What Is a Trope in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

A trope is a frequently occurring phenomenon in writing or on screen, in characters as well as situations.

The word trope has two meanings. In general, a trope is a phenomenon when things are repeated to form a common theme or idea. Oxford Learners Dictionary defines a trope as "a theme that is important or repeated in literature, films, etc."

The second type of trope is a literary trope. Literary tropes are the figurative language used in writing.

What Is a Trope?

According to Oxford Reference, "Rhetorical figures of speech can be found not just in written and spoken language but in all forms of communication. Traditionally the four ‘master tropes’ are regarded as being: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. Tropes use words (or other signifiers) in senses beyond their literal meaning."

What Is an Example of a Trope?

Tropes can be found in most creative works like a romance novel, literature, and movies. People often think using tropes is lazy writing but if used carefully, tropes work wonders for your content.

Tropes are tools for artistic effect. Some common tropes are:

The Special Girl Trope

It's a narrative trope mainly used in movies and young adult fiction, where one girl is isolated by a special boy, and she is treated like the most amazing woman on earth. In that way, she is also isolated from her surroundings. Penny Lane from Almost Famous (2000) and Anastasia from Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) are a few examples of tropes.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope

This is a classic example of a trope. The MPDG trope became popular in recent years. A lonely, depressed man meets a lively, cheerful woman, who changes his life with her ideas and quirkiness. Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and Elizabethtown (2005) are great examples of this trope.

The White Trash Trope

White Trash trope is full of low-life white men and women who are often unrefined and used as a foil for richer upper-class characters. It is often a misrepresentation of rural, economically poor characters. Trailer Park Boys (2001 - ), Mississippi Burning (1988), and The Florida Project (2014) portray this trope.

The Cool Girl Trope

This type of cool girl is basically a guy in a beautiful woman's body. She drinks and sports with the guys and is also attractive in a feminine way - every introvert man's fantasy.

The cool girl can be found in Drinking Buddies (2013), There's Something About Mary (1998), and The Avengers (2012).

The Smart Girl Trope

She knows she is brilliant. She has thick skin, knows her worth and is often lonely because she does not fit in with the popular narrative. She stands up for herself, has pride and surpasses her peers. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Nancy Drew from Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter (1939), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Growing Pains (1985 - 1992), and One Tree Hill (2003 - 2012) portray the smart girl trope.

The Bury Your Gays Trope

A homophobic trope by nature, movies and books kill off LGBTQ characters before the straight characters. This is part of a bigger structure where non-straight people are considered the "other", that is, they are not part of the main narrative. Love, Simon (2013), But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), and Boys Don't Cry (1999) fall in this trope.

What Are the 3 Types of Tropes?

"Tropes are used as shorthand to explain complicated things. For example, Light-Speed is used to quickly explain a complicated way of travelling through space. If you do this, you don’t have to waste words trying to educate your reader when you want to get on with the plot", says Christopher Dean.

There are three types of tropes. These are mainly literary terms which are used in tropes to make them work. They are as follows:

Irony

It is a literary trope. Irony is when something is meant or done, or happens in a way not intended with the intention of insulting or serving poetic justice. There are different types of irony - verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figurative language that makes indirect connection between two things. Everyone knows about simile, which is making a direct connection with words like "like", and "as". Metaphor in storytelling looks like: "she is my sunshine".

Euphemism

Euphemism is a literary trope where a writer softens hard ideas with language. Using words like "passing away" instead of dead, "mature" instead of old, are a great example of euphemism. The other literary devices used for tropes are allegory, metonymy, synecdoche, etc. To become a better writer they must know all the literary tropes for engaging new readers.

What Are Tropes in a Novel?

The word trope has acquired a negative connotation in recent times. New age readers think tropes are a bad idea because they are deliberate exaggeration and the plot, or characters often become predictable in this way.

Cliche vs. Trope

Cliché is an interchangeable word used for trope. But they are technically different. A trope is a common archetype or situation created by the writer. A cliché is a quick comment or situation which is predictable directly. Tropes can be used in a way to improve writing, but cliché must be avoided at all costs.

Love Triangle

This is the most common trope in novels. Generally happens in a trio, where all three are in love with either but none can pair. Hunger Games portrays a love triangle.

Enemies to Lovers

Enemies to lovers is a trope where two characters (mostly a reluctant hero) start off as enemies but end up as lovers. Red, White & Royal Blue shows enemies to lovers trope.

Forbidden Love

William Shakespeare's Romeo (from Romeo and Juliet) is a forbidden lover. A forbidden lover is someone who belongs to an enemy clan in fantasy novels or a conflicting person who is better off without a romantic relationship.

Secret Billionaire

The Neighbor's Secret by Kimberley Montpetit uses the secret billionaire trope. This is when a billionaire (mostly a guy) woos a woman without telling her his financial status and reveals it later. Walden from Two and a Half Men at times use this trope.

Damsel in Distress

Damsel in distress shows a young, vulnerable girl in need of saving, usually by a man. Bella from Twilight is shown as a damsel in distress.

Anti-hero

This trope is used by writers to challenge conventional heroic norms of the contemporary age. Bluntschli is an anti-hero from the play Arms and the Man.

The Dark Lord

A dark lord is a trope where a so-called villain tries to take over the world or the universe. Thanos from Marvel is a dark love.

Summary

The term trope is a common theme a writer uses to create a familiar situation or point. Many examples of tropes can be found in pop culture.

Contemporary romance and sci fi movies, young adult novels, all use tropes to support their story. Over reliance on tropes should be avoided to make your writing innovative and fresh. Cliche should be completely avoided.

Tropes have been used since time immemorial - starting from William Shakespeare to present.

Fools, tragic heroes, traitor brother are major types of character tropes, while Christopher Marlowe used powerful emperors as his most common tropes. Writing tropes require a bit of research but it is better to devote time than to use it wrong.

For example, tropes in speech include appealing to the emotions of the audience - listen to any White House discussion. But if used wrong, people can easily interpret it in the wrong way.

There are also several common examples of tropes in literature. Upper class women looking for a husband is a trope of Victorian novels, while rogue teens (initially seen as bad guys) leaving home to surf through ups and downs of life is also a literary trope we term as 'picaresque' novels.

Tropes are a great way to connect with your readers and give them a familiar path to walk on.

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