Books on Trope
We here at All The Tropes are not the first to collect tropes and try to put them in some semblance of order. Of course, since few people would actually use the word trope to describe patterns in media, it may be difficult to find the various resources that exist. Therefore we now have this page. If you happen to run across a resource (a book, website, or other useful thing) that discusses a set of tropes, write up a summary page and stick the link on this index.
The most common trope collections are personality profiles. Many people have devised systems of sorting characters into a handful of pigeonholes (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Enneagram, etc.). Of course, they tend to think this works well for sorting people, whereas we're going to take the more sensible view that it works well for sorting fictional characters who aren't nearly as complex as your average real human. They're useful systems for the writer as well as for the reader, so eventually we'll get them up here.
People have also tried to condense the wide and varied world of plots into a small and succinct list of possible plots. The most basic system says that all plots are about one of two things, love and death, but the list can go up to fifty or even more. Joseph Campbell tried to pin it all down to a single heroic version in Hero's Journey, and while that doesn't cover every story, it works with a lot of them (and George Lucas decided to base Star Wars all around Campbell's work). It's when people start claiming that Schlindler's List has the same plot as Alice in Wonderland that we start to wonder if their systems make any sense, but hey, maybe they had a flash of inspiration. At any rate, studying plot archetypes can help writers to straighten out the odd kinks that are throwing them for a loop, and maybe to introduce elements that strengthen the overall story and underscore its thematic meaning. As for the reader... well, it's always fun to realize, halfway into the new blockbuster, that you're really watching a postmodern sci-fi version of Beauty and The Beast.
Dead Horse Tropes can be surprisingly stubborn beasts, refusing to leave the media well after they've been discredited, disbarred, and run out of the country for being So Last Century. The more that writers recognize the possible clichés that exist, the more they're able to avert, subvert, and even invert the critters, allowing for the possibility that their viewers are not morons and just might enjoy watching something written with a little connection to reality. Then again, it's just fun to review all the oddities that make up our collected media history (laser printers that still sound like a Dot Matrix?) and then play drinking games over recognizing when they show up in our favorite sitcoms.
- Heroes and Heroines
- Master Characters
- Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator: Psychological system useful for character construction.
- The Enneagramt
- Big Five Personality Traits
- Five Foundations of Morality: A philosophical theory by Johnathan Haidt dealing with cross-cultural commonalities in ethical systems. Discussed notably in the book The Righteous Mind. Useful for Worldbuilding, and character construction.
- Systems of Survival A philosophical and sociological examination of what makes the human ecology of a healthy society. Presented as a party discussion between friends. Useful for Worldbuilding, plot and character construction.
- GURPS: Generic Universal Role Playing System. An adaptable system for constructing roleplaying game characters in a variety of settings. Mainly for gaming but any author who has mastered it's methodology can borrow it as a notetaking method.
- The Seven Basic Conflicts: as formulated by various critics after the fashion of Arthur Quiller-Couch. Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. God/Fate, Man vs. Society, Man & Woman, etc.
- Hero's Journey
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces
- Structural Archetypes: The Hero Myth, Outlaw Myth, Inverted Myth, etc.
- The Seven Basic Plots, as analyzed by Christopher Booker
- Ten Movie Plots, from Save the Cat!
- Story Structure Architect, which offers 55 Dramatic Situations
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
- The Areas of My Expertise offers another Fifty-Five Dramatic Situations
- The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations
- Propp's Functions of Folktales, which gives a list of elements often found in fairy tales
- The Poetics of Aristotle
- Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics
- Asimov's Three Kinds of Science Fiction
- The Hollywood Formula
- 100 Rules of Anime Physics
- Ebert's Little Movie Glossary
- Evil Overlord List
- Limyaael's Fantasy Rants
- The Fantasy Novelist's Exam
- Fenimore Coopers Literary Offences
- The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches
- The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés
- How Not to Write A Novel, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. Contains around 200 examples of bad writing, many of them dealing with Bad Writing or tropes used horribly.
- How to Write A Historical Young Adult Novel with an Indian Theme (For Fun and Profit)
- How to Write Badly Well
- Poetics by Aristotle
- The RPG Cliches Game
- Turkey City Lexicon
- Silly Novels by Lady Novelists by George Eliot
- The Right Writing
- The Three-Decker by Rudyard Kipling
- Hero's Journey vs Heroine's Journey
- Writing Excuses
- History of US Naval Operations in World War II: The Bible of World War II naval history. If you want a war story that has truly shown it's work read this.
- The Four Loves—Never enter a Shipping debate without it.
- The Discarded Image—A series of lectures by CS Lewis about the Medieval worldview and it's effect on literature. Very useful. Contains explanations on the Medieval take on such tropes as Earth Is the Center of the Universe, All Myths Are True, But I Read a Book About It, and of course The Fair Folk.
- Dramatica—This is a rather complicated literary theory that divides story telling into 4 story tellers, 64 "Quads" of 4 properties that examine 64 questions that must each be explored and resolved and...well...There's a 360 page PDF to read and you can buy a rather expensive program to sort it all out. Like most theories, it works pretty well often enough to help most of the time, but there are exceptions. The comic book version is pretty easy to follow.
- Here's a page for us to give a summary: Dramatica.
- Aarne-Thompson Classification System and Stith Thompson Folk Motif-Index describe a massive set of descriptors for folktales. For example, in "An Encyclopedia of Fairies" by Katharine Briggs she gives a breakdown of Cinderella. It is Type 510 (an example of Supernatural Helpers) and contians Motifes S31: Cruel stepmother; L55: Stepdaughter heroine; F311.1: Fairy godmother; D1050.1: Clothes produced by magic; F861.4.3: Carriage from pumpkin; N711.6: Prince sees heroine at ball and is enamoured; C761.3: Taboo: staying too long at ball. Must leave before certain hour; and H36.1: Slipper test. Given that the motif index is apparently six large volumes the detail seems overwhelming!
- Daily Life Through History Series : A vast hoard of Useful Notes. Use these for research and you will never again write Hollywood History by accident.
- 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story and The Shape of A Story, from Kurt Vonnegut.