Writing with Tropes: Helpful or Harmful?
Tropes (frequently found and explored at TVTropes.com, are the building blocks of pop culture stories. They’re the stereotypes all your favorite characters were based on, the layout behind the settings, and the twists you love to surprise you. There's a trope for almost any character you can imagine, in any genre, describing any circumstance. Fans love using tropes to analyze and better understand their favorite stories. Some writers like tropes as well, using them as a simple blueprint to create better stories faster. Other writers, not so much. After all, aren't troops basically stereotypes, and isn't that the last thing you want to write?
If you're still typing away at your WIP, you might be curious to take a look at tropes and what they have to offer. Here's a low-down.
Tropes: The Upside
First of all, tropes are tried-and-true. They're all based on characters and stories that are already widely popular and have proven to be successful with audiences worldwide. It's hard to go wrong with that. Knowing your tropes will also help you connect your stories with other bestsellers and popular fan bases that already exist. You'll understand the connections and how they work, and this can make it a lot easier to form a bond with readers. This isn't to mention how easy tropes can make it understand the stories that you're writing and know how to pitch them when the time comes to publish.
Popular tropes might include an otherwise strong character's inability to accept criticism, neighbors who turn out to be spies, or even your main character showing up to a gala in a little black dress. If you spent any time browsing popular tropes for your genre, you'll find endless opportunities to tie your work in with all-time classics. You might also find tropes that you've already added to your story without realizing it, or you might uncover key details that would make your story more interesting. It's an easy setup that promises a lot of success. Unfortunately, there's also a price to pay.
Tropes: The Downside
A lot of writers these days actually hate tropes, and there's good reason for that. Tropes are some of the easiest ways to make your writing cheap and formulaic. They eat away at your originality, making your book indistinguishable from the legions of cheap fanfiction already out there. Ultimately, you can't be original if you rely entirely on tropes to tell your story. On top of that, a lot of the fun of writing is taken out if you rely on pre-made characters and cut-out plots. You won't break new ground this way, and if you're trying to stand out from the masses, good luck. You're going to have a hard time with that.
It's also frustrating to view characters that you've poured a lot of time into melted into simple stereotypes, and the intricacies of a well-done plot won't trade well with a basic recipe. Writers who value their creativity usually have a very hard time working with tropes, period. And if you really want to be the best out there, it's better if you leave tropes alone.
Tropes are helpful tools if you need a quick boost for your writing, but don't get carried away. If you think that your writing could benefit from throwing in and taking advantage of a few well-known tropes, especially if you write in a popular genre that has a lot of high expectations set on it by readers, checking out the tropes associated with that genre can be a good idea. But don't confine yourself to tropes if you don't already like the idea. Your writing will ultimately be stronger if it stands on its own and if you have the time, patience, and creativity to detail your own work.