Genre fiction is all about tropes. Characters, inciting incidents, antagonists, and plots that get used over and over again, with wildly different results.
In some literary circles, tropes are looked down on. That’s silly sauce (and hubris). The trope is why we bought the book. We want the trope. Why?
We want to feel a certain way, and tropes make sure we get it. Oh those clever tropes….
Cold cases & missing persons in crime fiction.
Interstellar travel & ‘The Other is just like Us’ in scifi.
Evil cabal, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios in thrillers.
Enemies-to-lovers & best-friends-little-sister in romance.
(*Not an exhaustive sampling. In fact, it’s insanely inexhaustive.)
And of course, at the end, the story gives an answer to all these trope questions—Yes, they find the killer/criminal. They stop the evil cabal. They find their Happily Ever After.
You’d think after all these years—like, thousands of them—it’d be hard to keep writing new stories. Yet authors do it.
How do you write a story based on a trope, with a predefined outcome, that still surprises & delights?
You tap into an essential human experience using the trope as a vehicle.
We readers pick up certain books because they promise certain emotions.
We want to experience intense emotions that we might not (aka: do not) seek out in regular life, but they’re experiences we’ve all had anyhow.
Heartbreak. Crushing disappointment. Being bested by a more powerful adversary/obstacle, be it an opposing Little League team or a government. Unfair odds. Being left out. Hope…and hopelessness. Shame. Guilt. Hate. Love. Fear.
We’ve all been there.
But in real life, those emotions and situations don’t always work out, do they? The heart stays broken. The unfairness remains. The unbelonging continues. The bad guy wins.
In genre fiction...it always works out.
Check out some of your favorite books. What did they make you feel while reading? Have you ever felt that emotion or experienced that type of situation in your own life? The most powerful stories are powerful because they resonate at the deepest levels of human experience.
But in fiction, the good guy wins.
Humans need that. Sometimes, we just need to triumph.
So writers, go do your genre proud.
Put your heroes & heroines in really tough situations, force them to experience intense levels of the same core emotions your readers have felt at some point in their lives. That you have felt.
Then work it all out.
That’s our gift to our readers. It’s hope when things seem dark. Breathing room when the world is crushing our soul. It’s life. Our life.
And you can make it all work out for us, if only for a few hours.
USA Today bestselling author Kris Kennedy writes historical & contemporary romance & runs Romance Writing Lab. She does story consults & developmental editing, & has a free newsletter with writing tips and tricks for romance writers!
Find her website HERE.
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Readers: If you ever have questions for authors–want to know where we get our ideas, how we craft our heroes, what’s the hardest part of writing, what foods we like to raid from the fridge?–ask away! We’ll have Writing Life columns to answer any & all questions. Just post in the comment thread below.