Any well-read consumer of fiction is aware of the plethora of tropes these stories contain. There’s “enemies to lovers” and the “chosen one” and the “villain-turned-hero,” just to name a few of my personal favorites. Even though tropes are present in essentially every book, movie, or TV show out there, many people still think of tropes as a barrier to good storytelling rather than a tool.
Including tropes in your work isn’t always a bad thing.
Yes, tropes are familiar, but that doesn’t necessarily make them cliche. After all, the reason tropes become so familiar in the first place is because they’re popular with readers. For example, although many people are sick and tired of seeing the “chosen one” trope and crave something more original, this trope was able to gain traction because readers felt that they could identify with a character who lived an ordinary life but was suddenly thrust into greatness. Readers liked being able to imagine that something similar could happen to them, and writers took note of the popularity of these stories.
Recently, I took a fiction workshop at my university. During this workshop, one of my classmates wrote a short story about a teenage vampire. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “been there, done that.” However, I was really impressed by how my classmate was able to use the trope of vampire stories and turn it into something fresh.
Embrace the trope. In the universe my classmate created, Twilight and other such vampire stories existed, so by embracing the history of the trope, she allowed the main character’s experience as a vampire to be compared to these stories, and she was even able to poke fun at some of the hallmarks of the genre.
Subvert the trope. My classmate also took cliches from vampire stories, such as that vampires always wear dark clothing or that vampires can never go out in the sun, and put her own twist on them to make her story stand out from those that had come before it. In her story, vampires wore white clothing because black attracts sunlight, and there was a special antidote that allowed vampires to walk in the sunlight without being harmed.
Have fun with the trope. The reason my classmate’s story was so effective was because she loved vampire stories and was able to use her love and understanding of the trope to create an exciting spin on it. If you’re looking to include tropes in your writing, start with tropes you like to read about. Tropes are done best when the author is passionate about them.