Something within me has always objected to using tropes. It seems so hackneyed. So been there, done that – by everyone and their second cousin once removed. And yet… I suppose there’s something to be said for using tropes.
Technically, a trope is “any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times.” It’s a cliché. It’s a stereotype. It’s a standard, well-used plot.
So, why would we—creative, unique, individualistic authors—want to get anywhere near a trope?
First of all, they’re an easy starting point for your plotting. Yes, others have used all of the tropes you can possibly think of—that’s why they’re tropes. On the other hand, there’s no reason why you can take a well-loved trope and turn it on its head: a male Cinderella, a reverse harem (although that has also been done to death), Cyrano being the jock instead of the bookworm. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t subvert the trope, twist, and bend it to your own will. It just gives you a starting point for your own creativity.
Secondly, an advantage to using a trope, even in it’s purest form, is that readers will know what to expect from your book if your plot follows a trope. Strangely enough, some readers like that. My own favorite author, Georgette Heyer, was accused of writing the same book many times but with different characters. Did that mean that people didn’t buy them everything she wrote and gobble them up like the sweetest pastry? Absolutely not! Millions of people did (and still do!). We like reading tropes. We like the familiarity of them.
We also like the surprise of a different twist that we weren’t expecting.
For every genre, there are different tropes. Bookbub has a great article on the books that started different mystery tropes. Allthetropes.org has no less than 78 different types of mystery/thriller tropes! Of course, I write romance so I looked to see how many there were in that genre – ha! I couldn’t even begin to count! Mindy Klasky (whose books are an auto-buy for me) has a good, manageable list on her blog.
There are two different types of tropes—plot tropes and character tropes. Plot tropes are like the ones I mentioned above. They dictate the general plot of a story. Character tropes are the stereotypes of different characters—the rake, the sweet innocent, the spunky go-getter, the billionaire, etc. Mixing and matching, blending tropes, and swapping out different types of characters are a fun way to get creative with these.
When I first started plotting my Ladies’ Wagering Whist Society series, I started with character tropes: the adventurer, the bluestocking, the plain-spoken older woman, etc., and from there, based on the character, I chose a foil (hero) and built the plot. Now that I’m about to embark on writing the last book of that series, my mind is turning to what I’m going to write next. This time, I’m starting with the plot tropes: enemies to lovers, forced to marry, jilted bride, mistaken identity, etc. I then decided to center the series around the signs of the Zodiac and matched those to the plot tropes. It was a fun puzzle to put together. I now sit here with a very rough plotline and the character types for each of twelve books. I’ve got one character and her development to tie all the books together. As I sit down to write each book, I’ll plot it out in more detail and decide on how the over-arching protagonist will fit into the book and how she’ll develop through a story where she is not the main character.
This, for me, is the most fun part of being an author—plotting, creating characters, and blending them together in a way that is mostly new but also something with which my readers are familiar. This is where my creativity comes alive—and yours can too!
Are you a Regency author looking for a good list of tropes? I’ve put one together here!