What is a ‘trope’ and what is the difference between that and a cliché?
Let me tell you a secret. I had been writing for years before I even heard the word ‘trope’ to describe something to do with novel-writing. After that, I went on writing for some time without ever really knowing just what was meant by that word – trope – what was it and why were people talking about it?
Then, after a very unpleasant experience when someone tried to accuse me of stealing her ideas and writing them in my own novel, I had a quick and sharp lesson in what tropes actually were and, thank goodness, at the time, in the strong opinion of the judge in the case the fact that you can’t ever really steal those ideas – the ones that make up the trope – because they are tried and tested, frequently used – sometimes over used - themes and devices they go into popular stories. The important word here is ‘popular’.
So what is a trope?
It’s a popular theme/ story often used and reused in writing romance or any other sort of poplar genre writing. If you look up the word ‘trope’ in a dictionary, you’ll get a definition that goes something like this:
A common or overused theme or device : cliché
Now it’s well known that it’s really just about impossible to write a truly original story in any of the popular genres – and specially in the romance genre. You can only hope to create your own slant on a tried and tested story, write in your own individual voice and tell a story that has been told before - probably hundreds of times – in your own way. That is what will make it ‘original’, mean that you are writing a popular ‘trope ‘ and not repeating an over-used, worn out cliché that has been repeated too often.
The important thing is that these tropes are repeated again and again, they are so hugely popular because readers love them. Readers love them and so want more of them.
· Reunited lovers
· Runaway bride / groom
· Second chances
· Secret baby
· Secret marriage
· Stranded / snowbound
· Make-over story
· Marriage of convenience
More of the SAME
But not THE SAME (exactly)
That way they become cliché
Thinking about popular and successful ‘tropes’ can help you find ideas, bring you inspiration for a them to work on if you want to write a new story – but you don’t want to just repeat the same thing over and over again. What you need to do is to look at the themes that are so very very popular - secret baby, marriage of convenience, revenge are ideas that spring to mind because they are used and rewritten so often.
As a writer, what you need to think about is the all-important WHY.
Why do readers love them? What does this theme give the reader when she’s involved in your story.
You also need to think about your own favourites. Which ones do you love? Hate?
So you need to take the popular trope and work it, give it a different twist. Is it the hero or the heroine who insists on the marriage of convenience? Who wants revenge and why? What happened between the hero and heroine that resulted in that ‘secret baby’?
Turn it into – not necessarily something amazingly new but YOUR storyYou want to make sure that you don’t just to REPEAT - making it a cliché.
A CLICHÉ is a trope repeated EXACTLY
No new element
No new voice
No new TWIST
No new CHARACTERS
A TROPE is a storyline readers recognise - one that at its best is familiar but different. You can repeat the theme/that trope but you want to make sure that the reader wants to read YOUR story. Not that she just wants to go back and re-read all the previous, older versions of that same theme.
What makes the difference – giving your story a new spin?
THE REASON WHY
As a wise editor once said, you need to know why a trope works, why it is so popular, why it works so well- before you try to twist it and create a new slant, a new spin on a traditional story. After all, Cinderella or Pride and Prejudice are themes that are repeated in romances over and over again – but with that different twist that makes them see m new and fresh.
So you need to look at the tropes that are repeated over and over again because there are the ones that the readers love and that they look for more of even if they’ve read something similar maybe many times before. You need to understand why they work so well, what are the elements that the readers find in them that they want more of - mystery, secrets, emotion, tension . . .
When you know what readers want then you’ll find it so much easier to write a story that gives them those elements – but you give it to them by telling the story in your own individual way and that will make sure you are giving them a well-loved trope and not an over-worn and boring cliché
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