The Same…But Different: Tropes
Tropes are everywhere in genre fiction. They fuel romances, thrillers, scifis, and mysteries. How does this fuel keep working, year after year? How can the same general storyline captivate readers over and over again?
There’s Nothing New…And There’s A Reason For That
First, let’s be honest, there’s nothing new under the sun. All the plots have been done. All the character arcs have been written. And yet, fiction—in books & movies–can still knock us back on our heels, startle us with how the message is delivered, take us on a roller coaster of emotions, and cause us to look at ourselves & the world in new ways. How do they do this??
We readers come for the emotions those tropes promise. 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. We want to feel tense about certain things (Will they fall in love? Will they catch the bad guys?) We want to feel deeply satisfied when those things are resolved. We want the journey to cover certain parameters–of plot and character. We want a certain vibe, and we want a transformation.
Tropes make sure we get all that. Oh those clever tropes….
So how do the great books, the ones readers adore, stand out? How can the same trope, delivering the same emotions, still surprise & delight?
Turn A Trope On Its Head
One way is to turn the trope on its head.
Switch something about the characters—the evil cabal is run by a woman, not a man. The wallflower who captures society’s biggest catch? It’s a man.
Or play with the setting—the evil cabal is in a broken-down warehouse, led by an army of the undead. As a for instance…. (and yes, I want to write that now.)
Borrow tropes from another genre and carry them to yours. Infuse a scifi “it’s all the Twilight Zone” trope into your romance. Add a little ‘enemies-to-lovers’ to your cold case procedural. Mash-ups can be a lot of fun!
Another thing to do is add layers of good-bad to the thing the character(s) are pursing, i.e. the MacGuffin or the story goal. Make the seemingly-obvious Good Thing embedded in the trope have a layer of bad, or have it cause (perhaps unintended) negative consequences the character didn’t see/admit at first. Having characters have to change their beliefs will power up any trope.
Author Jami Gold has some great suggestions on twisting tropes to power up your story. https://jamigold.com/2019/02/story-tropes-how-do-we-twist-a-cliche/ Check out the comment thread too!
And have fun in there! Our readers certainly will.