Tropes are basically just clichés. They’re the themes, events, scenes, motifs, and other literary devices that you consistently see in creative works.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you should stay away from clichés when you’re writing. You’re thinking you should be unique in your writing if you want it to be any good.
One, you can’t completely avoid tropes. It’s impossible. There are just too many. You literally can’t create a single character that isn’t a trope, and there isn’t a single setting that hasn’t already been used.
And two, you need to get those ideas out of your head right now. Tropes are fantastic. Everyone loves some sort of trope, whether they realize it or not. The question is, which tropes are great, and which tropes are poison?
I’m sorry to say, I can’t answer that question. I can probably tell you what most people like and what most people hate, but at the end of the day, it all depends on what you want to create. Once you know that, everything else comes naturally.
However, what I can do is share with you some of my favorite and least favorite tropes.
Obviously, there are instances where the worst tropes are great and the best tropes are terrible, but those instances are rare. Almost always, my reactions to these tropes are the same. I hate them, or I love them. If you want me to love every second of your story, follow these trope guidelines!
- The Stereotypical Teenage Girl/Guy — In my opinion, stereotypical girls are worse. And I’m not talking about the type of girls from Mean Girls. I’m talking about the characters that act like they have maturity and were obviously written by authors who thought they were awesome, but they aren’t. The main character Cassie in the book The Fifth Wave is this type of character, in my opinion. A lot of people like this person, but I just don’t.
- Satellite Love Interest — Why would you make a character just so that your main character could have some romance? That’s stupid. One, romance isn’t necessary. And two, at least develop the character to some extent! It’s just so pointless!
- The Pity Party — You know the characters I’m talking about. The ones who are always focused on their own problems. Sure, they might say they’re focusing on someone else’s problems, but it always comes back to them. And if they’re always getting kidnapped or knocked out, it’s even worse! Though I love Percy Jackson, Jason Grace is a pretty decent example of this. I don’t hate him, but he is so annoying. Seriously. Get over yourself!
- One Single Among Couples — Why? Why is this a thing? I’m fine if this just so happens to be the reality of the situation, but when you broadcast the fact and make a big deal out of it? Just don’t do it. There are just too many examples for me to identify just one.
- Deus Ex Machina — If you don’t hate this one, something is wrong with you. In real life, problems don’t suddenly solve themselves. They shouldn’t in books, either. It’s annoying and unsatisfying. Don’t do it. Let your characters search for a solution. Don’t just give it to them!
- Misunderstood Loner With a Heart of Gold — Number one example? Nico di Angelo. Enough said.
- Super Best Friends — These are the characters of the same gender that are so close, any separation between them makes you want to cry. They’re always together and have a special relationship that reminds you of an old married couple and super-close siblings, both at the same time. Sadly, you know they’ll never be together because, guess what? They’re both heterosexual. At least, as far as you know. It’s just so perfect, it makes me want to cry every time…
- Indy Ploy — When used right, this can be pretty much he best trope ever. I really don’t like planning ahead too much because it never quite works out. Improvisation usually turns out quite a bit more commical. It’s much more fun to watch characters create a plan on the spot then watch them put one togehter.
- Knight in Sour Armor — These characters are awesome. Basically, they’re not fighting for a better world. They don’t pretend that everything is sunshines and rainbows. They know they live in a dark, stupid world, but they still choose to fight for it. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. They know they won’t make a difference, but that doesn’t matter to them. As long as they’re doing what’s right.
- Protective Sibling — Actually, this one isn’t only for siblings, though it often is. This trope is where you have one character that’s super protective over another. Usually, it’s the older sibling protecting the younger, or the stronger character protecting the weaker, or the more stoic character protecting the more innocent. Whatever it is, it’s super cute and I love it! Best example: Big Hero 6.
- Let the Pain Begin — Maybe I just have an evil mind, but watching my favorite characters get hurt and struggle to survive brings me tremendous glee. There’s a perfect example in the book version of The Scorch Trials, but I won’t say what because it’s a slight spoiler. If you’ve read it… You know what I mean (Wink wink).
Obviously I didn’t include too many tropes. If I had included any more, this would have gone on forever…
If you want to look through the majority of the tropes that exist, tvtropes is the best place to go. It’s basically a giant database of tropes from all forms of media (not just TV, surprisingly enough). You can look for a specific trope or story/media, or the site can find you a random trope or story/media. It’s super fun and super cool, and it can really help develop your story if you find a good trope.
Anyway, I hope this showed you the importance of choosing tropes! They really can make or break a story. Be careful and choose wisely…
But don’t be afraid to test the waters of how far you can go. The best stories are made up of tropes that you usually hate, but somehow became amazing because they were used the right way.
Good luck! May the tropes be ever in your favor…
Picture source: River City Reading