Understanding genre tropes and how to use them is one of the secrets to great storytelling.
As lovers of fiction, we naturally pick up on them without even realizing it but taking the time to study them and use them more intentionally will elevate your writing even further. They’ll help you set up and fulfill reader expectations, as well as make it easier to market your book to the right audience.
Here’s what you need to know about genre tropes: what tropes are, why they’re important, and how you can use them to strengthen your writing.
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All About Genre Tropes
Myth: trope is another word for ‘cliche’
It’s a common misconception for tropes to be considered synonymous with clichés. However, they’re two entirely different things.
Tropes are recurring themes, plot devices, and elements that are common but beloved in a particular genre, such as the “forbidden lovers” or “chosen one” trope.
A cliché is something so overused that it’s become predictable and stripped of its impact, such as a one-dimensional villain whose only trait is being evil.
One is something people actively seek out in fiction because they love it, while the other is something they want to avoid because it leads to unsatisfying, hollow stories. Of course, a trope can also be told in a lazy, cliché manner, so the key is to deliver them in a fresh, creative way.
Why readers fall in love with genres
When we fall in love with a particular genre, it’s because we love the elements that are present within that genre. Genre exists to help us find more of the types of stories that we are craving. The things we love about that genre are the genre tropes and conventions.
Even the most unique, creatively constructed stories usually stay true to the core conventions of their genres. If you set out to break every convention of every genre, it will be hard for your book to find an audience.
This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice originality or creativity; quite the contrary. It’s about understanding why these conventions are beloved and then getting creative in how you use them.
Creating something original
Developing familiarity with the genre and its conventions, expectations, and tropes gives you the power to craft stories that simultaneously satisfy and surprise readers.
Pablo Picasso said it best:
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ─ Pablo Picasso
When you know the elements that readers want to see, you can use them to create a strong foundation and then put your own clever twist on them or even subvert expectations.
Tropes give you the power to work from a foundation that resonates with readers while offering something fresh and creative. You don’t need to ignore conventions altogether in order to be unique; it’s much more powerful to take a trope that people look forward to and serve it up in a new, unexpected way.
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is a great example of how you can mix multiple genres (romance, fantasy, and historical) and put a unique twist on them while still staying true to core conventions that are loved within each genre.
Studying genre tropes
Knowing what the tropes are, as well as the ins and outs of them, will give you more tools to pull from in your writing arsenal.
A quick Google search of “[genre] tropes” will provide you with multiple lists from various sources. I recommend checking out at least a handful of them because some lists will be more robust than others and include more obscure tropes.
Then, do your own research by looking at your favorite works. What are your favorite and least favorite tropes? If you’re new to the concept of tropes, you may not have realized that there’s a name for these recurring themes and storylines that you’re always drawn to. Study some of your favorite books, movies, and TV series and identify the tropes used in each of them.
Then, once you’ve identified the recurring tropes, ask yourself why you like and dislike these particular tropes. What is it that draws you to them? Similarly, what turns you off about the tropes you dislike?
Using tropes in your marketing
Knowing the names of the tropes present in your books is great for keywording when you’re marketing your books. Not only will they help with your SEO, but many readers actively seek out books that feature their favorite tropes, so if they see that yours features one or more of them, there’s a greater chance they’ll want to check it out.
In fact, in the romance genre, authors commonly put the trope right in the title of the book to help readers find it. For example, Title: An Enemies to Lovers Romance.
Clearly communicating the tropes that are present in your story is a great way to express what readers can expect from your book and can help you get it into the hands of the right audience.