Even with tropes about tropes (metatropes) that describe how tropes tend to be used, it can be hard to pin down the exact relationship between a trope and a particular work.
This is a quick-reference guide of ways to play a trope, illustrated for clarity with two simple examples:
Justified: The trope has a reason In-Universe to be present. note Tropes Are Tools. Almost all tropes are justified in some way. If you put a Justifying Edit after every trope that you see you'll be on TV Tropes for the rest of your life and annoy people, too. Justifications are only worth noting if the trope in question is not normally Justified, or if it's a Justification other than the normal one.
The butler decided to get revenge on his abusive master. (This is the usual Justification.) Or, he did it because he's actually an assassin that took the job to beBeneath Suspicion.
Powerful weapons glow because the villains are sentient shadows. Or the weapons are powered by glowing Phlebotinum. (This trope is not normally Justified.)
Inverted: The trope (or its elements) are reversed and then used. Some tropes have more than one possible inversion.
The butler is the victim. Or the butler solved the crime. Or every suspect except the butler was part of the crime.
Only weak weapons glow. Or powerful weapons absorb light, creating darkness around them.
Subverted: A trope is set up to occur, but then the writer pulls a fast one on the audience, and the trope does not occur after all.
The butler is the prime suspect at the beginning, and is later found innocent. Or, the butler did do it, but it turns out it was an Accidental Murder.
A huge glowing bomb is assumed to be a superweapon, and is then revealed to not have any effective blast due to its inefficiency.
The butler is the prime suspect at the beginning, but then eliminated as a suspect — except he did do it, and the exonerating evidence is false.
A huge glowing bomb is assumed to be a superweapon, and is then revealed to not have any effective blast due to its inefficiency. But the glow itself is super-effective.
Untwisted: Sometimes, a Subversion is expected. In an Untwist, the audience expects a trope to be Subverted, but it is Played Straight instead. The Inversion of a standard Subversion. Highly subjective; any plot development can become The Untwist to a sufficiently paranoid reader.
The butler is shown early on as the suspect with the flimsiest alibi, like a typical Red Herring with a Big Secret, but after a series of twists and turns the detective reveals to everyone's surprise that it was old Alfred, after all.
The "glowing" weapons appear to not glow at all. However, it turns out that they emit ultraviolet light. So they do glow, just not in the visible spectrum.
Parodied: The form of the trope is twisted and used in a silly way, specifically for comic effect.
The heroes fight with giant glowsticks, the kind that you have to snap and shake.
Deconstructed: The intentional use and exploration of the trope, played far straighter than usual in order to show the trope as poorly thought out, impractical, or unrealistic. The deconstruction is usually much less nice than the source trope, although not always.
The butler is a revolutionary serial killer, who purposely takes jobs as butlers to murder his rich masters. All the unfortunate implications of class warfare that this suggests are brought up and discussed.
The most powerful characters are all blind due to the brightness of their weapons.
Reconstructed: Reconstructed tropes are the new and improved Played Straight of an often deconstructed trope. A Reconstruction reassembles the Deconstruction into something that resembles the original trope, but that would still work in reality. In other words, this is the inversion of a Deconstruction.
The butler was defending himself from his cruel master who was about to murder the butler.
Vision damage is a risk that the heroes must take to defeat the Ultimate Evil.
Zig Zagged: None of the above, or more than one of the above; this category covers miscellaneous variations. Examples include a trope that gets triple subverted, both inverted and played straight at the same time, or, well, just done confusingly.
The butler did it, but he was under Mind Control at the time. And it later turns out that the one mind controlling the butler looked exactly like the butler. And then we find out that it was actually his Evil Twin, who was also a butler. But it turns out it was a conspiracy hatched by the Butler and his Evil Twin, one born of necessity because the victim was going to do something monstrous.
The toy company handling the merchandising wants to make all the best weapons glow in the dark, so the producers have that incorporated into the strongest weapons on the show.
Implied: The trope isn't shown, but the audience is indirectly led to believe that it happened off-screen.
The detective rules out all the guests one-by-one, but in the end he fails to find the real killer. The astute reader notices he never bothered to investigate the butler.
A character on his way to judge martial arts try-outs carries a light meter.
Tropes can also be played differently in terms of tone and style:
Played for Laughs: The humorous elements of a trope are played up. Differs from Parodied by being a straight use. Normally only applicable for serious tropes, but can show up for any trope.
The butler did it, but it took him three hundred and seventeen tries (of which we're shown twelve), all of which his master escaped without realizing anything was happening (including the time when he walked up and shot his master, which the master passed off as "you could've hurt someone, mistaking that gun for a lighter.").
The hero's glowing sword occasionally starts to flicker and go out, and he has to smack it a few times to get it working again.
Played for Drama: The serious or melodramatic elements of a trope are played up. Normally only applicable for comedic tropes, but can show up for any trope.
The butler did it, but is quite sympathetic, and the reasons he did it are gone into in great detail.
Exploited: A Genre Savvy character, aware that a trope will occur (or is occurring), uses it to their advantage. If the trope is not yet in effect, the character who Exploits it may Invoke it in the process.
The detective purposely investigates the butler first, because the butler always does it in the mystery books he reads.
Plotted A Good Waste: A trope that is normally unintentional on the part of the writer is used intentionally, to toy with the audience. Not applicable to most tropes, but still a method of playing with a trope. As you may have guessed, this concept is not applicable to tropes which are normally intentional, such as The Butler Did It or Power Glows. However, one might suggest something in terms of: