Howdy all, and welcome to the lead-up to the first edition of Trope-Tastic Thursday! Yes, this is a blatant attempt to keep the #woegttt hashtag I started with the now defunct Turn-a-Trope Tuesdays, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me that, won’t you?
After much thought and feedback from you, my friends and fellow writers, I’ve decided to make some changes to my weekly challenge. For one thing, a lot of folks expressed confusion over what a trope is, exactly, and what it meant to turn it. That’s my fault entirely – I think I explained it once, but should have included a reminder in each prompt. We’ll change that, this go-around. Second, after getting through some easier tropes to turn, I actually found my original concept to be almost too restrictive – some tropes, it appears, are damned near impossible to turn. Third, I wanted to change the day to Thursday, as I was consistently missing Tuesday deadlines due to a need to catch up on work after my weekends.
So here’s what I’ve decided to do. We are going to start a new challenge. Every Thursday, I will pick a trope (more on that in a moment), and the challenge will be simple – write a story that uses that trope, either playing it straight (doing exactly what the trope describes) or turning the trope (delivering a story that acknowledges the expectations of the trope but takes it in an unexpected direction). Each week’s challenge will be 1,000 words or less – don’t feel you have to use up all that space if you don’t need it, and if you go a little over? I’m sure we’ll forgive you.
Now, to the meat of the issue…what exactly is a trope? I’ll let the fine folks at TVTropes.org explain it, as they do it best:
Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.
So, in essence, a trope is a tool in a writer’s tool box. It is a commonly understood expectation for different aspects of fiction. For example, a writer who is working on a High Fantasy story knows that his or her readers are going to expect certain common elements to be present; perhaps a Dark Lord with his evil hordes seeks his Artifacts of Doom, and is opposed by The Chosen One and his (or their) mysterious wandering wizard friend. These common elements (all linked above) are called tropes, and define what a reader is naturally inclined to expect in that kind of element of fiction or from that kind of character.
Now, tropes can be played with in a number of ways; they can be played straight – that is, delivering exactly what the reader expects (with your own unique voice, of course). The wizard character, for instance, may be a wise and valuable mentor. Or, you might decide to turn the trope, and deliver the opposite of what the reader expects – that same wizard may actually be a bumbling idiot who threatens the entire story with his poor guidance! As the writer, you choose which direction you want to take each week’s trope – the challenge is, can you play the trope straight, and still entertain your reader with a stunning plot? Or will you turn the trope and deliver something they never saw coming?
I can’t wait to see what kind of stories we can generate here, and to introduce those of you new to the idea of tropes to an extensive new tool box for your works of fiction. Understanding tropes makes us better writers, and better writers write better stories.
I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, and take up the Trope-Tastic Thursday Challenge!