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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png
If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a nonworking cat.
Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

One day, Victor Frankenstein had an idea. What are humans, if not a collection of parts? So he took a smart brain from one place, a clean kidney from another, a strong leg from this graveyard, an perfect eye from that one... well, you get the idea. And then finally, he added the final ingredient, a little electric fluid to animate his creation. This did not work out well.[1]

You should view tropes the same way. While they are certainly parts of great works of fiction, using them does always not make something great. And you cannot decide to take plot tropes, setting tropes, and character tropes; connect them together; and expect the resulting story to be anything other than a monster. Tropes are not LEGO blocks, that can be simply thrown together to make an entertaining story. No matter how true you are to the tropes, you always need to give a story a soul.

Stories are ultimately about some underlying vision. Even starting with a complex plot trope like a Hero's Journey, all it represents is an outline to be filled in. The author has a thousand choices to make[2] about what a character would do, how to create a proper feel of a setting, which word choice conveys the best meaning, and so on. So while tropes can act as a starting point or an inspiration, the author's job is to further refine his story. Tropes Are Tools that serve the story, and Tropes Are Flexible enough to let you look at an old idea in a new light. Tropes are not what bring a story to life — that's all the job of the creators.

None of this is to say that you should avoid tropes in creative writing. Tropes Are Not Bad. Genres are nothing more than standard collections of tropes, or "genre conventions". No one complains that we shouldn't have genres. But tropes should not be attached solely because they're a Genre Convention either, even by Executive Meddling. Everything should serve the greater story; if it doesn't, the advice is always to Murder Your Darlings.

  1. The Creature was not born evil in the novel; but it was considered ugly and monstrous by the people. If you're not careful, the same could apply to a work and its audience.
  2. ... and a thousand more to make before the stars turn dim and cold