All The Tropes:How to Write An Example

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Here at All The Tropes, we like to encourage editors to dive right in and add examples without forcing them to spend months lurking around and arduously studying proper editing form. Unfortunately, unleashing an ever-increasing horde of eager-but-clueless contributors onto an unprepared wiki can lead to problems. With that in mind, here are some pieces of advice and common pitfalls for tropers new and old to consider when posting examples.

Also see: Example Indentation in Trope Lists.

  • The point of an example is to convey information. Clarity is the most important aspect. "Clever" is nice, "Funny" is nice, "Detailed" is nice. But if any of them get in the way of clarity, they cease being nice additions and become a problem.
  • Aim For A Final Draft Appearance: Just adhering to this concept will help you with all the specifics below. It is not a forum so don't write in first person. Try not to write something that you know someone else has to clean up later to make it readable. This Wiki should at least look professional despite having a breezy attitude. Information should make sense years from now and not be "hot off the press" in word choice.
  • If the examples have been sorted, respect the sorting. Most pages for tropes are sorted by medium, while most pages for works are sorted alphabetically. Either way, new examples should go where they belong under the system. This helps the reader find them.
    • If the page is organized by medium, put a new example in as the last example in that medium.
    • If the page is organized alphabetically (eg Canonical List) put it in the correct alphabetical position
    • If the page is ranked from top to bottom, like Mohs Scale of Sci Fi Hardness, put the example in the position that you feel is most appropriate.
    • If the page states that it's sorted some other way, follow that sorting pattern.
    • If the page has no special order, put brand new examples on the bottom of the page. That makes it clear that this is a new entry, for tropers wanting to know what's been added to pages. (Optionally, also add "[[Category:Examples Need Sorting]]" to the very bottom of the page while you're at it.)
  • State the source: The name of the work the example comes from should be clearly stated, ideally near the beginning of the example. The name should be either italicized or put in quotes depending on the medium (if you're not sure which to use, see what someone else did for a work in the same medium). Listing a character name, episode name, or actor's name is no substitute for the series name. (No, not even if you Pothole it.) Listing a well known quote and leaving it at that is also clumsy. Being clever is always fun but being clear is much more important. Author's names are also acceptable when referring collectively to multiple series by them.
    • State the Word of God source: While we don't require strict Wikipedia style citations, one should say where a Word of God statement originated from. Something as simple at "this interview" or "Wizard magazine issue 200" or "in the commentary on the DVD" is sufficient. This is because a lot of people like to claim such and such is Word of God to make their claims seem more valid.
    • Be Specific: There are some things that are nearly universal with a medium, Executive Meddling being one of them. But saying "An interview with person X reveals that there was a lot of Executive Meddling going on" and not explaining it is ultimately an empty example. We want to know what was screwed around with and even the why, even if it doesn't make sense.
  • Check For Duplicates: Before you hit the edit button, it's always wise to search existing examples to make sure yours hasn't already been added. If you don't want to read them all, Ctrl+F the page instead.
  • Group Examples: If something merely very similar or from a related work (such as another entry in a series) is already there, write your example into it or indent it with other examples under a description of the group. Whatever you do, don't indent an example under the first one. Also see Example Indentation in Trope Lists.
  • Make Sure it's Relevant: Entry Pimping is extremely common among editors new and old, and is the main reason most of us know anything about Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it is not without its downside. Sometimes we think we understand a trope better than we do and wind up shoehorning examples in where they don't fit as a result. Remember, always make sure to read a trope before you add an example to it. If you are still not sure if it fits, you can always click on the little "discuss" link at the top and ask someone about it. Write the example to address the trope. For example, the trope Badass Longcoat is about the garment, not the person wearing it. Your example should be more about the coat than the person.
  • Make Sure it's Accurate: At times there can be dozens of different tropes that describe very similar events. Be aware of those other tropes before you start shoving in wave after wave of examples into the wrong trope. We have the Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions just for that purpose. It is also very easy to go ranting about whatever problem a specific production may have without realizing that your comment is in fact the antithesis of what the trope is about. So in a trope about, say... Visual Effects of Awesome, there is no need to go about and list every Special Effects Failure in the movies listed as having generally great special effects. There is a reason there are multiple pages on the subject, list where it is appropriate.
    • Examples Are Not Arguable: Do not coat words like "arguably" or "to some" around examples. A trope is either used or not used. If you can't make a case beyond there being a work "debatably" using a certain trope, don't list it. Even on YMMV pages there is no need to do this because everything is already subjective anyway, making the inclusion of words like "arguably" redundant. Don't write "arguable examples".
  • Avoid Irrelevant Potholing and References: We know Jewel Staite was in Firefly, so why does nearly every Stargate Atlantis example featuring her character have a Pothole to an unrelated show? A Pothole can be very much like its real world version, an annoying bump in the road. It should be used to help the flow of the information without flooding the reader with wiki injokes and terminology (like so). Around here, we have come to refer to the "bad" sort as Sinkholes.
    • Refrain From Internal "Witty" Potholes: Although as a wiki we are subject to our own use of the tropes we talk about, this wiki should not be self-referential. The writing about the tropes should be about the trope or the media, not about our own use of a trope in writing about them. Too often, a trope becomes a place for editors to comment on their own writing and isn't actually a use of the trope. For example - Berserk Button: He got a little angry at the crack about his mom. - is using Understatement improperly, as it wasn't actually used in the trope. While - Berserk Button: "He was a little angry." "A LITTLE!?" - is demonstrating how Understatement was utilized.
  • Keep It An Example: Making a blanket statement on the behavior of '70s Live Action TV may be interesting information, but it technically doesn't add anything new as an example. If you feel the information is important, then add it to the description instead of the examples. Examples are about specific works, the description is the general behavior of the trope. See Needs a Better Description.
  • Keep it Brief: Brevity Is Wit. No one wants to read Walls of Text. Over-long examples can encourage other tropers to carry on too long and can quickly turn a trope from a fun read to a long slog. Examples should have enough substance so that readers can get a relatively clear picture of how a given work used the trope in question, and no more. Don't bog the example down with unnecessary detail or canned analysis. Sometimes saying It Makes Sense in Context is enough information. As a general rule, if you ever find yourself feeling the need to indent and start a new paragraph, chances are you've gone on too long. A quick way to shorten your example is to scan it and excise any Word Cruft.
  • ...But Not Too Brief: Remember, examples sections are more than just long lists of shows -- they are here to serve as examples. If you don't explain how a show used a given trope, what have you really said? Remember, nothing is Self Explanatory unless it is Exactly What It Says on the Tin (even then, err on the side of readers are morons and explain it anyway). Unless it provides context, an example is just a series name floating in space, probably not worth much to anyone who doesn't already remember it (and what's the point of telling people something they already know?). Oh, and most of us are pretty sick of Two Words: Obvious Trope, so please don't do that either. It's easy to assume that everyone else is familiar with the same things you're familiar with, but this is usually not the case, so think before you break out the internal jargon and Fan Nicknames without explanation. There are still some people who don't know It Was His Sled.
  • Avoid Spoilers: Remember our Spoiler Policy. It is always better to have a somewhat vague example that anyone can read than a precise and specific example covered in spoiler text. An entry with Spoiler Text like this one can confuse and annoy even fans of the work in question, not to mention anyone else. Always try to write your examples in such a way as to avoid plot-sensitive information like someone dying or switching sides, if you can help it. And for the love of God, don't add in spoileriffic content unless it's relevant to the topic at hand. If you don't need to talk about sensitive information to make your point, then don't. Again, don't assume everyone else knows about everything you know. If an example needs to be entirely spoiler-tagged to avoid spoiling the work, reconsider adding it; it won't do any good as an example for anyone who doesn't want to be spoiled for that work.
  • Simplify For Non Fans: Instead of saying "Alice kills Bob," for instance, try to instead identify them by character archetype, as in "Femme Fatale Alice kills Bob, The Fool." If stating this explicitly in the sentence would be too clunky, use potholes: "Alice kills Bob." This approach has the added bonus of telling the uninitiated who the characters are. If the information is spoiler sensitive, then shift it up a little. "Femme Fatale Alice kills The Fool of the work."
  • Stay on Topic: Don't be a Left Fielder who inserts completely irrelevant topics into an existing subject. If you're talking about a TV show, don't switch in midstream to another one. A new work always deserves its own bullet point, at the very least.
  • Don't Project Yourself Into the Entry: It's not about you, it's about the trope. There's no need to mention yourself. Try to refrain from inserting examples that boil down to "something that happened to me/my mom/a friend of a friend of a friend" or "something that I/my mom/a friend of a friend of a friend thought/did/said." Avoid making personal comments if at all possible, such as "This troper is shocked that we haven't yet mentioned..." or "What are you talking about? There was no X." This might all seem very compelling to you, but most people don't care to read it. Most of all, the wiki isn't a place for you to soapbox about things that annoy you -- again, we have the forums for that. It's about the trope. Stay focused on the trope. That's why we're all here.
  • Don't Write Reviews: Outside of the Reviews subpages, that is. Explaining why your favorite show is the best thing ever is fine; Fan Myopia thrives off of this. But a trope is just a trope. Using one trope will not improve or destroy the quality of your favorite show. Reviewing the episode where a trope was used is usually off topic and unnecessary to give the example. Sometimes these reviews come across as "this trope was used here, but they made it awesome." with no description of how it was used. As well, that's why we have the Review feature now.
  • Make A Point, Don't Complain: Complaining About Shows You Don't Like is one of the most often used tropes thrown around on this wiki. A Take That remark in fiction often comes across as petty, but even more so when it is Pot Holed into a comment by a random person on the internet. As an inversion, try to avoid gushing too.
  • Write From A Generic Time Frame: Don't be surprised that an example has not been listed -- just list it yourself. Saying "This Troper is surprised that (show/movie/anime/webcomic) has not been listed yet..." then going on to talk about it is nonsensical because, hey, now we have. Your "Surprised it is not listed yet" example may become closer to the top of the page instead of the bottom within a few weeks time.
  • Don't Use the Word "Recent": TV episodes and comic book issues (and some movies) come out on different dates in different parts of the world, so what is to you the most recent episode might be old hat to someone in America or Japan, or it might be several months away from being seen in the UK or Australia. Besides, its status as "recent" is going to be outdated fairly soon. Instead, refer to the episode or issue by name ("Joey Uses A Trope"), number (X-Men #8), or (rough) date ("during the second season", "an arc in late 1997", "during the continuity reboot") if you feel that information is important.
    • It's best to avoid reference to the time at which you wrote your example. This dates your comment considerably and does little except distract the reader.
  • Don't Use the Word "Local": As we just said, works may appear in different parts of the world, and some may not find themselves widely distributed, either by chance or design. On the other hand, All The Tropes' readership is global. If you are citing a work which was only available in one country, state/province or city, explicitly include that location (and as much other information as you can). An example which says something like "a commercial for a local firm did X" tells later readers nothing that they can use to find the work and see it for themselves. Indeed, it might qualify for outright deletion because it is so vague.
  • Remember That This Is A Wiki: Therefore, you cannot rely on certain elements remaining on the page. Page quotes and images may be swapped out as tastes change and new works come out, so don't have an example specifically refer to information therein. Also, be very careful about starting an example with "Similarly," or "Like in the Care Bears example above," if it isn't part of the same group. That example may get deleted, even if it seems like it wouldn't. This goes double on pages that aren't categorized by media yet; if the trope grows popular enough, media categories will be added, and suddenly the "above" example you were comparing it to is now three-quarters of the way down the page.
    • Along a similar line, don't be surprised if someone slices and dices your example because half of it was Natter.
  • Don't Use Internet Acronyms: AFAIK, IIRC, BTW, and the like have no place in an example. In fact, if you remove one of these while leaving the rest of the example intact, not only does the example lose no information at all, it actually becomes more comprehensible because people who aren't familiar with Net slang don't have to go look up the acronym. And since these acronyms are meant to make texting and forum posting quicker, when you see it here it makes the page seem like you didn't put a lot of effort into it. Despite the relaxed attitude, we are still trying to be well written.
    • In Fact, Don't Use Abbreviations At All. We embrace a loose and informal style, but there's such a thing as too informal. Abbreviations make an article or example look sloppy. They're also unclear. (As an example, what does "GTA" stand for? Odds are you didn't think of Ron Howard's film first.) Don't do it.
  • Don't Use Acronyms For Show Titles: It's generally a bad idea, since an acronym of a title won't be readily recognized by non-fans (and might even be used in multiple fandoms), nor will it be automatically linked to the show's media page. The only exception is if a media page describes the common acronym, and you are editing that page. In the general wiki use the full name.
  • Don't Use Word Cruft: Phrases like "Possibly subverted in..." or "<Show X> might qualify" make the example look wishy-washy and add no informational content. If you want to add an example and you're not 100% sure about the details, then either:
  1. Don't add it, but instead put a note in the discussion page saying "I think there might be an example along these lines;" or
  2. Pretend you're certain, and rely on Wiki Magic to fix it if you're wrong.
  • Don't Use Weasel Tropes: Part of this is just being accurate to the trope, as Fridge Logic is specifically "You didn't notice it until long afterwards" but many people tend to use it as "It Just Bugs Me". Attaching a trope to it does not excuse anyone of the Complaining rule. The same goes for any other number of tropes that have loosely defined parameters.
  • Including a show in a trope will neither decrease, nor increase, its quality: Tropes Are Not Bad, and Tropes Are Not Good. If your favorite show has a perfectly fitting example in a trope you think is bad, it isn't going to magically make the show worse. It just means the show isn't perfect, and please don't tell us you think it is. Conversely, don't rush to try to include examples of your favorite in tropes you think are good, especially if, as previously noted, they don't really fit. It's not going to make the show better if it's part of all the good tropes. A show is good or bad on its own terms.
  • Don't rely on YouTube or other URL links: Don't put in an example that consists of "watch this YouTube video/read this strip of the comic/look at this other site to understand what the heck I'm talking about!" The entire example will become worthless if (and in many cases, when) the offsite link changes or is deleted. Videos in particular are often taken down for copyright reasons or just aren't available worldwide. Webcomics and Web Originals change hosting sites or strip/episode numbering formats. Also, try not to link to videos/forums/etc. that can only be viewed by members or subsets thereof.
    • URL link pages should make things absolutely clear what information you are searching for. A 10 page review of an episode is not helpful for a single trope. If you can't link more precisely than the whole review, add more information about where the relevant part is; something like "about halfway down page three" will do.
  • Don't Speculate, Don't Prognosticate: You may have a good reason for assuming the trope will be used in a show eventually, but if you haven't seen the trope in the work, you haven't seen the trope used in the work, whether it's because the creators haven't put it in yet, because they're not going to put it in, or because you haven't actually seen the work in question. If and when you actually see the trope used add it -- but not before. By the same token, don't say "used in pretty much every [genre] work," particularly if you haven't seen literally all of them and can confirm that it's in them.
  • Don't Use Bad Markup: With practice, the markup language will become familiar. Check your entry after you edited it to make sure it worked out properly. You might be going for BOLD and Italics and end up just getting Italics. Double check trope links to make sure it isn't Red Linked. Try to avoid spending three editing sessions fixing your mistakes; use the Preview function to double-check your work before committing it.