What is a Trope?
A trope is a symbol or theme in literature that becomes so common that its use is easily recognized across different works. When I told my parents that I was writing a blog post on tropes they both asked me what a trope was. Once I told them, they both said that they knew what it was, but had never heard the name for it. I assume that this is the case for a lot of people. Here is a list of some well-known tropes that I’m sure people are aware of even if they have heard the word “trope” before.
The chosen one
The wise mentor
Enemies to lovers
The secret heir
Not like other girls
Strong female character
Friends to lovers
The evil overlord
So, why do we love tropes so much? This is the question that I asked myself when I began writing this post. For me, an avid reader, I seek out tropes because I love to see certain scenarios play out. Just like choosing to read a book because it falls into a certain genre, I will pick one if I know that it includes a trope that I like.
I think the answer to my question is simple: we seek out certain tropes because they bring us joy. They may seem overused or cliche, but tropes are popular for a reason. Look at the chosen one trope. It has been used in many popular works of literature including the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Percy Jackson series. Yes, it is a common theme, and some may argue that it is overused, but there is a reason that it is so loved! The reader sees a character from humble beginnings grow into a hero that saves the world and feel that, just like their favorite character, they are capable of anything no matter where they came from.
Take the romance genre. Who can resist a story where two childhood best friends realize they want more or sworn enemies realize their room at the inn only has one bed? Maybe after an
argument two lovers have a moment where they run to each other in the rain, after all the heartbreak and confusion the reader gets the satisfaction of finally seeing them together.
Although things like that would most likely never happen in real life, they bring hopeless romantics like me no small amount of joy.
Keeping Tropes Relevant
Recently, tropes have been receiving criticism because of how frequently they are used or because they seem outdated. We have already established that tropes are important. They not only bring us joy but help to establish the genre that we are reading. How can we ensure that tropes stay relevant? What can be done to change how people perceive certain tropes?
Tropes can be reimagined to defy expectations! Use a beloved trope, but surprise readers with how you interpret or portray it. If your writing includes the evil overlord trope maybe the villain lives in an unsuspecting hut instead of an abandoned castle. If your story includes a wise mentor, maybe that character isn’t old or wise and maybe they aren’t a man. Maturity comes with age, but not exclusively. Other attributes can qualify a person to be a mentor.
Think about the strong female character trope, for example. We all love seeing empowered female characters, but a flaw often observed with the trope is that, for the character to be strong, she has to reject her femininity. What if we started writing about empowered female characters who are strong for who they are and not because they are “not like other girls.”
I hope that this blog post has not only been informative but helped to convince you of the importance of tropes. Although sometimes cliche and overused, this does not mean that tropes are pointless or should be phased out completely.
Tropes bring us joy and help to distinguish a story as part of a certain genre. There will always be ways that tropes can be interpreted, changed, and written to continue using them while still making it feel like the reader is getting a new story. We will never run out of ways to reimagine tropes just like writers will never run out of ways to perceive the world and create something powerful from it!
About the Author: Grace Midha is a rising junior at North Carolina State University majoring in English and Political Science. In her free time, she likes to read, write, travel, and spend time with her friends and family. Grace is very excited to be an intern at The Writer’s Workout this summer!