Hello and happy Wednesday!
Recently, someone asked me what my favorite story tropes were. If you’re not familiar with them, tropes refer to commonly recurring story elements. So things that tend to be found in a lot of books, movies, or shows, and, though they’re not very unique, they keep being used because certain audiences enjoy them.
Of course, some audiences don’t enjoy them, but chances are they have other, hardly-unique story elements they do appreciate. Everyone is different.
Some examples of tropes are certain types of characters, such as grumpy hermit mentors, shunned teenagers that turn out to be heroes, and feisty female leads. Or they can be the lack of certain characters, the most common being nonexistent parents (seriously, where are the parents in most fiction?).
They can be situations, like teenagers being forced by the government to participate in experiments or games, or kids sure that home is holding them back, only to realize how much they really love it after they run away.
The most common tropes vary from genre to genre, but every type of story has them. And they’re not always bad! In fact, a lot of them are used often for a reason.
Everyone has their own favorite tropes to see in fiction. Today, I thought I’d share a few of mine, and hopefully hear about yours, as well!
“Who Am I?”
I greatly enjoy amnesia stories; when the protagonist is missing some or all of their memories. Each book I’ve read or movie I’ve watched with this element has kept me very engaged.
It doesn’t matter to me why said protagonist doesn’t have their memory. Injury, curse, scientific experiment…I’ve explored all of these within my own novels, ranging from contemporary to fantasy to science fiction, and all the possibilities are fascinating to me. The journey the protagonist has to take to discover who they are and what’s happened in their life so far makes for a lot of intrigue, and I enjoy it.
I especially love when what they find out about themselves is not at all what anyone expected. Maybe they’re royalty, or have special powers, or were very influential before and someone viewed them as a threat. These stories can go a million different ways…
“Let the Games Begin!”
Games, competitions, tournaments… I always get excited when a story includes a grand, competitive event. Especially if the protagonist is forced into it and also utterly unprepared for it.
Again, the genre really doesn’t matter to me, although my very favorites tend to be dystopian-type challenges. Arenas, crazy obstacles, fierce creatures, and near-impossible odds produce exciting and often very nerve-wracking reads (or watches).
Of course, as much as I want to see the protagonist struggle, ultimately I want them to succeed. The very best instances, in my opinion, are when they rise to win via a clever idea and upstanding morals none of the other competitors have. Is it used a lot? Yes. Do I mind? Not at all. And usually, making it through the event itself brings a whole different slew of challenges, which I also find fascinating.
“What Would She/He Do Without You?”
One of my very favorite character dynamics is the young boy/girl and an older mentor, when both of them have been hurt before and deal with or hide their pain in very different ways. Though they may not like each other initially, or even really know what to do with each other, by the end of the story, they become inseparable.
Such as the fiery kid hiding the fact that they miss their parents and the gruff recluse never sharing their grief over the loss of a child or student. In some way, they’re thrown together to accomplish something and end up helping one another heal; bringing out that person’s best again.
On the flip side, it also fascinates me when it’s the young person who’s quiet and reserved and the adult that hides their pain behind booming confidence and sharp wit. Such is the case with the two main characters in my novel Cabin Girl, and I found it very meaningful and interesting to write.
Yes, this sort of dynamic can easily turn melodramatic and/or cheesy. But when it’s done well (hopefully in my own work, haha), I find it very touching.
“Oh, Cut It Out (Not Really).”
Another of my favorite character dynamics is the witty ally who will question everything the protagonist does, but secretly is the most loyal person they have. I’m guilty of using this far too much in my own novels, but…what can I say? I enjoy it.
Because most of my protagonists so far have been female, and I try to give them a main ally of the opposite gender for balance, most of my stories’ witty, loyal allies have been male. But I’ve read lots of books where it’s a female ally, and it doesn’t matter one bit to me. The dynamic is engaging, fun, and sweet no matter which way it goes. Bonus points if opposite-gender allies DON’T end up romantically involved – if not at all, then definitely not until they’ve actually had time to get to know each other (one of my story pet peeves, which will come in a different post).
I love watching as allies slowly go from fighting like cats and dogs to STILL pretending to dislike one another, when really they’ve now become best friends. The more witty banter, the better.
It’s probably obvious by now that characters really make a story for me. If the plot is so-so, but the characters are well-developed and fascinating, I’ll still love the book/movie. If the plot is spectacular but the characters are about as realistic as plastic cheese, chances are I’m not going to like the story very much. Because of this, most my favorite things to see in fiction have to do with character dynamics.
With that, another of my favorite character dynamics is a very tricky one: the redemption/change of an antagonist. When done well, the villain (or if not the villain, a very dislikable character) gradually realizes the errors of his ways, and changes for the better by the end of the story, creating a very moving character arc.
When done poorly however, I really dislike this, which is why I said it’s a tricky one for me. It loses all of its emotional weight and meaningfulness when the character is not properly developed in the first place, changes for no good reason (hasn’t seen a reason to change, except that the author wants him to), and/or goes from full-blown villain to perfect saint overnight. No one’s perfect. And if they do change, it’s going to take time. The longer they’ve spent in bad habits, the longer it will take to develop good ones.
I’m usually skeptical when I hear about a story with the redemption of a villain, but I really do love it when it is written well. The writer that can pull off a believable, moving transformation like that has definitely earned my respect.
Well, those are five of my favorite story tropes to see in fiction. When a book, show, or movie uses these well, chances are I’ll be hooked. I’m always on the lookout for more of those types of – clean – stories, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know!
What are YOUR favorite commonly-used story elements to see in fiction? I’d love to find out! Go ahead and comment your favorites below, and I look forward to reading them!