When dealing with Super Tropes
and other broad story conventions that can manifest in a range of variations, the article will necessarily include a quick list describing all these variations at a glance. An unfortunate side effect is that eventually, editors will start referencing the list exclusively by whatever letter or number designation corresponds to a desired item. The end result is that when you browse trope lists on work pages, you'll occasionally run into citations like:
Show contains examples of these tropes
And what, exactly, is the "type 3" supposed to indicate?
This is a bad citation
to avoid for several reasons:
- It doesn't actually explain the example. It doesn't answer the 'who' or the 'what', the 'where' or 'when', the 'why' or 'how' of the example; all it does is reference some item in a list, and rely on a separate page to fill in the missing gaps, when it should be giving a full explanation on the same page.
- The actual number/letter designation is irrelevant, or may be subject to change. What happens if somebody adds, removes, or reorganizes the list items in a way that impacts what number/type labels correspond to what? Doing so will render our references to that list misleading or invalid.
- Individual types may not be mutually exclusive. Tropes Are Flexible, and a given example may combine more than one variation at a time. A citation that reads, for example, "[Character] is a Type 2 + Type 3 [Personality Trope], with a hint of Type 7" is completely opaque to the reader, not just because it fails to explain what those numbers are supposed to represent, but also because it's overloading the reader with several at once.
- You should never have to visit any other page (off or on the wiki) to understand an example on the page you're currently reading. Yeah, this is basically repeating point number one all over again, but it deserves the extra emphasis. When you're explaining an example, you need to fully explain the example yourself.
It's worthwhile to note that there are ways to prevent this problem from developing in the first place. The following tip comes courtesy of (the original
) Murphy's Law
Do not assign positional number/letter labels to a soft split or sliding scale.
Rather than relying on positional labels (A,B,C or 1,2,3) to identify the items, come up with descriptive phrases of your own, treating them as if they were separate Sub Trope
articles with distinct names already. For example:
MacGuffins can come in a few varieties:
- A Dismantled MacGuffin: Pieces of an artifact that must be re-assembled.
- A Mineral MacGuffin: A crystal or raw elemental substance.
- The Egg MacGuffin: An egg that will hatch into a baby creature.
- Mr. Living MacGuffin: A person of interest.
Descriptive labels provide fixed mnemonics which won't (usually) get mixed around if the list is changed or reorganized in the future, and even if it does they still provide some
context to help interpret the example without having to leave the page to check. Meaning that our original "Type 3" citation (which was a problem) will instead look like this:
Show contains examples of these tropes:
This still doesn't explain everything about the example (the "who" or "where", etc.), but it's worlds better than a mere number or letter designation.
For help, please use this
of Zero Context Example
(the general faux-pas of poorly explained citations), and a Sister Trope
to Weblinks Are Not Examples