As a writer, we spend days, weeks, maybe months trying to plot out our ideas so they can be shaped into stories and novels. Each time we start a new plot we’re faced with the dreaded concept of tropes. We spend so much time bashing tropes and worrying if our stories fit those terrible, no good tropes.
But tropes aren’t necessarily bad.
What Are Tropes
First we have to break down what a trope is. It isn’t something obvious to everyone and even most of your readers won’t really know what a trope is.
A trope is just a recognizable plot point or theme. For those who don’t know what tropes are, you probably recognize them in films or had to talk about them in school. There they called them just themes or narratives, but in the end they are still tropes.
Why Do We Hate Tropes
The area that we seem to notice tropes the most is within the Young Adult genre. And the reason why we hate tropes so much is a combination of repetition, batch production, and subpar writing. The YA genre specifically feels like its own industry. They pump out hundreds of books in a year and they want to stay profitable.
Publishers continue to use the tropes that sell, to a point that they get worn out. They publish as many as they can to compete in the field, and unfortunately, some of the writing isn’t good. The YA genre isn’t the only one with this issue, but they are the one that’s called out the most. Their readers grow up but still read these coming of age stories. Their tastes grow and change and they notice when tropes are over used.
It’s like the romance genre always getting the bad rap for their manufactured, trope filled works, YA has been getting the same bad rap.
Why Tropes Are Good
With all our hatred of tropes, I think we need to step back and think about the original concept of a trope. It isn’t something that’s supposed to ruin a work, it’s just the theme or plot points we recognize in a work. It makes it easier for readers to know if it’s something they like as they read it, and are great jumping off points.
Tropes are great shortcuts when outlining a novel or short story. If you’re stuck on specific parts of your work, tropes can help inspire you to push through and solve your outline/plotline.
The Elevator Pitch
Have you ever had a friend recommend a book or movie to you by comparing it to other movies or books? Like saying that a movie is a combination of your favorite film and their favorite film, etc. Tropes can help you develop your elevator pitch. I would use this with caution, but it’s a great way to simplify your summary. Don’t use it directly, but use it to ping what important beats are happening in your novel, and then write those beats as your summary.
What To Do With Tropes
Use them as a base, make them better. I wouldn’t worry too much if a trope is over done, just find tropes you like or that fit your story and go. You aren’t going to please everyone, so write what works, but don’t half-ass it. Don’t use the trope as a crutch and do watch out for hated tropes. Are you planning to fridge the wife? Ask yourself why that’s important to the story. Dissecting the tropes in your work can help you create better drafts and ultimately a better story.
Let me know in the comments below what your favorite or least favorite tropes are. Do you have ones in film you like? Are there genres you avoid because of the overuse of specific tropes? I’d love to know.