On Tropes and Stereotypes

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Can I make a confession?

It’s hard avoiding cliches in your writing. As someone who has seen a multitude of red lines through my work, I try hard to avoid the standards that make readers roll their eyes. Of course we keep at it, but sometimes, the cliches might be there for a reason. I love writing that can twist a trope. Give me the usual, the everyday, the things you’d expect – and then throw them out the window. It’s how many of the fairytales we know and love are still alive today, with interesting twists to bring them into the modern world or make us rethink what we know about the evil queen.

I’m obviously going to use #HoA as an example, because I fully admit there are some stereotypes. It’s a superhero storydon’t readers/viewers expect a few things they’ve seen before? Think to any of your comic book stories or even today’s heroes and how their stories progress. There are plots points or character details that we might know are coming, but still enjoy seeing. (The cackling villain, the bumbling bad guys, femme fatale, etc.) Check out any of the superhero shows on TV or in movies today – you’ll see a bevy of stereotypes, some flipped on their head, and others fully embraced for what they are.

I think it’s important to include things readers will expect from your book – not necessarily spelling it all out for them so they see it a mile away, but simply including a few familiar pieces to keep the reader engaged and grounded in what they expect. That way, right when they’re comfortable in seeing what they expect, you surprise the heck out of them with something unexpected. (Maybe the cackling villain is a terrible smoker, or the femme fatale is actually a pretty happy person outside of her job description, or those bumbling bad guys are actually quite good at riddles and puzzles, just not guns or fighting. It can be anything. You get the idea.)

Nova is your typical teenage girl. You know, except she’s super strong. I really enjoyed making the girl the one with all the strength. And even with all her strength, she’s still a scared teenager, at least at first as she learns how to become a superhero (and even then, she’s still scared, but it’s overcoming it with bravery that helps Nova become who she’s meant to be).

I’ve mentioned before that Cole is the romantic one of the duo. That happened organically, but turned out to be something I’m quite proud of. While Cole is a handsome teen hero, he’s actually more brains than brawn. He loves Nova’s strength and isn’t at all emasculated by the fact she can outlift him by a ton (maybe literally).

Because we’re used to seeing females in the typical reporter role (thus leading to the damsel in distress in some instances), Henry Wheeler was fun to write here instead. He’s a stubborn kid who’s determined to find the truth, no matter the cost, and even lands himself in a bit of trouble (very damsel in distress of him). But all in all, he has no problem with a girl saving his ass, as long as it gets saved! 

Dev Patel is an Indian man who owns a convenience store in town. Stereotypical, maybe, but he’s proud of his role in the community and makes an honest living for his family. He will continue to work hard everyday and bring honor to his name for owning his own business. And he’s not afraid to proudly speak up to reporters – and to Arcania in general – and tell them the HoA saved his way of living, at least for a night. In his own way, he’s standing up to violence in the city by supporting the HoA. 

I liked the idea of Huan, the Chinese man who is a wonderful friend to Cole, struggling with his words – that’s because he’s continues to work his ass off to improve his English. Cliched, maybe, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who works harder than him. Despite his broken English, he runs the local planetarium and knows all about the stars, so he’s intelligent. Brilliant, actually, and came to America for a better life. And he loves people, especially curious people, so he’s glad to be friends with Cole, a teen boy who treats him with respect. Even when he’s attacked by Fortune, he remains positive and will not run scared from the city that he loves. 

These characters, even the secondary ones or those who pop up for only a scene or two – exist in real life to some extent. In my head, they have backstories, but none of that makes it to the page, you know? But we know these people, at least in passing. If we are the heroes of our own stories, then these are the background characters you don’t notice very much. But that doesn’t make them any less important to the story.

Those last points, the bolded ones, are not necessarily pieces the reader might consider about the characters even after they’ve finished the books. I didn’t spell it all out for them on the page; instead it’s implied. So yes, there are stereotypes, but there are plenty of people in real life like this who exist. I bet you can name several people off the top of your head who fit stereotypical descriptions – and most of them might surprise you with insight or quirks or flaws you might otherwise not see due to those stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

It’s a writer’s job to bring that to the page without hitting the reader over the head over and over again. (Because in turn, I also think it’s part of the reader’s job to infer this stuff – and to pay attention to the details the writer leaves behind.) You see a lot of development with main characters when it comes to their growth, but even secondary characters can have depth. Even with tropes and stereotypes, you can make them individuals with something to lose or gain. That in turn will have readers more invested, unwilling to part with even the smallest of characters – which of course will make their circumstances (or deaths) even more vital to the story. And of course, the reader will not only have zero problems with the stereotypes, but they’ll be waiting for the next big twist, which is what writers want them to expect and love.

Deleted Scene from HoA: Fortune’s Favor

It’s totally true that authors have to cut certain scenes or chapters in order to make a book’s plot tighter or more concise. Happens all the time! In which case, if they’re publishable, you should definitely use them in other ways, like a newsletter exclusive or on social media.

SO, I thought I’d share it here on my blog with you 🙂 This was actually my original first chapter from Heroes of Arcania: Fortune’s Favor, which takes place immediately after the cliffhanger in the first book. (I eventually cut it due to the story being told from 2 perspectives, and this, while entertaining, would’ve distracted from the POV).

In this short snippet from the second book in the trilogy, Henry Wheeler, Nova’s best friend and the high school’s nosiest newspaper reporter, was kidnapped from the big Homecoming dance…by none other than Fortune himself. Read on to learn a bit more about what he endured while hoping and waiting for the #HoA to rescue him!


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DELETED SCENE FROM HEROES OF ARCANIA: FORTUNE’S FAVOR 

The tall man eyed his captive in the chair. The teenage boy had resisted, forcing his men to knock him out and duct tape his wrists and ankles to the wooden seat. The kid was finally coming to, and had the good sense to look scared.

The boy looked up at him through the cracked glasses on the brim of his nose. Blood trickled down one side of his face. His split bottom lip was thanks to a man’s backhand.

“Wheeler,” the captor said, drawing out the boy’s last name with delight.

Henry Wheeler looked up at his kidnapper, fear coursing through him. He fought the urge to look around, making out a warehouse of some kind in his peripheral.  That meant he was on the far east side of the city. Why had Fortune, the city’s notorious villain, brought him here? The last thing Henry remembered was the school dance. He, his best friend Nova, and her new boyfriend Cole had been laughing, having a good time when someone screamed. Chaos ensued and men had come for Henry, seizing him upon first sight. They’d thrown a bag over his head, ignored his thrashing and shouting, and finally knocked him out before loading him into a vehicle.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Fortune asked.

Henry’s brown hair fell into his eyes when he frantically shook his head. “N-no, I don’t.”

Fortune’s upper lip curled back. He came in closer to the boy, his words slithering into the teen’s ear. “You’re here because you’re investigating me. You’re foolish enough to believe you can find something on me.”

A cold ball of fear formed in Henry’s stomach as he considered the situation. Fortune knew he’d been following the cases, the bank robberies. Henry knew what Fortune was capable of, how he murdered people – even children – in cold blood, for no reason other than because he enjoyed it. Henry desperately did not want to be next.

When Henry remained quiet, Fortune frowned. He ticked his head to one of his men, who held out a backpack. Henry glanced up, shock crossing his face when he realized it was his bag. As in, the bag he’d left in his bedroom.

“You were in my house?” Henry asked without thinking. He didn’t recognize his own trembling voice.

The corner of Fortune’s mouth pulled up. “Yes, I know where you live, Henry Wheeler. I know who your parents are, too.”

The blood drained from Henry’s face and Fortune nodded. “That’s right. You know how much trouble you’re in. Now tell me everything or I’ll leave your body on your mother’s doorstep.”

Henry shook his head again. “I don’t know anything. I mean, nothing besides what you already found in my bag.”

“I think you’re lying,” Fortune said, his underlying tone murderous.

“I’m not,” Henry said, thinking quickly, “I’m just a high school newspaper reporter.”

“Who visited the DMV and the city courthouse scouring records, in hopes of discovering my identity I assume.”

Henry gulped. Fortune was watching him? That couldn’t be good. “I don’t know anything about you other than what everyone already knows. What else do you want from me?”

Fortune put a hand eye-level to Henry’s face. After a second, Henry swore sparks spit in Fortune’s palm. A blue electric current crackled off his hand, lightning bolts peaking off his fingertips. A ball of blue energy gathered in his palm, reflecting off Henry’s cracked glasses. Fortune’s smile did nothing to quell the ice-cold fear in Henry’s belly. He leaned in, making sure the boy’s cheeks felt the heat off his gift.

“Tell me what you know about your so-called Heroes of Arcania.”

10 Things to Know About the #HoA Trilogy

Now that the entire Heroes of Arcania trilogy is out, I thought it might be fun to share a list of fun facts with you guys!

10 Facts HoA Blog

  1. Arcania is modeled after my city of Roanoke, VA. While Roanoke is obviously smaller (and much cleaner) than Arcania, I modeled many of the city maps and streets after it. Locals will definitely recognize a few locations such as the Grandin neighborhood, Patrick Henry High School, and Franklin and Williamson Roads.IMG_1464
  2. Cole surprised me by being the romantic one of the Nova/Cole duo. The teen boy being the sweetheart? Guess he showed me, huh?HoA2 Teaser Nova Cole Love
  3. Pop’s, the ice cream shop the trio frequents in Book 1, is a real place. In fact, my neighbors own a killer soda shop of the same name! The s’mores sundae is my fav. I even put Anna, the co-owner, in Book 1 as she talks with the other characters. IMG_1457
  4. If you read closely, there are a couple Donovan Circus Easter eggs. *wink wink* (One egg: In HoA2, Nova asks Cole if they know of any outside help to fight Fortune. Cole recalls his dad is friends with a certain ringmaster, though “he’s got a circus–literally and figuratively–keeping him busy.”)
  5. Nova’s house is the same layout as my brother’s, where I stayed for a summer during a college internship. I stayed in the downstairs basement/bedroom area that Nova stakes claim on in HoA1.
  6. The same bank from the opening scene of HoA1 that Fortune robs, is actually based off a well-known bank in downtown Roanoke. I used to work in retail, and would make deposits there, familiar with the foyer where Fortune takes Starling’s life. Last spring, that bank was robbed at gunpoint. (I’m not entirely sure someone wasn’t secretly marketing for me. JUST KIDDING, RCPD.)IMG_1490
  7. A deleted scene from earlier drafts included a scene explaining that Nova’s dad is an astronomy nut (hence the play on her name and the planetarium tie-in). When her little sister Starling was born, Nova’s dad said, “Our little star” right as Nova’s mother said, “Our darling.” Thus, the name Starling.
  8. Probably not a surprise to anyone, but I watched A LOT of superhero movies and TV shows for inspiration. (The Dark Knight, Arrow, Flash, Daredevil and Jessica Jones come to mind immediately – can we just get #HoA a CW show already?)
  9. Penelope, Cole’s little sister, threw me for a real loop. I do rough outlines of characters and tend to let them tell me their story as we get into the novels. She pretty much refused to tell me her deal–until Book 3. Finally then, I got to understand her better. And to be honest, as a 16-year-old girl with a volatile and powerful gift, she is far more complicated than I ever anticipated. It’s no wonder she’s basically toeing the line of good and evil. She’s still a little bit of a mystery even after all this time with her! PenelopeFriend
  10. You already know I wrote SuperNova like 4 years ago; the original draft was told only from Nova’s POV in 3rd person. The moment I swapped out for 1st POV and adding Cole, it was like everything simply fell into place and I couldn’t write fast enough!

Release Day: HEROES OF ARCANIA: UNBREAKABLE

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Heroes of Arcania: Unbreakable
Release Day

I can’t believe it – Heroes of Arcania is done. The final installment, HoA: Unbreakable, is out today and now the entire trilogy is ready for everyone to read. You met the #HoA. Then you watched as Fortune turned Arcania against them. Now see what happens when Nova and Cole are pitted against each other in Arcania’s greatest war to date.

And don’t forget about the trilogy’s sweet deal. This weekend only (8/17-8/21), we’re celebrating the third and final release in style:

HoA: SuperNova (book 1) is FREE! Order it here. 
HoA: Fortune’s Favor (book 2) for just $0.99. Get it here.
HoA: Unbreakable (book 3) is $2.99. Get the final book here.

I’m so honored to help you escape from reality, and for all the great things you’ve been saying about the series. I truly hope you love the final chapter in the Heroes of Arcania trilogy. Thank you guys for all your tweets, shares, love and support!

xo
Liz

PS: You can order signed paperbacks at HeroesofArcania.com. And you know the drill: review it, send me the link and you’ll get some special swag!

HoA Trilogy Release Sale