Look, we get it; it's incredibly tempting to label your favorite work as a Deconstruction. Besides simply being a cool word on its own, it sounds similar to the term 'groundbreaking'; as such, it seems like the perfect way to add useful information to an article while also paying the work a flattering compliment.
But a Deconstruction is more than empty praise to be thrown at your favorite films, shows, or books. And this article is here to inform you on the particulars of what differentiates a Deconstruction from several other tropes you can use to describe works with.
Darker and Edgier vs. Deconstruction
Deconstructions are often Darker and Edgier because they take a typical genre or trope and play it true to life. Playing a trope true to life is a potent way to reveal something's underlying Fridge Horror. Thus a cartoon version of the medieval princess becomes grittier and less colorful. However, the converse is not true; making something darker and edgier isn't necessarily a deconstruction.
If the princess is raised in a restrictive environment due to her gender, becomes a pawn in international politics, and learns to keep her head above the water by playing political intrigue using feminine wiles and her position of influence with powerful people, this is a deconstruction.
If the kingdom is invaded by a brutal neighboring nation, the royal family's murder described in Gornful detail, and the princess repeatedly raped before being sold into slavery, this is Darker and Edgier.
Subversion vs. Deconstruction
Again, these two aren't mutually exclusive. When a trope is deconstructed, it is subverted by playing it true to life rather than going with the conventional depiction, but not all subversions are deconstructions.
- Tap on the Head played straight: A character is rendered unconscious with a blow to the head, with no ill effects afterward.
- Subverted: For laughs - ":thump: Ow! That hurt! What'd you do that for? :thump: Stop hitting me! :thump: [attacks]"
- Deconstructed: The character hit isn't rendered unconscious, but severely concussed, still capable of limited movement or slurred speech, but not of resisting. He spends days with fuzzy vision and headaches.
However, when an entire genre is deconstructed, it's not a subversion. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns deconstructed superheros by giving them realistic and often unfortunate motivations, goals, and results, but their opening pages removed the possibility of subversion by demonstrating that these were not your grandparents' comic book stories.
Aversion vs. Deconstruction
There are a lot of tropes out there that are necessary to some kinds of fiction. When a woman in a bodice ripper gets kidnapped by pirates and ends up falling in love with her lusty, bearded, Byronic hero, you'll probably notice that she's surrounded by The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.
In an historical novel, the wench will be travelling on an India-bound member of the merchant fleet before their ship is attacked by corsairs who torture the crew for their valuables, force the ship's carpenter, cooper, and smith to join their crew, and then kidnap the wench for good measure. She is most definitely not surrounded by The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.
Some tropes hold up certain genres (a story set in a court that isn't full of deadly intrigue probably won't be interesting), others are handwaves or Plot Holes that we accept for the sake of the story. A genre deconstruction, by making the story more realistic, will take these tropes to pieces or simply abandon them. Thus a genre deconstruction may often entail averting some tropes typical to the genre.
However, deconstructing a trope by itself doesn't entail averting the trope. Quite the opposite; deconstructing a trope means the trope is played even straighter than normal and its consequences or cause explored in detail, usually for the purpose of irony, satire or straight up horror.
Inversion vs. Deconstruction
An inverted trope is one that's turned on its head, played back to front. A High Heel Face Turn might be inverted by The Chick of the Five-Man Band being seduced to evil, or the lone man working with a group of female villains might come to the side of good.
A deconstruction would instead play the trope as straight as possible to explore how it might play in reality. The lone female villain might switch sides because, let's face it, are bad guys likely to be feminists who respect her opinions and give her equal pay? Or perhaps she was just arm candy and never really paid attention to what her boyfriend was doing. Or it turns out the heroes don't ever trust her because, used to be evil + betrayal = why would they?
Square Peg, Round Trope vs. Deconstruction
In the worst case, something labeled a "deconstruction" isn't actually an example of the trope at all; it's been shoehorned in.