Give me a genre, I'll raise you a trope

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Rich.

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From lexico.com...

trope
NOUN
1 A figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
‘both clothes and illness became tropes for new attitudes toward the self’
‘my sense that philosophy has become barren is a recurrent trope of modern philosophy’
‘perhaps it is a mistake to use tropes and parallels in this eminently unpoetic age’
1.1 A significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
‘she uses the Eucharist as a pictorial trope’


Genres are defined by their tropes. The crabby detective with a drink problem and a failed marriage, the farm boy who's really a king, the wronged woman who needs to break out of her shell, these are instantly recognizable characters to readers of hard-boiled thrillers, heroic fantasy, and traditional romance. Tropes are great, the best ones being comfort blankets, cookies, or well-worn sweaters. We love a good trope. They are signposts, shorthand, and mirrors that reflect our world view.

But we also love it when the tropes are subverted, when they're turned on their heads and a story surprises.

I write fantasy, and I'm in my forties, which means Tolkien still looms large in my consciousness, along with Ursula K le Guin. Between them, more than half a century ago, they explored good vs evil, and some would say, myself included, that they did it pretty exhaustively, at least as far as the twentieth century was concerned. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings shows that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, while le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea explores the choices we make between the good and evil that exists inside us all, and how those choices are affected by the kind of person we want to be.

And then George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire came along and painted everyone in shades of grey. Everyone is the hero of their own personal narrative, especially now in our highly individualized times.

And more recently authors like VE Schwab in her Shades of Magic series and NK Jemisin in her Broken Earth trilogy showed us networked worlds, dependent, flawed, and greater than the sum of their parts – a twenty-first century viewpoint if ever there was one. These stories still contain recognizable tropes like the ubiquitous fantasy favourite, the chosen one, but the chosen ones are often not at the forefront of the narrative, and even when they are, they're not always the protagonist.

Genres evolve when their tropes evolve. And when they don't, they die out. Westerns, anyone?

What tropes define the genres you write? The genres you love? And what are your favourite subversions?
 
A great thread @Rich.

Storywriting is hidebound with tropes and advice such as The Seven Basic Plots and The Rule of Three, let alone Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. A newbie writer thinking that they're going to take flight to soar wild and free soon has their wings clipped when confronted with these writing rules.

You mentioned the common characteristics of a fictional detective, which have become a tiresome cliché to me, so I decided to subvert things by making my Cornish Detective clean living. He doesn't smoke or gamble and rarely drinks alcohol. For the first four books, he was a grieving widower without a love or sex life. I ran the risk of making him boring, so I added weirdness, in that he rides a ten-foot-long chopper motorcycle, is into meditation, painting and listening to all genres of music + he's cultivating a wild garden. A farmer's son, in tune with the countryside, he notices clues that help him solve cases. Until he fell in love in Book 5, he shared his life with a feral tabby cat. A millionaire from inheritances, he cares little about money, as he's left-wing or Green in thinking. In this way, I hope I've created a 21st-century detective. One who'll appeal to little old ladies (Crime's main readers), hippies, environmentalists, cat lovers and bikers!
 
A worthy discussion :) I'm nearly in my 50s and I've binged on many a trope, so much so, when I see one subverted I really remember it. Gone are the days of vanilla David Eddings The Belgarath and The Mallorean series (though I enjoyed them at the time). But even back then, I feel Stephen Donaldson in his Thomas Covenant series subverted tropes (it's been a long time, so forgive me if I'm wrong). But the one I enjoyed the most was How to Train a Dragon. It felt like everything that could be subverted was. It's quite the inspiration.
 
It's a fine balance to achieve as a genre-writer: the tropes that signify the genre without making consumers yawn because they've read it all before.

I've recently enjoyed The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It's a homage to the classic early 20th century whodunnits, but with the country house full of posh people with possible motives for murder trope subverted: think of the hybrid offspring of Agatha Christie and David Mitchell.
 
In the context of this discussion, a cliché is a trope that's become boring due to overuse.

The point at which that happens is hugely subjective of course, but I'm sure a decent study could draw a line between falling sales and stagnant tropes. [Again, I point to exhibit A, The Western.]
 
Yeah, that works. And I think Kate hit the nail on the head...
It's a fine balance to achieve as a genre-writer: the tropes that signify the genre without making consumers yawn because they've read it all before
If you're a genre writer, you need to use appropriate tropes so that what you're writing is in fact that genre. But you don't want to be boring. And if you're really, really good, you'll cross genre boundaries and be shelved in multiple sections of the bookshop.

All except mainstream realist fiction, which isn't a genre and doesn't rely on tropes (or so we're told by the more snooty critics. Ahem.)
 
My favourite trope-breaking is (and I'm almost embarrassed to say it), Disney's Frozen, where 'true love's kiss' is the kiss of her sister. Brilliant! And I think it was especially memorable precisely because Disney has a long history of overusing tropes to the point of cliche.
 
My favourite trope-breaking is (and I'm almost embarrassed to say it), Disney's Frozen, where 'true love's kiss' is the kiss of her sister. Brilliant! And I think it was especially memorable precisely because Disney has a long history of overusing tropes to the point of cliche.
Nothing to be ashamed of, I agree too. Frozen is the Disney film that subverted a number of Disney's own tropes (as well as others beloved of the sanitised fairy tale genre).

In fact, my favourite Disney (or Disney/Pixar) movies tend to be those that subvert tropes. Brave and Moana both do a decent job in that department, too.
 
All except mainstream realist fiction, which isn't a genre and doesn't rely on tropes (or so we're told by the more snooty critics. Ahem.)

Oh my GOODNESS. The tropes of "literary" fiction:

The "interesting" middle aged man (professor of literature/history/philosophy) who needs to abuse his position of power, commit infidelity and sleep with his students to "find himself" because he's too "interesting" to stay married to a woman his age

Writers whose main character is a writer because that's all they know

Characters who never seem to worry about money or having a job and can spend all their time obsessing over relationships (and of course they live in a lovely house somewhere lovely like Chelsea)

I could go on...
 
In the context of this discussion, a cliché is a trope that's become boring due to overuse.

The point at which that happens is hugely subjective of course, but I'm sure a decent study could draw a line between falling sales and stagnant tropes. [Again, I point to exhibit A, The Western.]
There is still a relatively big market for westerns, and quite a few writers who do them. I'd like to do an Australian western, but the 'rules' of the genre is that it's American. What do I call my version of the same trope?
 
The issue that's missing here is the way genre defines what is expected of a trope within the confines of that genre. I see genre as what the reader wants and expects from a story and outline the main moments/beats of the story to fit those expectations. Not as things that happen, not events, but the emotional highs expected. A romance should have the main beats be highly emotional moments at the main beats. My suspense stories should hit the main beats with the reader's heart beating and their eyes darting around the dark corners of the room.
A good detective story should have the high points where s/he finds something that forces the next decision.
And the best stories I've read are the ones that aren't polarised into good vs evil, but the choice of which good in this situation is the best for the needs/resolution of this character in this story.
To create memorable characters - what I've seen above described as a trope within genre - is a necessary requirement of all stories. What is it readers recall of a story? The plot? The setting? No, it's always the characters. Not always the main character, sometimes it's a secondary character or a character from a subplot.
Don't trope/cliche the characters, is what I say. Find a way to remake the expectations of the character who lives within this genre, make the reader remember who they are, what they do, and why. Let us feel who they are within the expectations of the genre's emotional effect.
Well, that's my view, anyway.
 
Great thread! I can't add anything as my brain hurts, but, @Paul Whybrow :
so I added weirdness, in that he rides a ten-foot-long chopper motorcycle, is into meditation, painting and listening to all genres of music + he's cultivating a wild garden. A farmer's son, in tune with the countryside, he notices clues that help him solve cases. Until he fell in love in Book 5, he shared his life with a feral tabby cat. A millionaire from inheritances, he cares little about money, as he's left-wing or Green in thinking. In this way, I hope I've created a 21st-century detective.
Sadly, you aren't writing a True Story, because I'd be looking for his Tinder profile. After all, really, I tick all the boxes (bar the biker bit, but I'd work on that):
One who'll appeal to little old ladies (Crime's main readers), hippies, environmentalists, cat lovers and bikers!
(The husband and legion of children might make things difficult, but hey. I could also work on that.)

No, it's always the characters. Not always the main character, sometimes it's a secondary character or a character from a subplot.
Don't trope/cliche the characters, is what I say. Find a way to remake the expectations of the character who lives within this genre, make the reader remember who they are, what they do, and why. Let us feel who they are within the expectations of the genre's emotional effect.
Yes (brain can't cope with expanding further)
And YES:
I've nothing against romances, but there's so much more to say about women's lives!
women's fiction that isn't about the fact they're women. More that they're just people.
Okay, off to bed to rest head (not alcohol-induced, I promise). Great post :)
 
One way to subvert the modern detective stereotype is to set a story in times before guns and pervasive technology. The novel I praised elsewhere The Wolf and the Watchman is set in 18th-century Stockholm and features two unusual sleuths who are attempting to catch the murderer of an anonymous woman. One is a one-armed night watchman, the other is a tubercular lawyer. Another good example is Ellis Peter's Cadfael, a 12th-century monk who has experience of a secular life from being a soldier before joining the brotherhood but is largely immune to temptation.

When it comes to Westerns, I've written two novellas in an Eastern series whose main character is a traumatised Union Cavalry officer travelling to Georgia through the Appalachian mountains in the era of Reconstruction after the American Civil War. There's not a cowboy in sight, though there are lots of horses and guns!

What about Cormac McCarthy's Westerns? They're literature, miles away from pulp fiction Westerns. Having said that, there's been a resurgence of interest in the work of Louis L'Amour, a sign of the times perhaps, in which readers yearn to set things to rights in a corrupt age.

Louis L’Amour and the Legend of the West
 
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