Tropes sometimes get a bad rap. People think they’re overused, uncreative, etc. While these accusations can be true, tropes are more often a positive thing that benefit both readers and writers. Why? Let’s get into it.
What is a trope?
Before we dive into why tropes are important, we need to define what we mean when we say trope.
From Dictionary.com: A trope is “a recurring theme or motif, as in literature or art; a convention or device that establishes a predictable or stereotypical representation of a character, setting, or scenario in a creative work.”
There are tropes that appear in multiple genres, and there are tropes that are more common in specific genres.
Examples of more general tropes:
Damsel in distress
The chosen one
Good vs. evil
Examples of more genre specific tropes:
Romance: fake dating, enemies to lovers, second chance, one bed
Fantasy: secret heir to the throne, dark wizard/warlock, reluctant hero, quest plot
Sci-fi: space travel, time travel, alternate universe, evil AI, sentient spaceships
Horror: summoning evil, cursed artifacts, mysterious neighbors, creepy houses
How can tropes benefit readers?
In a previous blog post, we looked at why reader expectations are so important. Basically, readers gravitate toward things that are familiar: covers, blurbs, settings, character types, etc. Readers like to see similar things over and over again as long as they’re not exactly the same.
Do you see how tropes fit in there? Things that are familiar.
Readers often look for stories that include their favorite tropes because they know they’ll like these stories. It’s the same way genres work; readers often devour tons of books in the same genre because they like that genre.
Tropes can provide comfort, and seeing how your favorite author twists a trope can be delightful. Once readers know what they like, it’s easy to name that trope and then look for stories that are similar. This is why sites like BookRiot have lists such as “15 of the Best Enemies-to-Lovers Books.”
Which brings us to…
How tropes can benefit writers.
If you know what readers like, it’s easier to write stories that appeal to them. This helps with both writing and marketing processes.
When you’re writing your book, tropes give you a structure to follow. For example, if you’re writing fantasy and you like the quest trope, you’ve got an already-established structure to work with as you write. Or say you’re writing a romance, and you like the grumpy/sunshine trope. Your familiarity with that trope gives you established character types to use as your foundation.
Combining tropes can also help with the writing process. If you’re writing sci-fi, for example, and you know you want a quest story in space with a sentient spaceship, you’ve already got a structure, a character base, and a potential point of conflict to play with.
Tropes give you a framework to follow, even if you choose to veer off track somewhere. They give you a solid starting point.
Tropes also make marketing easier because you don’t have to think as much about how to package and advertise your book.
When it comes to your book cover, look at other books in your genre and the cover tropes for them. For example, urban fantasy stories often have a person on the cover with magic swirling around them. Another example: billionaire fantasy books often have a hot guy in a suit on the cover. Once you know your trope, it’s easier to know the types of book covers that appeal to your readers.
The same goes for book blurbs. How are the blurbs written for books in your genre that use similar tropes? To take this even further, you can list your book tropes in your selling paragraph so readers know exactly what they’re getting.
Let’s look at the selling paragraph for my debut novel: “A Tale of Two Florists is the first title in the Juniper Creek Golden Years queer contemporary romance series. If you like golden-years enemies-to-lovers romance and enchanting small towns, you’ll fall in love with this playful, lighthearted romp through Juniper Creek with Minnie and Eleanor.”
The paragraph clearly indicates the genre, and there are three tropes listed there to show readers exactly what they’re getting: golden years, enemies to lovers, and small towns. If readers like those things, they’ll be sold. And I didn’t have to work very hard to convince them because I used my tropes.
This applies to other forms of advertising as well. Have you seen those posts that list a book’s tropes around them? Those are so popular because they show exactly what the book is about in an easy-to-understand graphic.
Tropes also take away the pain of finding the right categories and keywords for your book. If you know the tropes, you know exactly where to put your book in online stores and exactly what keywords your target readers will look for.
Sidenote: I highly recommend using Publisher Rocket to find the best categories and keywords for your stories.
Ultimately, tropes are a tool to help readers find books they like, and to help you build up your author career. Embrace them to make your writing and marketing life easier.