Authors Answer 145 – Tropes and Cliches

What’s the difference between a trope and a cliche? In literature, a trope is the use of figures of speech, basically. But it can also refer to common themes to various genres (for example, dark lords and the chosen one type of hero in fantasy). But that sounds like a cliche, doesn’t it? However, a cliche is something that is overused so that it loses its original meaning. This week, we’re talking about that, and the question comes from Gregory S. Close.

Question 145 – Do you avoid tropes and/or cliche in your writing? Why or why not?

Cyrus Keith

Tropes and cliches are WAY too much fun to totally leave behind. Overuse can make a story boring and pat. But if your can combine tropes into something totally new, you can do magic with it. Just learn that fine line on which to balance.

D. T. Nova

I avoid specific tropes that I don’t like.

But there are others that I consciously use, and almost certainly some that slipped in unnoticed.

It’s not possible to avoid all popular tropes, and not productive to try.

I avoid cliches like the plague. Wait a minute.

Paul B. Spence

I’m glad you make a distinction here. A trope is part of what defines a genre. A cliché is a tired, over-used idea that probably needs to go away, at least most of the time. I write science fiction. Tropes of this genre that I use include starships, intelligent machines, aliens, and ancient technologies. The trick to keeping a trope from becoming a cliché is to try to think of new and interesting ways to describe your tropes and don’t get lazy. I try to avoid clichés, although I should point out that I said “probably should go away.” Using a good cliché in a new way makes it interesting.

Jean Davis

It really depends on the story. There are times when relying on tropes can make introducing ideas, characters, or world elements easier for both the reader and writer, allowing them to put more focus on making the original parts of the story shine. Relying too much on clichés and tropes may be seen as lazy writing. However, if you’re writing satire or humor, there is certainly a time and place for both of those things.

Gregory S. Close

A trope is a shortcut. Anytime you use a shortcut, it lets you get where you need to go quickly, but often at the expense of admiring the scenery along the way. Using the shortcut isn’t bad in and of itself, sometimes we really don’t have time to tell every bit of every journey for every character, and a little bit of shorthand can go a long way to keep the story moving. I try to be careful about tropes and cliches, using them to paint broad strokes while taking the time to surprise a little with the fine, detailed, brushes.

Eric Wood

I try to avoid cliches like the plague. I don’t think they add any sustenance to the meat of the story. I lose interest when I read other writers using it. However, a good metaphor will last longer than the leftovers growing in the back of the fridge.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

I think I probably avoid a fair number of tropes and cliches, just because I want my stories to be different, you know? For instance, with my zombie novel, Nowhere to Hide, I avoided a lot of the common explanations for the apocalypse, like military testing, nuclear waste, and so on, because I wanted people to get something a bit unusual out of my story instead. That said, I also embraced several common zombie cliches in the writing of the story because sometimes the cliches are what make something fun. I think the key is to look at the tropes and try to decide which are ones that people will be disappointed to not see, and which will make them roll their eyes and groan. It’s not always easy, because peoples’ moods can change like the wind, but if you’re a great lover of the genre you’re writing in, it shouldn’t be too difficult to put yourself in the place of the reader and figure out which cliches they’d like or not like.

H. Anthe Davis

This is a tricky question. First off, not all tropes are bad; they’re just noticeable patterns in the character arcs and stories of several thousand years’ worth of human literature. The idea of a Hero’s Journey isn’t devalued because it’s a recognizable pattern; what may devalue it is in how the trope-y aspects of said Journey are handled. Do you play it straight, in an obvious and hackneyed way? Do you change things up, or start something that seems like a Hero’s Journey but turns into a very different kind of tale? Humans are pattern-makers, and we often enjoy recognizing the bones of a story — no matter if the meat grown on those bones is familiar or strange. I personally can identify certain tropes in my writing and characters, but I make damn sure that the tropes aren’t ALL that defines them — that the characters are people in their own right, breaking out of their constraints wherever they can, and that the story goes in an organic direction defined by those characters. Whether this follows, or twists, or averts other tropes doesn’t matter to me, as long as it feels right.

C E Aylett

Depends on the trope or cliché’s purpose. If it has no purpose and is used out of casual habit, then I would look to eliminate it in edits, but if it has deliberate intention, then yes, I would use it.

Jay Dee Archer

It really depends. I mostly avoid using cliches. If it has a place in something I’m writing, I’ll use it. But mostly, no. As for tropes, I do use them, but I don’t want to use them in the typical way. In some genres, especially fantasy, tropes are extremely common. Quite often, they’re expected. A lot of readers want to see some tropes. I’d rather give them a twist on the tropes, something fresh. But I wouldn’t abandon them. Used correctly, they can work very well.

How about you?

Do you like to see cliches or tropes in the novels you read? If you’re an author, do you use them or avoid them? Let us know in the comments section below.

5 thoughts on “Authors Answer 145 – Tropes and Cliches”

  1. No matter what kind of fiction you write (yes, this includes Literary Fiction), if you completely avoid any TROPES of that genre, you’re not writing that genre, period.

    Tropes, as explained on the Speculative Fiction Tropes website: “Tropes are just tools.  Writers understand tropes and use them to control audience expectations either by using them straight or subverting them, to convey things to the audience quickly without saying them.” In comparison, clichés are story elements that are trite and overused.

    An example from fantasy fiction: Dwarves. A cliché would be to have all dwarven characters be obsessed with beer and smithing. Or beer and stonemasonry. Or beer and axe fighting. And none ‘of em ever shave their beards, not even the ladies… Dwarves ARE a trope (write ‘dwarves,’ and your reader has a general idea of what you mean from that word alone), but they don’t have to be a cliché. Give ’em individual personalities, let some of them be entertainers or scribes or herbalists… Let some of them drink cider or even tea instead of beer! Not cliché anymore.

  2. I even have favorite tropes lol, and I knew what they were even before I was aware of the term “trope.” I have TV Tropes to thank for that knowledge, and when I discovered that website it’s like I fell down a rabbit hole of amazing. I had to limit my time on it because I was spending hours there at the expense of my writing, which I suppose could be considered ironic, since writing is a display of tropes.

    Cliches are definitely one thing and tropes are another. It’s impossible to write a tropeless story, but I’d certainly eat crow if someone did, though really anything they wrote would just add more tropes to the pile.

    Since I write dark fantasy/paranormal romance I tend to favor tropes associated with that, but I try to play around with standard romance ones since they can not only be cliched but quite sexist as well.

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