Plotting Along: How Hard Can I Trope?

A trope is traditionally defined in literature as a figure of speech used for artistic effect. It is a kind of shorthand way of explaining or identifying something else – this is true of pop culture as well. Often, when we say “trope” we mean an oft-used concept, image, or idea. Popular ones include the Damsel in Distress trope, the Evil Twin trope, and the Attractive Good Guys/Ugly Bad Guys trope. In those cases, we are talking about painfully overused plot devices, gimmicks, characters, or resolutions to conflicts.

There are plenty of “tropes” out there that might be overused but, perhaps, they are popular for good reason – they work. If they can be tools to tell a good story, why should they be frowned upon so hard? Well, they can lead to some watered-down, half-hearted storytelling if the writer isn’t careful. As a jumping-off point, however, a story trope can be a handy tool to get started with. But they key here is, if you are starting out with an overly-familiar trope or concept, you had better be putting a unique and exciting twist on that starting point.

My worry is that my manuscript (soon-to-be premiere novel, I hope!) is so trope-heavy that it can work for it or totally against it. There’s an aspect of familiarity and cheesiness that I’m aiming for and I know I’m walking a fine, fine line between original success and tragically uninteresting failure. I wish I knew how to define that line, but I believe I’m safely away from it! Early beta reader response is that the manuscript is darkly funny and fast-paced enough to keep readers turning pages. That sounds like a potential success so far!

What’s my secret? Hard to say. I’ve taken some tropes (demon hunter, beauty and the beast, plucky sidekick, etc) but done everything in my author-ly power to make them interesting, different, and my own. The demon hunter works with a partner who happens to be a hellhound. The girl and the demon are NOT romantically involved (a BIG risk). The plucky sidekick actually saves the day twice.

I suppose, if there is a secret to be identified, it is that I like to turn tropes on their head a little. There’s no sense in telling the same story the same way more than once – find a new angle, a different narrator, an unusual setting! There are tons of ways to take the toolbox that tropes have to give us and to turn the, as writers, into much more interesting possibilities.


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