They get a lot of hate, but at the end of the day, they are nothing else, but tools. You know what I am talking about. Tropes.
“A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for the artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative work.”
I want here to talk about the least. I want about those clichés, which are so often labeled as overused and bland.
Understanding the tropes allows the writer to use them to get control over audience expectations.
We all are human beings, we all seek for patterns in our daily lives and in the stories which are presented to us. We are frantically searching for a „language”, that tells us what we are looking at. Exactly here come the tropes in the game. The tropes tell us what should stay on the bank and what should come in to play. They are familiar to us and make easier for us to understand the story and the direction in which the story goes.
Pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from stimulus with information retrieved from memory.
It occurs when the received information enters the short-term memory and cause activation of a specific content of the long-term memory. An example is the learning of alphabet in order or counting to ten. When we repeat one, two, three to a child after a while when we say one, two, the child says three. The process of pattern recognition matches the received information with those, which are stored in our brain.
In the evolution, this process helped us to survive by identifying the danger and is still active today.
What did it mean?
By reading a book or watching a movie, we have our expectations based on our memories. We saw this type of movie before and we met this kind of the character. We are familiar with this and we are much easier to dive into the story.
According to the book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker, there are no more than seven basic plots in the world there are recycled again and again.
The though, that the literature is repetitive is nothing new in the world. You can see it even here on medium. You can find a topic and you would find a plenty of articles, some of them match the others more some less. Even those I wrote about writing. You can dive in different genres in fiction and after a while, you would find some clichés that repeat themselves again and again. That’s not bad, not immediately. The using of the tropes does not make your story suck.
Every story is influenced by that what came before. Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle was by creating Sherlock Holmes by Edgar Alan Poe and his short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. That does not mean that Sherlock Holmes is bad. Do you agree?
It is the way we work with those tropes what makes the difference.
In many fantasy novels, you got those main characters, the chosen ones, which don’t want to be the hero and often is done pretty poorly. But you also have Harry Potter and it works. You have Bobby Ewing coming from the shower in it was all a Dream twist, but you have, also the spinning top in Inception. (I know there are many theories to that, but you got my point.)
It is your job to get your own spin on the trope to make it exciting.
The fact that tropes are not necessarily bad and that they work on your audience is one side of the coin. But there is the other side. The dangerous side.
First, there are some tropes and archetypes that are not just suitable as they ware in the past. Like the pathetic princess waiting for the rescue or the women that love the brutal bully and want to change him, despite the domestic abuse. We are in the 21 century now. Write a strong women character, give her flesh and bones even when she’s broken or abused.
Also don´t overuse the tropes in your piece, unless you trying to make a Michael Bay movie. There can be too much of everything. Even action, sex or twists. Use the tropes more like spices in your soup.
And just because it is realistic it does not mean it is good. It should not be necessary real, it has to be believable.
Writing is much like alchemy, people are searching for the recipe for the gold. But the process of searching includes often try and error and mixture of ingredients.