Hey hey! I’m feeling a little bit better, so let’s talk tropes.
“Trope” of late, has become a bit of a bad word when talking about stories, and I want to take a closer look at them… because I don’t think they’re all that bad. It’s possible they’re simply misunderstood.
What is a trope, anyway?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary (my big, hardback version) defines TROPE as: “a word or expression used in a figurative sense.” Other online dictionaries define it as, “Any literary device or figure of speech.” Or, “a storytelling shorthand that the audience will recognize and understand instantly.”
In effect, a trope is nothing more than a literary device used to make a story relatable or feel familiar. This is not a bad thing.
Fantasy is full of tropes.
Chosen Ones (particularly chosen ORPHANS), Evil empires ruled by the evilest of all evil villains, magical weapons that hold the key to everything needed to save the world (or destroy it), ancient mentors who are cryptic and extremely powerful, rag tag groups of random individuals who barely get along but must go on a quest to save the world and eventually become the best of friends, princesses in distress, enormous and terrifying monsters, hero discovering that he or she is actually RELATED to the evilest of all evil villains… and the list goes on.
And I would argue that they are, to a certain degree, necessary. Due to the massive and extensive world-building that goes into a creating a fantasy world, there is a certain amount of “anchoring” that is important to helping readers identify how this new world and the characters within are relatable to them.
There is little use in attempting to get away from tropes. Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” And that was written quite a while ago. In addition to this, I’m going to pull from some of my English classes the information that there are only 7 types of conflict available in any given story: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Fate, Man vs. Machine, Man vs. Supernatural… and it becomes apparent fairly quickly that a certain amount of the familiar or “trope-ish” is going to be a necessary part of any story.
Where tropes fall apart is when they become cliches. It is important to remember when writing fantasy, that if you are going to use a trope, you should try to think of something fresh and new you can bring to the table. What can you do with that trope or storyline to make it more relatable to your audience, while also putting a different spin on it? You can spend your life trying to come up with “one original thought” like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, or you can work with the tools at your disposal and come up with something familiar, but ultimately, uniquely YOURS.