The other day I was looking over a book my dad had been reading. It was a political thriller, so not really my type, but I read the back anyway to see what it was about–a group of evil Russians plotting to attack America and bring democracy down.
My eyelid twitched.
Whether you like it or not, tropes are a part of every story you’ll ever encounter from the mystical fairy girl who shows a bitter young man everything he’s been missing in life to the death of a beloved mentor who taught the protagonist everything she knows. Some are cleverly disguised or are given a fresh twist and others are, well, more of the same, hum-drum material that’s been used over and over again. Actually, I take that back. Not every typical trope is boring or tiresome. Actually, there’s a few that are enjoyable no matter how many times it comes up.
And that’s what brings me here today, to talk about tropes, the good, the bad, and the ones that make you say, “Huh, I never thought of it that way before.”
First off, the tropes I can’t stand. You may disagree with me on this and that’s perfectly fine, but these are the ones that really trigger an eye-roll from me.
As mentioned before, evil Russians. Yes, I know the USA and Russia have a frigid history and there’s still tension there that can make for sturdy plot material. But, it’s not just political stories this stereotype has infiltrated. It’s leaked into nearly every tale involving a Russian character–superhero stories, space stories, stories about schoolchildren going to visit grandma. Whenever a Russian is involved, they’re almost always evil. In fact, when I looked up “trope” in Pixabay while hunting for blog images, the first thing that came up was the USSR flag. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. However, after living in Russia for a number of years and getting to know its deep culture and wonderful people, I just can’t get behind this one. Not every Russian is hell-bent on bringing America down. Actually, many people I met were happy to work quietly in their gardens, hunt for mushrooms, fawn over the community cats, and play soccer with their buddies. I would love to see a Russian character working on the side of the protagonist (or as the protagonist) who’s kindhearted, humble, and a connoisseur of various cuisine.
Another one that really gets to me is the sick or injured hero that just won’t stay in his hospital bed. Like, seriously, this guy has a mega fight that renders him bloody and unconscious, but he still rips out his IVs and leaps back into action like nothing happened. Meanwhile, the doctor is hollering “No, you need to rest! You’re not better yet!” And there’s never any consequence to it! The hero insists, “No, I need to fight!” and his body keeps up with it. Now, adrenaline is an amazing thing, but your body’s going to collapse at sometime. You won’t be saving anyone if your primary functions fail, so just stay in the got-dang bed and get better! I don’t know, maybe this is caused by the therapist in me that’s always screeching at people about self-care. Or, maybe it’s because I’m one to never pass up a sick day.
Lastly, and this is one I’ve only come across in television and movies, but the stressed-out woman who chops her hair off. The only reason this one bugs me is because I had a pixie-cut for a good, couple of years and I can’t tell you how many times I came across comments like, “Must be a rough semester for you, eh?” or “Dang, girl, who did you wrong?” No, sir, I simply happen to like how it looks on me. That is the one, singular reason for my hairstyle and there is nothing more.
Okay, now we’ll get into some tropes I like. These ones are tried and true and, personally, I don’t want to see them take on a new face.
First up is the seemingly sweet, little girl who’s actually maniacal, crass, and borderline psychopathic (think Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers). This character hides behind a facade of cute dresses, pigtails, and stuffed toys, but comes up with plot after plot to get rich or take revenge on her bullies. It’s bonus points from me if she continues to fail in a spectacular manner. However, it can still be thrilling to watch a truly, evil child slowly and strategically destroy all that is good in the world (such as Lilith from Supernatural).
Juxtaposed to this one is the large, menacing brute who’s really a big pile of squishy goo. Every time I think of this trope, Tangled comes to mind. You know, that scene where all those barbarians growl and throw their axes while singing about their fanciful dreams. The guy with the little unicorns gets me every time. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this trope portrayed in books, television, and movies, but it’s always been enjoyable.
The thing about these tropes, I think, is that they started as a fresh twist on a typical character. Innocent, little girls are crawling all over any type of media you can imagine and beastly men are about a dime a dozen. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to change up the personality beneath the outer facade and it stuck. These tropes are about as common as their stereotypical counterparts now, but that doesn’t make me like them any less.
A New Face
Speaking of fresh twists, let’s talk a minute about giving old tropes life again. As I said before, you can’t really get away from storytelling without using a trope of some kind (and if you do, you’re probably a wizard). However, it doesn’t mean you have to use it in the way everyone expects you to. In one of my favorite books, Bloodwalker, the main character is one of those burly teddy bears I adore. However, instead of being a comical bit, he’s serious and cunning, determined to put an end to the gruesome disappearances of local children. See? A fresh twist on a fresh twist.
If you really want to a trope turned on its head, ask Four Season’s very own Rafael Hohmann about his prophetess, Lady Tuliah (no spoilers from me). In the meantime, you can check out the cigarette-smoking fairies in Disenchanted. They’re a far-cry from bibbidy-bobbidy-boo.
What are some tropes you love or despise? What kinds of things would you change up in these tried-and-true plots and characters? Tell us about it in the comment section below.
2 thoughts on “Tropes: Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em”
Tropes I can’t stand: The hero that has tragically dead parents, relatives, or mentors. Let’s see a hero who credits their status to their still living parents, and bonus if they can still go to them for advice!
Tropes I don’t mind: A rag tag bunch of lovable losers that just can’t handle the insurmountable odds against them, but through a series of fortunate events somehow end up successful, usually in a sports adventure. I’m a sucker for that underdog story even if it is predictable.
Tropes I love: The hero is dark, flawed, and genuinely has a struggle with their flaws, especially if those inner demons are of their own making (Iron Man’s struggle with PTSD and alcoholism, or Ender Wiggins coming to terms with the genocide he committed under the guise of a video game). Character defining traits like those above are often borderline cliche tropes, but if these are done well (Batman, you fail here), I love the extra dimensions that flawed characters can have.
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I love the ragtag bunch of losers, too. It’s always fun to see the underdog win because it’s something everyone can relate to.
One of my favorite flawed heroes has to be Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. He starts out wanting to capture and destroy Aang, but later has a change of heart and has to clean up the mess he made in his pursuit. I went from hating him to cheering for him. Truly a great example of character growth.