I read a lot and although I thought I knew tropes, it wasn’t until I fully immersed myself in the writing community that I started to really know tropes. In this blog, I will discuss common tropes in books.
What Is A Trope?
A trope is a theme that is overused in books, movies, TV shows, you get the idea… but for the purpose of this blog we’re concentrating on books. These themes have been written in popular books so many times they’ve become cliché.
What Are Some Common Tropes?
There are many common tropes in literature. These are just a few examples:
Love At First Sight: The protagonist spots the girl/guy of their dreams and fall instantly in love.
The Underdog Wins: Even though the odds aren’t in the protagonist’s/protagonists’ favor they miraculously come out on top.
The Chosen One: There is one person who is destined to save the fate of the world.
Damsel In Distress: The dashing young man must come to the rescue of the helpless female in order to save the day. Then they fall madly in love.
Love Triangle: Both X and Y love Z. Who does Z choose?
The Orphan Protagonist: We instantly feel sorry for the protagonist that doesn’t have parents but it’s overused, and in reality most of us grew up with at least one parent.
Average Girl Gets Hot Guy: The main female character either has some feature that makes her feel not-so-pretty or maybe she’s just extraordinarily average, but despite this she wins over the hot guy.
Hold on! Don’t panic yet if you’ve used one of these tropes in your books. I’m getting to that. Just keep reading.
Tropes Within Genres
Each genre has their own set of tropes. An easy way to figure out if something is a trope within a genre, is to look at the most popular books within that genre. Books such as Harry Potter and Twilight surged the book market with similar themes, and thus created tropes. This is just a small sampling of common tropes within genres I found while researching:
Girl Falls In Love With the Bad Boy
Secretary/Boss Relationship
The Plain Jane Undergoes a Makeover
Forbidden Love
Wealthy Love Interest
Talking To Animals
Magical Objects That Will Save The World
A Dark Lord Who Is All Evil With No Redeeming Qualities
The Wise Old Wizard
Golden-haired Princesses
The Protagonist Must Go On A Quest
The Hybrid Human Half Human and Half Something Else
Superpower Twins
Medieval Europe Folklore Characters And Settings
Science Fiction
Totalitarian Government
Rebellion or Uprising Against Government
Humans “Playing God”
Artificial Intelligence Conquering Humans
Smart/Superior Aliens
The Successful Invention “Eureka” Moment
Haunted Houses
Chic Lit
Surprise Pregnancy
Fashion Obsessions
Significant Birthday Approaching
Fighting With True Love
Good Girl Turns Bad Guy Into Good Guy
DNA Evidence Is Somewhere Nobody Suspected
The Protagonist Bluffs To Lure The Killer Out
The Recluse Is Murdered
Terminally Ill Murderer Or Victim
Revenge Motive
Money Motive
The Deep Dark Secret Motive
Are you hyperventilating yet?
Beginning A Novel
Not only do you have to worry about common themes throughout your novel, but you have to worry about starting the book the wrong way. There are many tropes to avoid when starting your novel:
Waking Up: Your main character wakes up to start the day at the beginning of your book.
Looking In The Mirror: The writer uses the mirror to describe the protagonist.
False Beginnings: The main character wakes up from a dream and the first scene you just read didn’t really happen.
The Introduction: Your protagonist introduces his/herself with “My name is…” and then tells about him/herself.
The Hangover: Your character starts the day with a hangover.
A Battle: In science fiction or fantasy the novel opens with a battle.
Parents Dying Tragically: The parents die is some horrific or accidental way.
New Kid: The new kid enters either school, or some other science fiction fantasy training environment, and describes his/her first day.
The Bully: The story starts by showcasing the protagonist and his/her bully.
Again, we can look within genres and come up with even more tropes. In mysteries/suspense/thrillers starting with a dead body is a trope, in dystopian beginning with the “day of choosing” an awful group/pairing/job is a trope, or in romance a woman waking up to find a strange man in her bed is a trope.
Surely now you’re hyperventilating. Here’s your brown bag.
When Is It Okay To Use Tropes?
As you read this, I’m sure you’re feeling overwhelmed. When I started looking more extensively into tropes, I know I was overwhelmed. I kept thinking, “Wow I’m screwed!” Everything I’ve written at least somewhat tiptoes on the edge of being a trope. This twitter post from a smart editor sums it up:
Writers, do not fret. No idea is a new idea. Take the trope and give it a little twist. Morph it into something completely new. Sometimes the differences are just in the details. It’s possible to write a great story even with tropes. Read this Writer’s Digest article on 10 Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing.
If you’re just starting a book, think how you can twist tropes. Turn the good girl/bad boy trope into frenemies turned lovers, use Asian folklore to create your fantasy world instead of using European folklore, give your protagonist parents and siblings instead of making them an orphan… just be aware that by the time you finish writing it, it may be a trope as well, because the list of tropes is always lengthening.
My writing advice is always going to be this: do your best, be humble and ready to make changes.
Don’t let tropes get you down too much. I feel like every writer who starts delving into tropes ends up a little depressed. Just know you, as the writer, have the power to take a trope and make it into something different or special. Even better, write a book so engaging, we forget about the tropes completely.
Are you breathing again? I hope so.