Writing Tips: Tropes
Tropes have a bad reputation. But what can you do to make your work less 'tropey'? Here are just a few of my thoughts on tropes, their good points and their bad points.
1. Read widely in your genre. You can’t avoid tropes without first knowing what they are. Look for patterns in novels, TV and films. A lot of the same tropes appear across all media and many genres, but there are some that are exclusive to one or two. Identify those that seem relevant to the story you want to tell and pay attention to those ones. This means reading a lot and picking up on the common characters, relationships, and plot devices that present themselves.
2. Realise that tropes aren’t always a bad thing. There are narrative devices that aid in telling a story. It helps to identify what exactly the trope is there to accomplish. Does it do it well? Could the story have worked if it were removed or if it played out in a different way? Tropes can often work, but too many of them popping up in similar ways can make it feel like you’re reading a novel written by-the-numbers. A level of familiarity can be positive, but predictability is less desirable.
3. Consciously subvert tropes. By taking a common trope and deliberately reworking it, you can create something fresh and engaging. You can do this by using a few simple methods, e.g. gender-flipping a character. For example, the wise mentor character in the mould of Dumbledore and Obi-Wan, can be made fresher and less obvious by simply changing details of the character rather eschewing their role completely. Or you can entirely deny a trope. The Hate Turns to Love trope can be predictable, so make it less so by removing the romantic element and making it a close platonic relationship instead.
4. Recognise that not all tropes are created equal. Character-based tropes tend to be the most boring and those are primarily the ones I would avoid. Others however, can have their time and place. Part of the challenge of them comes with identifying where a trope can work well within the context of the rest of the narrative. In short, some tropes will seem more trope-y than others. Choose wisely and if in doubt, ask someone who is perhaps more familiar with that particular trope than you.
5. Know that nobody is immune to tropes. Nobody. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can just sometimes make a good story a little predictable. Read your own writing with an open mind and a level of humility. Finding tropes in your writing isn’t a sign of failure. It’s an opportunity to learn and to develop your skills.