Part 1 of the Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions. Items are sorted alphabetically by whichever trope is alphabetically first; if you're looking for a specific one, use the "Find" or "Search" function of your Web browser.
Deus Exit Machina: The Hero/The Lancer is absent from the big fight because he's otherwise occupied (with another enemy or he's just out of pocket for the day). Misses the fight completely as often as he saves the day.
Karl Marx Hates Your Guts is about the price of items staying the same when it puts the player at a disadvantage. Both can be true: equipment sells for the same price (so you can't make money dealing in equipment) but the inns keep going up.
Adaptation Distillation is when outright changes to the source material aren't made, but the complexity of the source is simplified/streamlined in a successful way.
A Woolseyism is when outright but unnecessary changes are made to the source material, but those changes are good in their own right, if not better than the original. Also, it applies to translations only, not to adaptations from one medium to another within the same language.
All Myths Are True means any myths in-universe are verbatim or slightly garbled accounts of actual past events (or, in the case of prophecies, future events).
Crossover Cosmology is about the Fridge Logic inherent when a setting is so chock full of different religions (which are all true) that their mutual exclusivity becomes problematic.
A Fantasy Kitchen Sink is a different matter; nearly every mythological idea or being from our world is real and lives in the story's universe — often with vastly different and contradictory origin myths. This can even include things that are more sci-fi than mythological (stuff like aliens, other dimensions, or super-science).
First Episode Spoiler: It's an event that starts the series, and as such is impossible to explain the series without spoiling it.
Late Arrival Spoiler is a fandom-specific variety of this in which promotional material for new installments of a franchise give away major plot developments of past installments, assuming that fans are already familiar with them.
An Allegedly Free Game is a free game that cannot be fully experienced without purchasing extra features, whether due to pricey DLC or unlockables or because necessary features are kept away from free users.
The Federation is a group of strong nations that work together for their own mutual benefit; a powerful enemy usually isn't necessary.
The Empire is The Federation's Evil Counterpart: a conglomeration of nations in which one powerful nation has absorbed the others by force; said nation is usually led by a powerful demagogue.
La Résistance is a small group that tries to foment rebellion against The Empire or corruption in one nation.
The Alliance is the evolution of La Resistance: a group of small nations that join together for their own mutual benefit, usually to stand up against The Empire.
The Fictional United Nations is halfway between The Federation and The Alliance. It's where The Alliance has a formal governing body but, unlike The Federation, is not treated as a single state and usually does not have a military of its own. It can also contain both good guys and bad guys.
Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work is about a villain who shows up to Shoot the Dog or otherwise do something else that the heroes are averse to doing, emphasizing the evilness of the villains while keeping the good guys' hands clean.
Villainous Rescue is the Villain saving the Hero in a classical fashion; there's nothing evil about the act itself, just the oddity in who did it. What happens after is up for grabs.
Always a Bigger Fish is more closely related to Deus ex Machina. The forces involved, while they have been obstacles to the protagonists in the past, are indiscriminate enough in their malice that they'll go after whatever is currently menacing the protagonists.
An Ensemble Darkhorse is when a minor character is unexpectedly popular, sometimes moreso than the rest of the cast.
Breakout Character is when the writers notice the existence of an Ensemble Darkhorse and have said character become more important. This doesn't happen to every Ensemble Darkhorse, however: sometimes the writers don't notice or care about his/her existence. Also, Breakout Character often implies that the character comes to dominate the show, rather than just become as important as other main characters.
An Asspull is a plot twist that's so poorly set up, it feels like the writer just pulled something out of their ass.
A Deus ex Machina is a resolution to a seemingly impossible situation that comes out of nowhere; it can still be set up with Chekhov's Gun and feel forced if too little attention is given to the set up.
An Author Avatar is a character who is based on the author, although may have a different name and appearance. The Author Avatar is a character like any other, and thus doesn't have Author Powers or is aware that s/he is inside a fictional story.
Badass Longcoat is about the article of clothing (including trench coats, dusters, greatcoats, Inverness capes, and other knee-length-or-longer coats), worn unbuttoned to make its wearer look cool. The way these coats flare and billow around the wearer is an essential part of the trope.
Bare-Fisted Monk is when a character is really, really good at barehand fighting and can take on and defeat armed melee fighters.
Good Old Fisticuffs is when someone with no martial arts or fighting training beats the crap out of skilled opponent(s) just by throwing punches...it's essentially a bar brawler taking on and beating an MMA fighter.
In The Battle Didn't Count, you have to win a fight to avoid getting a Game Over, but afterwards the boss is still alive. He may either be anywhere from severely wounded to perfectly healthy, as long as he's not dead.
In a Hopeless Boss Fight, you are presented with a boss you couldn't possibly defeat, except by cheating or exploiting a bug. When you lose, instead of getting a Game Over like in any other event, the plot continues on.
Beautiful All Along refers to when a character previously thought to be homely is suddenly shown in such a light as to make it apparent that she is actually quite attractive.
With She Cleans Up Nicely, it is not necessary that the character be thought of as homely; it simply refers to when a character who is usually depicted in a normal fashion is suddenly made to appear as glamorous as possible.
She Is All Grown Up occurs when a child character returns after an absence and, thanks to growing up, has become handsome/beautiful in the eyes of those who knew him/her back in the day.
Bellisario's Maxim is from a more technical standpoint, it is assuming that a group of 10 writers can't squeeze in enough research to placate the millions of critical viewers. Also, they can't be expected to exorcise every singlePlot Hole from a story (especially on a weekly basis).
These are psychological-personality oriented tropes that explain why first impressions can be misleading, and suggest situations where the audience's perception of a character might change. Tie in with Index with a Heart of Gold and More than Meets the Eye tropes.
Beneath the Mask states that people often hide how they really are and how they really feel about things because they are scared of what others might think of them or what punishment they could receive. Both power and anonymity remove said fears and show how a person really is. This trope also states that this hidden self is sometimes hidden even from ourselves. The hidden qualities might be anything, good, bad, or subjectively ugly, that the character is afraid to show.
GIFT is a theory that tries to explain the antisocial behaviour of people on the Internet. This trope states that anonymity corrupts people that are otherwise normally nice, making them act like jerks, as opposed to Beneath the Mask that states that anonymity doesn't corrupt but only reveals what was already there.
Hidden Depths: This trope is about hidden skills and hidden backstory rather than about personality, though it may well result in the audience's perception of the character changing.
In My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels, Alice doesn't speak Tropish very well, so she says something hilarious and nonsensical like "My hovercraft is full of eels."
"Blind Idiot" Translation is when Alice says something perfectly sensible in Tropish like "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Then Bob, who doesn't speak Tropish very well, translates it into something hilarious and nonsensical like "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten."
In Either World Domination or Something about Bananas, the above happens but instead of Bob translating it badly, he manages to narrow it down to two options: either "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" or "The spirit is willing but the flesh is full of eels."
Translation Train Wreck is when a translation in Real Life is so mangled that the result is gibberish, usually the result of the translators not actually speaking any of the language they're translating to.
The Fourth Wall is the metaphorical invisible wall between the characters in a story and the audience. It's the default state of most fiction that the characters are unaware that they're characters in a fictional story.
Breaking the Fourth Wall is when characters speak to (or in some way acknowledge the existence of) the audience or the author, thereby acknowledging their own fictionality.
Medium Awareness is when characters notice the conventions of the storytelling medium.
No Fourth Wall describes fiction where the characters break the Fourth Wall all the time.
Painting the Medium is when the author plays with the conventions of a storytelling medium in order to convey additional information to the audience.
Break Them by Talking means any situation where one character tries to break another's will by claiming uncomfortable things that the other can't deny.
Hannibal Lecture is a subtrope in which a character being interrogated turns the tables on the interrogator with psychological manipulation.
A "The Reason You Suck" Speech generally involves more of a reminder of everything that is out in the open, and does not necessarily have a tactical or strategic purpose. (If it does, it's probably also an instance of Break Them by Talking at the same time.) It can even be done between people that are supposed to be friends or allies.
Chekhov's Gag: About humor: a joke is set up, pays off, and is forgotten by the viewer, but then much later pays off yet again.
Example: Family Guy - In a cutaway about random Discovery channel specials, Peter watches an Animal Documentary-esque program about the hunting rituals of fire engines. Later on, at the very end of the episode, a feral fire engine ends up on their lawn for another gag. Basically a call-back gag.
Brick Joke: Not solely about humor. Plot related. A minor, insignificant, or seemingly concluded event occurs, and the viewer is meant to think it over and done with. The event then recurs much later on to effect the plot in an unexpected way. In some ways, it is actually a Call Back with severe plot significance.
Example: Early in the plot, John Doe steals something insignificant as a show to the audience of how much of a rogue he is, and escapes the police. Later on he is shot, and it's revealed he never got around to taking the thing out his pocket, so the bullet ricocheted off of it, saving his life.
But Not Too Evil is a villain that Moral Guardians complain about because he is seen as "too evil" for the work he's in. He is sometimes toned down as a result of the complaints and sometimes not.
A Harmless Villain is an antagonist that was never intended to be a serious threat; they're most often found in funny shows and as comic relief if there is a more evil/harmful villain.
Poke the Poodle is an "evil" action that's not really all that serious. A Harmless Villain can poke the poodle as a joke, but sometimes something a serious villain does fails at looking evil and is also poodle-poking.
Calvinball is when a game doesn't have any rules or the rules are deliberately changed from session to session, except for maybe one or two consistent rules purely to identify the game as itself (for example, Calvinball's One Hard Rule is "Calvinball must never be played the same way twice")
Gretzky Has the Ball is when the rules of real life sports or games are present erroneously (either by the character or just the work).
New Rules as the Plot Demands is when a game that exists in-series operates in a non-nonsensical, impossible, or self-contradictory way. There are presumed to be rules, but what those might be is completely lost on the viewer.
A Captain Ersatz is a character created to stand in for one that the author is not able or willing to use, usually due to legal issues.
An Expy is a character that is suspiciously similar to another character in another work, but not obviously supposed to be that character. This often happens within works by the same author as the previous character, but it can also be a Homage or Shout-Out by another author.
Cassandra Truth is any time when a great secret or danger is discovered by someone, but their warnings fall on deaf ears. Often attributed to children. It includes the following:
The Cassandra is someone whose warnings and predictions go dismissed and unbelieved because they're perceived as being unreliable, despite a nearly-infallible track record of previous warnings or predictions coming true.
Ignored Expert is an expert whose warnings and predictions go dismissed and unbelieved because the warnings are unpopular, despite their expertise and extensive knowledge of the subject.
A Cassandra Gambit is a widespread release of true information through low-credibility channels. It may be intended to discredit the truth, or to disseminate the truth in a way that maintains plausible deniability.
A Chekhov's Gun is an object that is set up as unimportant, then used as a plot device, surprising the audience with actual significance.
A Chekhov's Boomerang is a Chekhov's Gun after it has been used, and the audience assumes it has no further importance, but is unexpectedly reused and surprises the audience with new actual significance.
The Chessmaster is someone who looks upon everyone as being pawns in a game; the chess metaphor is frequently used. They sit safely away in their evil lair and play everyone against each other.
Magnificent Bastard is someone whose intelligence and capability alone causes fear and respect in the heroes. Likely to be Dangerously Genre Savvy and will manipulate people to their advantage, but unlike the Chessmaster they are personally active in their schemes. As a result they usually have a much higher success rate than most villains and will likely have a large fanbase.
A Cliff Hanger is when the story is not concluded within the single movie or television show, which requires an additional movie or episode to finish the story. The worst case is Left Hanging, when that conclusion does not happen.
Death from Above is the supertrope to the other three, covering general attacks from above.
Orbital Bombardment is any attack by an orbiting spacecraft against a planet surface, and is the supertrope to Colony Drop and Kill Sat. The key distinction from a Kill Sat is that the attacker can leave orbit under its own power.
A Colony Drop is a subtype of Orbital Bombardment that uses thrown space objects (anything from junked satellites to, in rare cases, stars) to attack.
Ink-Suit Actor is where a character in an animated show or computer game is designed to look like the real-world performer who did their voice.
No Celebrities Were Harmed is where a fictional character is clearly intended to be a fictionalized version or caricature of a celebrity, down to having a similar profession and/or a personality based on that person's public persona.
Conveniently an Orphan covers the common narrative device of making the hero an orphan to provide them a particular heroic motivation, or to unroot them so they can go on some unrelated adventure. Generally the parents died some time ago, and the hero may not angst about them very much on-screen.
Orphan's Ordeal covers stories where the grief and other hardships associated with lost parents are a major focus of the plot. Generally the parents died more recently.
A Cordon Bleugh Chef is an otherwise skilled cook who has an unfortunate habit of mixing ingredients that should not be mixed. The result of these "experiments" is usually indistinguishable from that of the Lethal Chef.
A Lethal Chef is one who has absolutely no culinary skills. Their dishes go past merely bad and straight to "toxic"
A One Note Cook has one dish, or type of dish, at which they excel at making. Outside of that area of expertise, they're usually a Lethal Chef.
Cosmic Horror Story is the genre where the universe is a hopeless, horrific and meaningless place, often filled to the brim with obscenely powerful entities that could crush humanity like an ant and not notice, and it is only a matter of time before that happens.
Eldritch Abominations are strange otherworldly monstrosities from beyond; they do the crushing mentioned above.
Lovecraft Lite is a genre that uses many of the trappings of a Cosmic Horror Story, but is not bleak, hopeless, or meaningless. The evil entities can be defeated permanently; the good guys can win decisively; the world, and humanity, can survive.
A Crapsack World is a horrible place where the pessimistic notion of "anything that can go wrong will go horribly wrong" almost always applies, and it corrupts its inhabitants into perpetuating that nastiness against each other. Many examples of Earth That Was are a Crapsack World, but they don't have to be.
A Critical Research Failure is if the error is obvious to any viewer with even the smallest degree of knowledge of that field.
So if a character steals the Mona Lisa, Raphael's most famous painting, from the British Museum, it is a Critical Research Failure on the part of the author. note Two of the most basic things almost anyone would know about the Mona Lisa are that it was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci and that it's in the Louvre.
Dan Browned occurs when a work is noticeably or prominently proclaimed to be factual but is, in reality, inaccurate or wrong.
If the author makes notable claims regarding the accuracy of his facts and the diligence of his research, and then describes the methods Leonardo used to prepare the canvas for the Mona Lisa, the author has Dan Browned the audience. note The Mona Lisa is painted on wood.
Note that this is the type often seen in webcomics (although it's generally referred to in those communities simply as a "crossover"), when two authors coordinate to create overlapping storylines — they each tell one half in their own strip, and the reader must flip back and forth, interleaving them to see the full story.