What Is A Literary Trope & Why Should I Use One?

What Is A Literary Trope & Why Should I Use One?


In this post, we look at literary tropes, specifically answering the question: What Is A Literary Trope & Why Should I Use One?

What Is A Literary Trope?

According to Wikipedia: ‘A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase, or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs, or clichés in creative works.’

In this post, I will be looking at tropes specifically as plot devices.

Tropes are literary devices that have been used so often that readers will recognise them immediately. They are any common plot elements, themes (‘the noble savage’ or ‘the reluctant hero’), images, characters, motifs, and settings that are used in works of fiction.

Every genre has its own set of tropes. If you want some great examples of this, read:

  1. 101 Fantasy Tropes For Writers
  2. 101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers

Why Should I Use A Trope?

As Christopher Dean says: ‘Tropes are used as shorthand to explain complicated things. For example, Light-Speed is used to explain a complicated way of travelling through space very quickly. 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.’

We should use tropes because they save time, and because they work. If you’re writing in a genre, you should spend time getting to know the tropes they use.

Examples of tropes in genres:

  1. In fantasy, there is the Chosen One (protagonist) whose job it is to defeat the Dark Lord (antagonist) and restore the natural order of the world. Often a sword is involved.’
  2. In science fiction, there is cryosleep (especially if you don’t have light-speed in your universe). ‘Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and requires Cryosleep to get there.’
  3. In romance, we have the fake relationship where two characters pretend to be in a relationship for some reason. This forced proximity usually ends with the two getting to know each other and falling in love.

Tropes work because genres work. We like to have stories that fulfil our expectations as readers. We buy books in these genres, because we know what we are getting. We expect these tropes in these books.

Top Tip: Don’t use the trope unless it fits into the story. It has to seem necessary to the plot.

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

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