Guest Post: My Favorite Tropes to Subvert by N.S. Dolkart


N S Dolkart, otherwise known as Noah, was home-schooled until high school by his Israeli father and American mother, and is a graduate of the notorious Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He studied creative writing and Jewish studies there.

By day, he leads activities in a non-profit nursing home, where he also trains fellow staff in caring for dementia patients. He writes his tales of magic and Godhood late at night, and doesn’t sleep much.

Silent Hall is his first novel.

You can find Noah online at his website:, and on Twitter @N_S_Dolkart.

My Favorite Tropes to Subvert

by N.S. Dolkart

When you’re writing a sword-and-sorcery or epic fantasy, you’ve always got to pick which tropes to lean on and which to subvert. If you don’t subvert any of them, the story might still be fun, but it’ll be pretty mediocre art. Conversely, if you subvert all the tropes, the story may become great satire, but it won’t be much of a story. Nobody likes box-checking. We want a compelling narrative, dammit!

So I thought I’d share the tropes that I most enjoy subverting, in the hopes that others will choose totally different ones and stay off my turf (kidding! Go ahead and play with my toys – I’m good at sharing). And so, without further ado, I present to you exhibit A:


The Fatherless Hero

Strider. Taran Wanderer. Jon Snow. Rey. A hero of unknown origins who rises to the challenge of the times and saves the world(s). This character is usually a Hidden Heir, as Diana Wynne Jones put it in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland. They have a past Shrouded in Mystery. I don’t need to tell you how popular this trope is. When I was a young teen, one of my friends sent me the first chapter of a novel she was writing, and I wrote back to ask, “Her father is the king, right?”

Oh man, fantasy is full of these Hidden Heirs. If you don’t know who a main character’s parents are, chances are they’re Someone Important. Even in the case of Lloyd Alexander’s Taran, for whom the question of his father’s identity turns out to be unanswerable, it is in fact the very mysteriousness of his origins that proves he has a great destiny. I won’t embarrass my friend whose main character was secretly a princess (my own first attempts at novels were dreadful), but you can be sure that if a trope appears in a 12-year-old’s story, it’s probably horrendously overused.

So what have I done with this trope? I’m glad you asked. Okay, you didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure you were impatient for me to get there anyway.

In Silent Hall, one of my characters is introduced in a chapter that’s from his mother’s perspective, where we know for a fact who his father is. But he’s a terrible, abusive father, so the son decides that this man isn’t his real father, and goes on a quest to discover his “true” origins. It may be obvious to literally everyone around him that the abusive man really is his dad, but the son’s rejection of him is so complete that a prophecy refers to him as “He who was fatherless.” (Oh yes, a prophecy. See below for my take on those.)

Nor is he the only one whose unknown parentage turns out to be underwhelming. Another character with a mysterious past also turns out to have had a really crappy father, who abandoned her in the woods at a young age like Hansel and Gretel.

The three remaining main characters know exactly who their parents are, and have fairly ordinary relationships with them.

But needless to say, all five characters have a Great Destiny.


The Long Courtship

A boy and a girl, forced to quest together for the good of the many. Maybe they start out hating each other, because how else would we know they had sexual tension going on? Or maybe they love each other desperately, but can never be together because PLOT. Either way, the courtship is bound to last for three or more books, because obviously nobody cares about them once they’re in a functioning relationship.

This is the opposite of the way I write. When my characters go a-courting, they’re generally in a hurry. In my first complete novel, still unpublished, the leading gent didn’t even meet the leading lady until two thirds of the way through the book, and a couple of chapters later, BAM. Shotgun wedding. (Or is it called a crossbow wedding in a fantasy setting?) All the development of the relationship was left for the post-marriage second book.

In Silent Hall, things move even faster. There is a single scene of sexual tension before a couple starts making out, and it’s a very short ride from there to overenthusiastic commitment. My characters are all teenagers with no adult chaperone – or, at least, no adult chaperone who cares about their sex lives. Who’s gonna tell them to slow down?

As far as I’m concerned, all the really interesting parts of a relationship – all the parts that are real characterization gold – happen after a commitment has already been made. I’m not saying it has to be a lifelong commitment, but it has to be a commitment. Maybe I’m weird, but I’m not really into the whole will-they-or-won’t-they thing. Most of the time, if I get to a will-they-or-won’t-they couple, my answer is that they won’t.

I’m sure this all has to do with my own experiences in love. My first relationship started when a girl started kissing me, almost out of the blue. My second relationship started with strong sexual tension that went into total remission for two years before coming back with a vengeance. After that, things happened fast. Did I mention I got married at 21? Funny thing, but somehow the relationship hasn’t gotten any less interesting to me now that the will-they-or-won’t-they question has been answered.


The Ancient Prophecy

Ah yes, the ancient prophecy. So cryptic that the characters basically ignore it, yet so obviously about them that ignoring it seems kind of…stupid? To be fair, sometimes it’s only obvious that a prophecy is about the main characters because they are the main characters, and as a reader you figure that the author wouldn’t throw in a random prophecy just to throw you off. Even so, prophecies are usually ignored until after they’ve happened, at which point they’re useless.

Not so in Silent Hall. The prophecy may be cryptic, but my characters have enough information to figure out that it’s describing them, and knowing that changes the dynamic between them. Even as they struggle to understand what the verses predict, the existence of the prophecy and the language it uses to describe them are enough to affect their behavior.

What’s more, prophecies don’t always come true, and my characters know it. In the world of the Godserfs, a prophecy is no better than an I.O.U. from one of the many gods that struggle against each other. If a god is defeated, its prophecies may as well be empty boasts. I won’t tell you which, but at least one prophecy does turn out to be wrong. When there’s a prophet on every street corner, some of them are bound to be wrong.


This is, of course, a very incomplete list of tropes that I like to subvert. There are even a couple big ones that I haven’t mentioned because I don’t want to give too many spoilers. So if you want to see more, you’ll have to buy the book!

◊  ◊  ◊

*** Silent Hall is published by Angry Robot Books and is available to purchase TODAY!!!! ****

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Buy the Book:

Amazon | Barnes & NobelGoodreads | Kobo

About the Book:

Five bedraggled refugees and a sinister wizard awaken a dragon and defy the gods.

After their homeland is struck with a deadly plague, five refugees cross the continent searching for answers. Instead they find Psander, a wizard whose fortress is invisible to the gods, and who is willing to sacrifice anything – and anyone – to keep the knowledge of the wizards safe.

With Psander as their patron, the refugees cross the mountains, brave the territory of their sworn enemies, confront a hostile ocean and even traverse the world of the fairies in search of magic powerful enough to save themselves – and Psander’s library – from the wrath of the gods.

All they need to do is to rescue an imprisoned dragon and unleash a primordial monster upon the world.

How hard could it be?


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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: My Favorite Tropes to Subvert by N.S. Dolkart

  1. I’ve had my eye on Silent Hall! Too much to fit into my spring/summer reading schedule at the moment though, so I’m hoping I’ll have some time later to give it a read.


  2. @lynnsbooks says:

    Ditto Mogsy’s comments – I saw this one and thought it looked and sounded excellent but I was a bit overburdened so decided I needed to rein things in and catch up a bit!
    Lynn 😀


  3. […] Source: Guest Post: My Favorite Tropes to Subvert by N.S. Dolkart […]


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