Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tropes Make Your Writing Easier, But Not Easy: Part Two

To clarify, in this series we will deal with character tropes only. There are also novel writing tropes that I may or may not take on in future. Tropes like flashbacks, describing the protag as he looks at himself in the mirror, starting the novel describing the weather, starting the novel with a dream sequence, or ending the novel with “it was all a dream” are often written.

Yeah, there are those and more, but we’re not doing tropes like that. Just characters.

And, I also want to clarify the intent is to avoid the devolution of tropes into clich├ęs. Tropes are not in and of themselves bad. Writers know that character types exist in readers’ minds and that they have expectations for a character like that.

It’s not using tropes that is the problem. The problem is how the trope is executed. Truly, there are only so many unique story plots and characters. The gazillions of characters we read are variations on a theme. Characters who are multi-faceted and complex are the ones we remember, even if the character is the evil step-sister trope.

And that’s not all bad. As I said in my earlier post in this series, tropes act as a shorthand for readers. Tropes allow you to tell more about your character than you have to actually state. And for minor characters, that may be good enough. The problem is the devolution to stereotype for major characters. A character should be more than the trope. You shouldn’t automatically describe your character as a recognizable trope because the character is more than those elements.

So how do you switch it up?

I made a starter kit Tropes Table taking on the stereotype of the trope and breaking the mold. Tropes are predictable so you have to avoid devolution to the stereotype and head to evolution in character development. In the comments, add some of your own suggestions so we all learn from one another!


Common Trope
Character Definition
Switch It Up
Strong Woman
This character deals with it all and lives to tell about it. She might be temporarily defeated, but the reader knows she will triumph.
Give her not just the obvious flaw that novel conventions require, but give her a hidden flaw that is stronger and drives her actions and reactions.
Knight in Shining Armor
He’s the guy who saves the day. Everyone counts on the Knight. And he never disappoints.
Make the “Knight in Shining Armor” a gal who is saved by a man.  
Damsel in Distress
She’s the one who is in over her head and can’t see a way out. She has to rely on others for her salvation.
Make the “Damsel in Distress” a guy who is saved by a woman.
Mentally or Physically Challenged
The trope for this one is the character overcomes the challenge or accepts that he/she has one and adapts and is happy and is an inspiration.
Let your character fail to overcome the challenge and remain bitter to the end. This works best for a minor character, but it can be used for a major one. However, out of bitterness might come a lesson for another character.
Woman Who Needs a Man
She defines herself by her relationship with the male in her life--or the male she is looking to include in her life. She is bland, characterless until the man gives her a sense of worth.
Lots of badly written chick lit and romance use this trope. It’s been done in good stories to show her without a man and realizing she is more than she thought she was. Self-love and self-respect make her more interesting.
Almost always the one with the gag lines, the comic relief to the straight-man protag. The character has odd quirks that make him/her hard to take, but the MC is besties with and defends the sidekick. The two complement one another.
Make the sidekick the straight-man and give the funny one-liners to the MC. Make the sidekick a strong, distinctive personality, enough so you could do a spin-off book based on the sidekick as MC.
The genius character who is misunderstood and underloved because social ineptness hides his/her shining light.
Let the nerd find a way to demonstrate a different persona. He/she might take improv classes and become life of the party for a specific time. Or the nerd might be pretending to be a nerd to hide his/her actual evil character.
“Bad Boy”
He rides a motorcycle, smokes, wears leather, and treats women like crap. The worse he treats them, the more women seek him out. They are attracted to a man they want to “save”.
How did your “bad boy” come up with that persona, because it is an acquired one. Take away the props and what’s left? What if the “bad boy” were female?
Boy/Girl Next Door
The idealized, small town, last century version of 1950s TV is what the boy/girl next door celebrates. Honorable, caring, dependable & smart enough without being a genius.
The perfect babysitter is discovered to be torturing children in her care. The captain of the football team is taking drugs. Against smoking and drinking, the girl next door sells meth to kids.

These are just a few tropes and how to change them in your novel. What have you done to switch up your tropes?

By the way, have you seen my new website, Sharon Arthur Moore-Author? It’s still under construction, but it looks a heckuva lot better than the old one! Drop by and let me know what you think.

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