Tropes often get a bad rap. The word is used as an insult and sneered at. And sure, tropes can be bad when they’re over done or thrown around lazily, but Tropes are an important part of writing and writing well.
There are two specific reasons you should know your tropes.1 – So you don’t waste your time writing a boring, done-a-hundred-times plot line.
2 – To give yourself the opportunity to turn that trope on its head.
There are lots of genres where tropes are great! Romance, Fantasy and Science Fiction all have amazing tropes that if played with or compounded on can create a great plot line.
Tropes are tropes because they work and because the familiarity there can lead to a better experience for your reader. It’s like wading into water that slowly gets deeper instead of jumping straight into the deep end and realizing you can’t swim. Giving a reader something they know and can relate to (and hey, maybe they love that trope) before you turn everything on its head is one perfect way to get your audience into the story before pulling the rug out from underneath them.
The thing that makes tropes unreliable is that they are a formula that’s been laid out time and time again. That means they can lead to a story readers will find boring. If your reader gets fifty pages in and they don’t feel like they’re reading anything new… they might put your book down in favor of another.
Tread lightly with tropes. Understand the volatile relationship they have with your prose. Use them wisely.
Not sure if the thing you’re toying with is a trope-laden mine field? Check out the TV Tropes.