On Tropes

Ah, tropes. The building blocks of all the stories ever crafted.

What’s a trope? Well, those themes and elements we find over and over in novels, movies, games, series. For example, a princess with a mean stepmother. A cop who joined the force because their father was killed in the line of duty. A fairy tale set in a forest. A prince hidden in obscurity, unaware that he’s the heir to the throne. A superhero who grew up without knowing their parents.

As authors, we all know nothing is unique anymore. At least, I really hope we all know this. 😛 Nothing we come up with is new. Literally–in the old sense of the word–everything has been done before.

Those things that have been done before are all tropes.

We can predict what we’ll love by the tropes present in the stories we consume. Certain genres feature specific tropes–mysteries have their own list of tropes, as do speculative works, as do all of the sub-genres. You know if something is steampunk or paranormal romance or horror just by the elements present in the story. Which means tropes are all the more important to those of us who tell stories, because the tropes we use will connect us with the readers we want to reach.

I’ve been thinking about this topic since it was a theme on the Fantasy February Challenge on Instagram. Which tropes do I live for, and which ones annoy me endlessly? And how do the tropes I love differ from the tropes my closest book-peeps love?

I shared these two short lists on my Instagram this week.

There are so many more elements in stories that pull me deeper into the tale than the few on the list. I could try to mention them all, but I think we’d be here forever. And I’d still forget some. Besides, there are very specific things I like too, tropes for which I don’t even know the name.

Example–I really love it when one character always calls another by something other than their name. These characters may be in love or not, I don’t really care about that, but there will be a pivotal moment when the nickname user suddenly bellows out the other one’s real name for the first time. Something about this trope makes me very happy.

On the flip-side are those tropes that immediately annoy us. I used to hate all love triangles to the extent that I’d stop reading a book if it featured one. I’ve since mellowed on this topic, though I still cringe when the beautiful teenage heroine can fire that bow like a bad-arse, slay all the monsters, make impossible split-second decisions, but for the life of her can’t choose between Joe and his brother. These days, intricate love triangles intrigue me. More so if the main ship manages to stay true to each other (nobody likes a cheater).

There’s this writing advice floating around on the internet that we must avoid tropes at all costs. Not only do I think this is impossible, but it’s not very solid advice. As I said above somewhere, specific tropes attract specific readers. They find books based on what they know they like, so attempting to cut out tropes might cost us readers.

We need tropes. I think we just need to find ways to breathe new life into the ones we love. As long as something is delivered in an interesting way, is well-written, readers will enjoy reading about it. No matter how cliché it is.

Do you agree?



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