Tropes: They aren’t bad!

trope; plural noun: tropes
  1. a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
    • a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.

As writers we often try to shy away from things that may be seen as trope or even as cliches. They feel predictable and commonplace and as creatives we aim to create original content. Right? So we steer as far away from “once upon a time” and “damsel in distress” as we do from “wicked step-mother” and “mad scientist”. We don’t want to be accused of recycling the ideas or concepts of another (perhaps better) writer. But I have to ask you, are tropes really all that bad?

Tropes are tools of writing which we are programmed to recognize and utilize in our earliest days. As children we are taught to seek out the patterns in the world, and literature is no different. Through these patterns, we are taught the morals in our childhood stories and as adults we examine the cultural norms engrained in various forms of literature. Without these tropes, we would find it difficult to delve more deeply into how cultures differ around the world.

So, how do we use them?

I’ll be honest, tropes are found all over the place in my bookshelves and also my writing. I will gladly digest a well written “love against all odds” story because it makes you believe in love and hope and togetherness. That damsel in distress? Bring it on!  The love triangle, mad scientist, chosen one, dystopian fantasy? YES PLEASE!


Keep the characters flawed. Beautifully and deeply flawed. I want raw and real. People are good-hearted and they want to help and save others in the real world. We want to believe in love and hope. We want to be rescued sometimes and others, we want to do battle for the ones we love and overcome the evils of the world. And yet, we say the wrong things, we push the wrong buttons and we fall on our faces more often than not. And love can still win.

A light hand is often better. A touch of trope, if you will. If your main plot is a trope in and of itself, maybe dial back on the characters and make them something anti-trope (which can be a trope as well if you aren’t careful). Write the trope, then undo it by removing the cliche things about it, leaving you with the bare bones and a nod to the trope.

Maybe, the damsel in distress isn’t a damsel but a knight in shining armor and the damsel has to rescue him? Or maybe the dragon guarding the tower isn’t keeping a princess in as prisoner but is protecting the world from her because of the terror she will unleash upon the world. You get the idea.

Tropes and cliches are familiar, they allow the story to move forward with more “show me,  don’t tell me” from the writer. There are aspects which are then “common knowledge” within the world-building or character profile which no longer have to be explained or outlined for the reader. Tropes allow the writer to guide the reader throughout the story.

Embrace the tropes! Use them as a tool and do not be so hung up on avoiding them that you end up creating a new one!

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wander often for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee



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