Welcome back everyone! This week we are talking about a lesser known trope called the damsel in distress.
This trope is essentially when a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own; thus needing to be rescued by a male character. Usually said damsel is very beautiful, very naive, and very weak and helpless. She’s usually in said position of imprisonment due to a very wicked villain and must be rescued by a handsome knight (or in some cases, a great green ogre *cough*) in order to gain her freedom and conclude the story. It’s found predominately in the fantasy genre, especially with fairy tales and retellings, though it has managed to sneak into other genres including sci-fi. (Princess Leia *cough cough*) It traces back to the days of knights saving fair ladies and has been carried down through the centuries, perpetrating through much literature and film.
You get the picture, right?
Now, what exactly is wrong with this trope?
The fact that it’s boring.
To quote TVTropes, “a damsel in distress often ends up being more of a plot device than an actual character.” It only really works if the damsel in distress is loved by the audience. Otherwise she’s seen as a whiny little child who can’t solve anything for herself.
So how to pull off a “damsel in distress” in your story?
Make your audience love the character. Either introduce her before the distress happens (think of all the old Disney Princess movies), or use the distress to introduce the character. (Like Princess Leia from Star Wars as I mentioned above.)
Have the damsel in distress be an active character in your story. If it’s only there to make the story more interesting, just cut it. Because it’s boring and no one really cares. If it’s the main part of the plot, on the other hand, then people will like it. (Like the first Shrek movie, though that Princess Fiona is a bit of a paradox in comparison with many damsels in distress.)
There are a ton of options and twists you can put on this trope to prevent it from being boring. For instance, don’t have the princess be a weak person. Give her some character. Or, give her the ability to almost beat the villain before being captured, but something unpredictable happens that overcomes her and she is “put in distress” despite her skills set. These are just some examples out of many that are out there. 🙂
I hope this was helpful!
Next post will actually be a guest blog post talking about romance in fiction and after that I will resume with a post on”The Hero” trope. 🙂
If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the links:
Writing Tropes Part 1: The Wise Old Mentor
Writing Tropes Part 2: The Chosen One
Writing Tropes Part 3: Mary Sues
Song of the week is actually a pop song. (Yes, I know, I rarely listen to pop because I don’t care much for that genre.) But this is by Alessia Cara, whose voice I love because it’s amazing for the hard palate technique of singing. May I present Scars To Your Beautiful! I love this song a lot, probably because it speaks to me–a rare thing for pop music haha–because the words basically talk about how you shouldn’t let the world dictate your self-image and just because you’re different than anyone else doesn’t mean you should change who you are. I don’t know, I just really like it.
Review for this week is actually of a published book that came out last year, The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien – Book Review
I actually got a copy of this book given to me by my piano teacher (long story about that) who’s almost more of a Tolkien fan than I am. (Can you imagine that?!)
Anyway, I’ve wanted to read this ever since I heard it came out, especially since it’s the last book to be published of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. I must say, I have missed reading his stuff. Whenever I’m no longer surrounded by school and unfinished projects, I’m going to take a holiday and read all his books again.
The Fall of Gondolin is a lengthy version of an event that happens in The Silmarillion and is the last momentous event in the First Age of Middle-earth. Indeed, it is the turning point from the First Age to the Second Age. It follows the tale of Tuor, son of Huor and cousin to Túrin Turambar, one of the infamous tragic heroes of The Silmarillion. You get to travel with Tuor as he wanders the length of Beleriand, eventually coming to the Sea where Ulmo (one of the Valar) speaks to him, telling him that he must go to the last elven king, Turgon, and warn him of the danger that will happen to Gondolin, a hidden city whose whereabouts have remained a mystery to Morgoth. Accompanied by one of the Noldor, Voronwë, they trek together across Beleriand before finally arriving at the famous city of Gondolin, the last elven stronghold remaining. When they arrive and succeed in getting past the many gates (thanks to the help of Ulmo), they settle to live there, Tuor marrying Idril, Turgon’s daughter. (Their child was Ëarindel, the father of Lord Elrond in The Lord of the Rings). However, Maeglin, son of the dark elf Ëor, is against Turgon and desires Idril for himself despite the fact they are first cousins. He gets captured and is taken to Morgoth where he is tortured and reveals where Gondolin is, fulfilling the fears of both Tuor and Idril. Long story short, the city is completely destroyed and sacked, and many famous elves, Ecthelion of the Fountian included, die in this tragic battle. Tuor, Idril, their child, (and Voronwë I believe) and several others escape and eventually go west to the Grey Havens and depart for Valinor.
The scope of Middle-earth has always amazed me and in this account of the Fall of Gondolin was no different. I can’t even imagine constructing a world like that and managing to keep everything straight over time. The beauty of Tolkien’s language and prose, as well as his story-line structure, is magnificent. As my teacher said, and I agree with him, the sheer fact that Tolkien spends all this time creating a place that’s not only marvelously hidden and impregnable (surrounded by rings of mountains which are guarded by spells and the Eagles of Thorondor; situated on a plateau in the middle so no one can approach unseen; the city itself guarded by several gates and fortress towers–not to mention several gates in the mountains with only one entrance that are guarded fiercely), but Tolkien manages to destroy the whole thing. You’d think most authors, having put so much time into the creation of such a place, would say that it’s strong enough to hold on its own. Certainly seems that way, right? But no. Tolkien manages to create an epic tragedy by Morgoth finding out about it and eventually sacking and ruining the whole place. It blows my mind.
And some more fun facts.
The swords, Sting, Glamdring, and Orchrist (the swords Bilbo and later Frodo, Gandalf, and Thorin Oakinshield use) were made in Gondolin.
The whole fight scene with the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm in The Lord of the Rings is actually very similar to the Balrog fight scene with Glorfindel in The Fall of Gondolin.
That’s all for now, folks!
Until next time,
4 thoughts on “Writing Tropes Part 4: Damsel in Distress”
I love Scars to Your Beautiful! Great song choice 🙂
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Thanks! I love it even though it’s pop.