First of all, before we get into why I love tropes, we should probably define what a trope is, exactly. When it comes to literature, a trope is something that’s common or reoccurring that happens a lot in stories, so much that it becomes known as A Thing.
Different genres often utilize different tropes. For example some popular Fantasy tropes are The Chosen One, The Dark Lord, and Quests. The Reluctant Hero might be popular in Fantasy but it’s also used a lot in Westerns, and Science Fiction and all kinds of other stories. You also have really specific tropes like some Romance tropes–Enemies to Lovers is a bit broader but There is Only One Bed is a pretty specific trope.
A lot of tropes go back a loooong ways–even stories from a couple thousand years ago have things you might recognize from stories written today. If you break stories down to their basic things you can find these commonalities within them.
Sometimes in a review I might refer to something as ‘trope-y’ or maybe even ‘trope-tastic’ and that usually means it is utilizing a lot of common tropes. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing though! Tropes can be fun! Sometimes people complain if something relies on tropes too much, but like any thing in writing a trope can be a great thing or a bad thing–it all depends on how it’s used within the larger story. A story can still feel fresh even if it’s using an ‘overused’ trope.
One of the reasons I love Tropes is that they can be good shorthand for something in a book I might like or dislike. For instance, outside of Fantasy I read a lot of Romance. (Well, even within Fantasy I read a lot of stories that have romance in them…) Like I said earlier, Romance tropes can get super specific! If someone tells me a story has Enemies to Lovers, I am going to be alllll over that. Fake Relationship (aka Fake Dating), Forbidden Love, Marriage of Convenience–I love all of these. If I know a story has one of the above then I might be more inclined to check it out. You may be looking for that sense of familiarity in a story and knowing it employs certain tropes can help with that.
Conversely, there’s a thing called ‘inverting tropes’ and this is employing the opposite of a trope, or doing what’s not expected. I’ll give you an example of a book that does both of these really well! Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis employs tropes in both familiar and unexpected ways. This book has a lovely Second Chance Romance in it with everything you’d expect along with that. However, in her world the gender roles are not the same as our own. So even though it’s a sort of Regency period equivalent, having it be an alternate history lets her play with the idea of gender and what our expectations are for men and women. In a typical historical romance you’re dealing with a man compromising a woman and the woman being ruined while men get none of the blame in the situation. Here, all of that is reversed. So the power dynamics in the relationship are opposite from what they normally are, but it’s still very much a Second Chance Romance. I love the way this works out here! Tropes can be fun for the expected, but also when they’re utilized to do something completely opposite from what you’re used to!
One of my favorite tropes in Fantasy is the Ban on Magic trope. This is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s when magic is banned. Usually stories like this will be about showing how magic can be a good thing and that just because something can do harm doesn’t mean it’s all bad? But also it could be about other things too. Sometimes there’s just a partial ban on certain kinds of magic and sometimes it’s all magic. Having a trope like this can create some conflict right off the bat if our characters get involved in something that’s forbidden!
Anyway, that’s not to say that all tropes are amazing. Just because I love tropes in general doesn’t mean there aren’t a few that could probably do with being retired. But that’s a whole other discussion. 😉 Do you like tropes? What are some of your favorites? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to chat!