Tropes: The Good, The Bad, And Naked Dwarf Wrestling

The word "trope" has become something of a four-letter-word by those who have trouble thinking and/or spelling.

Tropes, in my opinion, are a lot like mayonnaise.

Used adequately, you end up with a nice salad dressing or sandwich, or a story that a reader can settle into with a minimum of tiresome exposition.

In the hands of a gifted cook or writer, you might even find you have something that will challenge or subvert your expectations.

When used poorly, however, it's like crying on your filthy bare mattress eating mayonnaise out of the jar with a spoon.

#notalltropes

#notalltropes

Let's have a look at one of the worst offenders, 2000's "comedy", Bedazzled. Continuing with the mayonnaise analogy, this film is like shoving the nozzle of a mayo-shooting fire hose into your mouth, and another one up your ass, and turning them both on at the same time.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to point out that I have an irrationally strong dislike of Brendan Fraser, who plays the lead role in this film. I don't know what it is about the guy. I just tend to hate everything that he's in. And while Mr. Fraser doesn't disappoint in wanting to make me punch him in the junk during every scene that he's in, he cannot be held entirely responsible for the steaming pile of horseshit that is Bedazzled.

The trope: Supernatural being grants wishes, but perverts them.

Whether your wish granter is a genie trapped in a bottle, or in this case the devil in hell, immensely powerful beings throughout the history of fiction have tended to resent bowing to the whims of their mortal temporary douchebag masters. Sure, they'll grant your wish, but they'll try to be as much of a dick as possible about it while still holding true to the literal wording of the wish.

As a writer, there are all sorts of places you could go with that. Alternatively, you could wipe your ass on a ream of A4 paper, call it "Bedazzled" and shop it around Hollywood.

Behind the scenes: Working on the script of Bedazzled 2.

Behind the scenes: Working on the script of Bedazzled 2.

The problem: Nothing new was brought to the table.

Tropes, by their very definition, have been done many times before. In order to use them successfully, you have to do something new with them. The wish trope is particularly tricky, both because it's a very common one, and because it involves an immortal being flexing his or her mind muscles. The challenge is to make this character appear convincingly more intelligent than the dipshit who's writing the story.

In Bedazzled, Brendan Fraser's character, Skippy McFucktard (It's been a while since I've seen it. I think it was something like that.) uses his first wish (the Big Mac and Coke notwithstanding) to become rich and powerful. As generic as that is, it's a good one for the story to get its feet wet, and the movie handled it pretty well.

Elizabeth Hurley's character (the devil) turned Skippy into a Columbian drug lord. Nice job fucking up a wish, devil. If the movie continued along these lines, it might have been tolerable. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there.

All of Skippy's successive wishes are either stupidly easy setups for the devil to pervert ('I wish I was the most sensitive guy in the world', or some bullshit), or they are perverted by means of the devil tacking on additions to the wish, and that's cheating.

"Preposterous! I know the devil personally. We've made deals. He's a stand-up guy."

"Preposterous! I know the devil personally. We've made deals. He's a stand-up guy."

No no no, President Whitetrash. I wasn't talking about the devil cheating. The devil is supposed to cheat. That's kind of the point of the trope. I'm talking about the screenwriter cheating.

If the devil is allowed to add extraneous bullshit to the wish, then Skippy has no motivation to even try to make any wishes. There's literally nothing he can ask for to which the devil can't add "Aaaand... you're dying of cancer." or "Aaaand... you're paralyzed from the neck down." or "Aaaand... your mouth and asshole have switched places." Granted, that last one really would have improved the movie.

There's no cleverness there. It's just straight-up shit storytelling, a triple-scoop butt-fudge sundae.

Bon appetite.

Bon appetite.

And here's the turd on top. The story resolved itself by Skippy McFucktard making a selfless final wish, which enacted an inexplicable clause releasing him from his contract (which he didn't read) with and written by the devil. The protagonist accidentally beat the motherfucking devil. He Jar-Jar Binksed his way to victory. That pisses me off so much. I wrote about a similar situation a month ago.

I don't think expecting a little effort on the part of the protagonist or the screenwriter qualifies me as a snob. I'm not looking for Shakespeare. I love stupid comedies. Hell, I write stupid comedies. But I treat that shit like my children's futures are depending on it (because they are).

I simply don't understand how a Hollywood movie, with so much money riding on it, can settle for such craptacular storytelling.

But this post wasn't meant to be about me bitching about Bedazzled. It was supposed to be about tropes. I've now covered how to do them wrong. Now let's cover one (of an infinite amount of possibilities) example of how to do the wish trope well, in a new and fun way.

Seriously, I can't recommend this author highly enough.

Seriously, I can't recommend this author highly enough.

So, outside of blind narcissism, how do I feel that Djinngle Bells is a superior wish-trope story to Bedazzled? Three reasons.

1. Clever wish perversion.

I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I'm particularly proud of the djinn's response to one wish in the story, which he perverts with a simple deliberate misinterpretation of grammar.

2. Character driven rather than plot driven.

In Bedazzled, you could switch out any generic devil or schlub with any other generic devil or schlub, and you'd come out with the same story.

In Djinngle Bells, the motivations and personalities of those particular characters steer the plot. Switch in anyone else, and you'll have a different, shittier story.

3. Naked dwarf wrestling.


Fun with tropes is how I make my living. For a better understanding of what that means, read my books.

If you like my Facebook page, I'll grant you one wish.