Tropes Are Not Bad

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Norman: I just don't want to be cliche!

Chuck: It's not cliche, Norman, it's the formula, and it works!
Sidekick


There is one thing that you must keep in mind to retain your sanity here, and that is that many tropes are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, nor is it the case that including one in a particular work makes it "ruined."

If your favorite shows have long lists of tropes associated with them, well, so do everybody's. A show featuring an Action Girl or showing a character kicking the dog is not a bad thing; the former is merely a reasonable type of character (badass character who is female) and the latter is a character action that happens plenty in Real Life.

That said, some trope entries are just highlights of common mistakes, and generally are bad. For instance, a modern-day show where all the cops have laser guns is probably just necessary lameness to appease censors (unless superhero-tech from superhuman geniuses is a common part of the universe), and a writer that includes Instant Death Bullets probably just screwed up. Still, even if a show includes always-bad and unjustified tropes, the harm is likely non-fatal.

Consider the following points before you label simply including a common story element or character type as a sign of creative failure:

There is nothing new under the sun. Including that very statement. And the book from which it comes. Completely ignoring the possibility that one's favorite show just might not be hewn from the very essence of the universe by Thor himself and placed in the periodic table under Or for "Originalium" doesn't change the fact that it wasn't. And acknowledging that it isn't should not lessen its appeal, either.

Every story is influenced by what came before it—and storytellers (e.g., writers, directors, actors) are bound to show that influence, intentionally or not, in the process of telling. Just because something's been used before doesn't mean it's a cliché. That said, there certainly is such thing as too derivative, but there's a difference between playing a trope straight and utter Cliché Storm.

Fiction isn't necessarily supposed to be realistic. When your reader wants to escape from the tired drudgery of reality, you shouldn't be trying to indexically recreate it. Much fiction seeks to show not what is, but what could be, or what should be. A trope being unrealistic isn't necessarily a flaw, and is often covered by Rule of Cool, Rule of Funny, or Rule of Scary. Indeed, a trope, however unrealistic, can be a convenient shorthand when played straight; setting up aversions or subversions for it can be more wordy than is needed to get on with story.

Every trope has a silver lining. Just because there's a lot of bad, bad Mary Sues out there doesn't mean nobody could ever, or has ever, done it well. The much-reviled All Just a Dream was, let's not forget, used in one of the best series finales in the history of television, as well as one of the best twist endings in any movie. While becoming Darker and Edgier isn't always a good thing, it's been used in one of the best movie series in recent memory, and indeed the biggest blockbuster of 2008. Remember, while this site is fairly snarky, most of the snark is directed towards shows who don't use tropes well.

When someone points out a less-than-flattering trope in a less-than-flattering way, remember that Star Trek fans have learned to live with and even love annoying characters, outbursts of "Khaaaaaaan!", Rubber Forehead Aliens, Green Skinned Space Babes, etc. Seriously, you can learn to love it while still acknowledging it.

Just because nobody points out a trope doesn't mean it isn't there. Tropes Will Ruin Your Life, one way or another. When you read a long and hilarious list of trope examples, and you know deep in your heart of hearts that your pet show belongs, save yourself the heartache and list it yourself—you'll probably be fairer than someone who doesn't like the show. It is the only way, my friend, and you won't have to give up your fan-club membership just because you acknowledged the truth. Be specific, be funny, and resist that Fan Boy temptation to add that prefix averted or justified.

"Justified Trope" doesn't mean what you think it means, anyway.

Being Trope Overdosed isn't bad. Just because some shows have a ridiculous number of tropes associated with them doesn't make those shows bad. Overdosage is linked to how popular, well-recorded by our tropers, influential, and long a work has run, not how good or bad it is. Let's face it, applying tropes to things is what this site is all about. It's fun. This is our solemn duty.

The point of this wiki is that tropes are fun, and that there's no such thing as Serious Business. So think before sniping that example with a Justifying Edit, take a deep breath, and remember that Tropes Are Not Bad, and that it's just a show, you should really just relax.


  1. REDIRECT Tropes Are Tools