by Liana LeFey
When writing Tempting the Vicar (Jan 2022) and its “twin” The Devil’s Own (June 2021), I didn’t set out to retell an old story. I didn’t even realize I’d been influenced by two tales my mother read to me when I was young. But after I finished drafting The Devil’s Own, I suddenly saw their footprints between the lines, written into my hero, the setting, and the plot. In crafting a story about identical twins temporarily switching lives and locations, I’d unconsciously recalled elements from both Aesop’s The City Mouse and the Country Mouse and Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.
At first, I laughed long and hard out of sheer shock at the discovery. Then I marveled over how deeply those stories must have been impressed upon my young psyche that their themes would sneak into my writing some forty years later without my even knowing it. It really made me think about where inspiration is found for so many of the “new” stories we see coming out. Aesop’s Fables are timeless. Those stories are still teaching and entertaining children today—and, apparently, inspiring romance novelists. (I’d be willing to bet Aesop never imagined such a thing might happen!) I can’t help wondering if Mr. Twain was inspired, whether consciously or subconsciously, by The City Mouse and the Country Mouse when writing The Prince and the Pauper. Before this eye-opening experience, I’d never connected the two tales, but now they’ll be forever linked in my heart and mind.
The rehashing, rearranging, and combining of stories through the centuries has resulted in a coalescing of certain themes and story elements into what we now commonly refer to as tropes. For the uninitiated, tropes are not to be confused with clichés! While both the trope and the cliché describe what can be considered by many to be familiar or easily recognizable, there is a distinct difference. Tropes are versatile. Clichés are stagnant. When tropes are applied to a character, if written well, the result can be something new and interesting, a well-fleshed personality that leaps from the page or screen to grab and hold attention. When a cliché is applied to a character, what typically results is a flat, predictable character. A trope is capable of generating depth, while a cliché is a surface device. Tropes have the tremendous ability to instantly communicate ideas and create common ground. Even if two people are separated by age, education or any of a plethora of other factors, if both recognize the same trope within a story and are emotionally affected by it, a foundation is laid for a conversation and, potentially, a connection between them.
In my pursuit of writing, I’ve gained a healthy respect for tropes and view them as the MVPs for any writer of fiction. Twist, flip or combine them for endless permutations—it’s always fascinating (and fun!) to see the final product. Recently, I’ve begun exploring foreign fiction, and I’m finding that while certain tropes have overcome cultural barriers (in either direction), many are delightfully new to me. Every time I discover one, it’s like sinking my teeth into a sweet treat! As the world continues to shrink, I’m sure some of these delicious tropes will eventually hitch a ride and become familiar to English-speaking populations. Until then, I feel privileged to have gotten a sneak peek. I have no doubt that over time these “new” tropes will influence my own writing. After all, everything that goes into a writer’s mind eventually percolates through the filter of personal life experience and ends up coming out on the page.
Looking back on my experience crafting Tempting the Vicar and The Devil’s Own, I think I had so much fun writing the love stories of Daniel and Devlin Wayward because I was subconsciously revisiting two tales I dearly loved as a child. Their well-seasoned tropes afforded me an opportunity to “play” again as an adult, taking childlike delight in rearranging them into a new configuration. It’s said that inspiration comes from many places. A lot of times, I find it in history, science, and folklore. Writing the twins’ romances showed me that inspiration born out of something so deep-seeded you don’t even sense its presence or understand it until you’ve already burned up a keyboard getting the idea out can make the experience feel like anything but work. Having made this discovery, I plan to (purposely!) take a long, careful look at my favorite tropes—the old and the new. Perhaps inspiration will strike again and the siren’s call will once more make me spend what should be sleeping hours tapping away at my keyboard. One can but hope!
Liana’s giveaway: A filled floral gift box including a signed book by Liana (Scandal of the Season), a brass-and-wood letter seal kit (filigree heart) complete with colorful sealing wax sticks, melting spoon + candles, sweet lavender hand lotion, a selection of teas, and various other sundries to fill up the corners. U.S. only.