Sunday, May 12, 2013

I Aint Afraid of No Tropes

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations.

This is a blog post about starting to come to terms with what works when building a story. It is also a post about humbling yourself to the tried and true.

When I was studying for my MFA my professors were very clear that "TROPES" though they didn't call them that at the time, were evil. They called them cliches. The girl falling for her best friend's brother. The crotchety old man who finds a heart of gold. The fish out of water story.

My professors taught me that you didn't want your readers to have preconceived notions about your work. You didn't want to be "stuck in a box".

I was learning to write literary fiction, which while I love it, is many times all about the words and language and NOT about the story. Usually the story comes from character and not from the plot.

My first book came out a year ago and when I conceived of it, it came from character. I had a story about a teenage girl with self-esteem issues and a smart mouth that I wanted to tell. I didn't understand when I was plotting it that there were things that could help me. Road-maps well worn and used by authors for years and years, instead I pulled the whole story from one idea.

A girl in the "wrong crowd" gets arrested in Prom Night. 

From this incident the conflict and plot was built.
But, it took me forever because I was building something from scratch rather than using scaffolding that could have been provided to me.

My professors had told me NOT to use this scaffolding because it was cliche. It was OVERDONE. It was not "real" writing. Tropes were what people who were lazy used.

I believed this for years and years.

Then I got published.

Being published is amazing, but it also means you need to write faster. MUCH FASTER. You need to build stories that work and make sense within months, not years, so you can keep your readers and audience engaged.

Tropes are helping me do this.

In my experience writing three books and more than halfway into my fourth, I have learned that tropes are beautiful things. They are the skeleton, the trail of bread crumbs to building your story.

They wouldn't be tropes if they didn't "work". If they weren't stories that already had beginning, middles and ends.

Finally coming to this realization, my stories are coming much easier, because I am not afraid to pull from the ideas that people recognize. I am not afraid to use what is provided to write stories that people want to read.

What are your thoughts on tropes?


  1. I got "in trouble" for tropes too, but I like 'em! ;)

    Good post!

  2. I agree! Tropes became tropes for a reason. They resonate with people. I'm all for trying to break new ground and keep it fresh, but I also find, at times, that a story that I can predict is a comfortable security blanket (with warm oatmeal cookies and cold milk on the side). There's a place for that in the wide world of literature, and people sure as hell need it sometimes.

    Why do we love derivative works so much? Look at the success of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (and every other P&P retelling for that matter). We all knew exactly where it was going and a lot of the how. And there we all were on the edge of our seats every Monday and Thursday just the same. :-)

    Security blanket. Cookies. Milk.