dull with time. Until then, we just have to put up with cringing every time we notice our trope and try to remember that they are part of our own personal style, and we are free to use or not use them as much as we wish.