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March #InkRipples: Tropes Are All In The Execution

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on March 8, 2017 in Books, Creativity, Ink Ripples, Writing |

Join Kai Strand, Mary Waibel, and Katie L. Carroll (that’s me!) for March #InkRipples, which is all about tropes.

Love ’em or hate ’em, tropes are an integral part of storytelling. Even if you’ve never heard the word before, you’re sure to have come across them in books, movies, or television as they are a useful and ubiquitous part of storytelling. For my intents and purposes, here is a link to a good definition of trope (though there are other meanings to the word, this is the definition I’m working with here). If you know the saying about there not being any new stories to tell, only new ways to tell them, this is largely referring tropes.

Some common ones include love triangles, the chosen one, star-crossed lovers, good vs. evil, and instalove. You can get really specific when it comes to tropes, but these are very common ones you’ll see all the time. They are definitely eye-roll inducing when they are super obvious, but I would argue that it’s almost impossible to avoid them in storytelling. There really are only so many basic stories out there to tell.

For me, it’s all about the execution. Think about Harry Potter. On a really basic level, it’s a chosen-one story, which has been done a million times before. So what about the Harry Potter books makes them so special? It’s the way they are told, it’s the characters, it’s the details, it’s the magic (both literal and figurative). All those things elevate it beyond the trope and make it unique. The Harry Potter stories are a chosen-one story, but they are a chosen-one story as only J.K. Rowling could have told it.

Which brings me to another saying we have in writing…write the story only you can tell. It doesn’t so much matter if at its surface, it’s a story we’ve all heard before, it’s about the way you tell it. And you are the only one who can tell that particular story. Tropes exist because they help inform a reader (or watcher, etc…) about what to expect in a story. Use that to subvert those expectations; or take that trope and add a unique bend to it; or embrace the tried-and-true aspects of the trope but use beautiful, lyrical language in doing so.

#InkRipples is a monthly meme created by Katie L. Carroll, Mary Waibel, and Kai Strand. We pick a topic (March is all about tropes), drop a ripple in the inkwell (i.e. write about it on our blogs), and see where the conversation goes. We’d love to have you join in the conversation on your own blogs or on your social media page. Full details and each month’s topic can be found on my #InkRipples page.

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14 Comments

  • Mirka Breen says:

    In a way– all the stories have been told, and it’s all about variations on the themes. Once in a very blue-almost-purple-moon a true original shows up. I suspect most true originals get shoved back into drawers because they garner only rejections. We don’t quite know what to do with them.

    • And because virtually all stories have been told, I think that’s why I enjoy playing around with form because that can bring a different angle to an old story. And I love reading stories that play with form as well.

  • Dianna Gunn says:

    Very true, especially with certain tropes like the Wise Old Mentor–in many stories it’s difficult to avoid having this character altogether, but what you do with them is the important thing.

  • I totally agree: tropes are nearly unavoidable, but they can still be fun, and they are all about how you play with them 🙂 Great post!

  • ccinmfd says:

    Well, I can’t believe that all stories have been told. Maybe all trope-types have been used in story telling. But certainly the story of Trump has many unwritten, horrific chapters to come. Just sayin’.

    • Looking at the tropes of the Trump story, I’d say it started out as an anti-hero type story (at least for those who voted for him). And now, well, it’s more of a classic good vs. evil trope we’re dealing with. So the details of this particular real-life and terrifying story have yet to be told, but the tropes are tried and true.

  • Kai says:

    Your post is so much more eloquent than mine. I absolutely agree that if you tell more than one story tropes are unavoidable. They are also a great way to help you shape a story you want to tell. I’ll have to mark this post down to an A- because it’s late. Oh wait. A+! We don’t have a strict schedule for #InkRipples!

  • Beverly says:

    When I first saw the word tropes, I had no idea what it was. I know, where have I been? In another world, it would seem. Anyhow, I’m so glad I now have a name to call things I’ve been doing. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Great post. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • I actually looked up tropes when I saw it was going to be an #InkRipples topic. I wanted to make sure I actually knew what I was talking about when it came time write the post. I think it’s something we’re all mostly familiar with, even if we don’t know what to call it.

  • Sometimes I think we get afraid of tropes and having them in our writing, but they are a useful tool to tell a story. Like anything with writing, they can be done horribly and wonderfully, but even that may be subjective.

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