For the Love of Tropes
Cliché, You Say?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a trope as, “a common or overused device: cliché.” This carries a distinct negative connotation. Why is that? Familiarity doesn’t equate to laziness. I argue it takes talent and imagination to put a unique, entertaining spin on an established literary device. Some readers will seek certain tropes because they will enjoy it.
Avoiding books that contain tropes would be like not ordering a slice of chocolate cake because you’ve had chocolate cake in the past. Since every baker will have their take on the beloved dessert, no two will be exactly alike. Would you never go on another roller coaster because “Ugh, every theme park has roller coasters these days?” No! Of course not. If you love that kind of ride, you will queue up for every variation on that theme.
Jump on In
Tropes are everywhere. Some are specific to certain genres, while others can be adapted to any setting or time. Let’s explore some of the most popular together.
The goofball, who is actually an expert – equipped with a quirky sense of humor, perhaps an eccentric personal style, this character often provides comic relief. The extent of their skills is not on full display until the titular moment, and then they shine.
The last girl – she’s a mainstay of many a horror stories. The last girl uses her wits and sheer grit to survive the slasher, who guts a good portion of the rest of the cast, and does it all while still looking cute. Her secret weapon is catchy one liners.
The tough guy with the soft heart – built like a brick outhouse and trained to take out the enemy 101 different ways, this guy will stop in the middle of a battle to scoop up a frightened kitten or retrieve a child’s lost stuffed animal. His hobbies may include knitting or gardening, and he carries a picture of his mom in his wallet.
The chosen one – perhaps the most well-known of all character tropes, its roots can be traced back to ancient epic tales of the hero’s journey. In modern versions, the chosen one is often reluctant to take up their sword, wand, or bow and arrow, but in the end, they always do.
The mad scientist – they start with good intentions. They want to better the world, or to right a wrong. But the lines of morality get blurry, and the power goes to their head. That, or they lose their sanity in a freak lab accident. Boom! Villain time.
Fridge the girlfriend – this is one cliché that is, thankfully, going out of style. Savvy audiences are tired of seeing violence against women used as a plot device to motivate the hero. It’s time to fridge the fridge.
Fridge the parents – need a character to not have any knowledge of their hidden hereditary abilities or their royal lineage, or just labor under abandonment issues? Make them an orphan!
The underdog/David and Goliath – versatile enough to apply to sports, courtrooms, small town politics, or saving the family farm. This is a popular device.
Locked In – be it a murder mystery on a moving train or a lurking monster picking off tourists at a snowed-in ski resort, this gimmick creates urgency through the basic fear of being trapped.
Found Family – a rag-tag group of misfits somehow falls in together, bicker-like siblings, but they will do anything to protect one another.
The stern, seasoned pro and the fresh rookie – the two clash initially, but they learn to appreciate and respect what each brings to the partnership.
Cinnamon Roll and the Grump – one is all sunshine, and it’s annoying as hell to the jaded grumpy-pants who just wants to be left alone. They grow to love one another. Bonus points are given if the cinnamon roll has a moment where they unleash hell’s fury because someone hurts their grouch.
ALL the Romance tropes – there are SO MANY. I could probably write several articles if I included descriptions of all of them. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most beloved:
- Enemies to lovers.
- Friends to lovers.
- Fake Dating.
- Meet Cute – For example, the couple from 101 Dalmatians.
- They were roommates (*Gasp* OMG They were roommates!)
- There’s only one bed, served with a side of waking up wrapped around one another.
- Love confession because we thought we were dying.
Place your Order!
Just like ice cream flavors, tropes come in countless varieties. It’s nice to have an extensive menu to choose from. Everyone has a few favorites, and some they won’t touch with a ten-foot bookmark. And you know what? That’s completely okay. Bon appétit!