A literary trope in a story is like a cliché with impunity. It’s a recognizable convention, but if the author knows what to do, it can be used to great effect. Any writer looking for ways to add useful details and situations to a narrative will find tropes helpful. As such, this series of posts analyzes the endless well of information that is TVTropes.org (from a literary perspective).
The Literary Trope: Refuge in Audacity
TV Tropes defines the trope as follows:
Usually, when characters do something illegal or socially unacceptable, they’ll try to be discreet about it, keep their misdeeds small and subtle enough that either no one knows what they’ve done, or no one cares. Sometimes, however, it’s refreshing to see a character do the exact opposite, take their misdeeds so far over-the-top that there’s no way they can’t be noticed, and still get away with it.
The most common use of this trope is the “ridiculous confession” in which the character admits to doing something wrong, but the act of wrongdoing is so bizarre or seemingly out-of-character that the police don’t take it seriously and let the confessed criminal walk free.
But the trope has other variants too: Frodo and Sam dropping the ring in Mount Doom right under Sauron’s nose is a course of action that relies on its audacity to work and to be believable. Another example of the trope in action is the scene in the film adaptation of Fight Club in which the protagonist beats himself up in order to blackmail his employer into paying him for not working (on the basis that if the employer doesn’t, the protagonist will accuse him of inflicting the wounds he actually just inflicted on himself).
In real-life, the man that inspired Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can is a perfect example of why we believe this trope is possible. This trope depends on the “truth is stranger than fiction” principle, which we readily accept as readers because we see it proven time and time again by ludicrous news stories of people getting away with the most unbelievable things.
It follows that when the principle of “truth is stranger than fiction” is used in actual fiction it actually boosts the realism of the larger fiction because it seems so random it’s almost credible.
Why You Need “Refuge in Audacity”
One reason why we need this trope is that it allows our characters to accomplish something that defies logic without us having to come up with a “realistic” explanation for how it was accomplished. For instance, if you want your character to get away with robbing a bank but you don’t want to do all the work of having her learn how to crack safes and perform an armed robbery, this trope allows you to have her simply proclaim herself the bank’s new manager, waltz right into the vault, and walk out with whatever she wants. You can see how this is an enormous time-saver in a narrative. It allows you to gloss over something that would, in reality, be very tricky to explain realistically.
More broadly speaking, we need this trope because it is essentially the backbone of all fantasy. A fantasy author doesn’t spend her entire book justifying the existence of dragons or wizards, she just plops them in her story and knows the reader will accept it. Therefore, fiction is “refuge in audacity” made incarnate.
How to Make Sure this Literary Trope Doesn’t Become a Cliche:
A few guidelines:
1) Try not to use this too much for crime scenes. As you can see from most of the above examples, it’s just too easy and perhaps too overdone.
2) Lampshade it. Consider addressing the trope head-on if you use it. Have a character explain that it’s a cliché and it’s ridiculous course of action.
3) Subvert it. Allow the trope to go awry. Have your character think she can walk right into the bank, pretend to be its new manager, and take the money. But then depict everyone at the bank realizing what she’s trying to do and thinking she must be stupid or insane. That presents opportunity for both humor and original plotting.
What are your favorite “Refuge in Audacity” moments?
- Mr. Exposition
- Cassandra Truth
- Bad Dreams
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations
- As You Know
- Laymen’s Terms
- Even Evil Has Standards
- Iconic Item
- The Unreveal
- Hero Worshipper
- Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything
- Berserk Button
- The Faceless