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"One does not necessarily have to cluck in disapproval to admit that entertainment is all the things its detractors say it is: fun, effortless, sensational, mindless, formulaic, predictable and subversive. In fact, one might argue that those are the very reasons so many people love it."
Neal Gabler, Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality

Tropes are just tools. Writers understand tropes and use them to control audience expectations either by using them straight or by subverting them, to convey things to the audience quickly without saying them.

Human beings are natural pattern-seekers and storytellers. We make use of stories to convey truths, examine and exchange ideas, speculate on the future and discuss consequences. To do this, we must have a basis for our discussion, a new language to show us what we are looking at today. So our storytellers use tropes to let us know what things about reality we should put aside and what parts of fiction we should take up.

When editing the wiki, then, remember these two mantras:

Tropes Are Not Bad

There is one thing that you must keep in mind to retain your sanity here, and that is that including a trope in a particular work — yes, even those tropes that are considered discredited, forgotten, etc. — does not make it "ruined".

If your favorite shows have long lists of tropes associated with them, well, so do everybody's. A show featuring an Action Girl or showing a character kicking the dog is not a bad thing; the former is merely a reasonable type of character (badass character who is female) and the latter is a character action that happens plenty in Real Life.

Also, consider the size and/or complexity of the work. A four-part TV miniseries, 3 hour movie, or 700 page novel is going to have more tropes than a standard length work. As would very large multipart works such as a 200 episode series, 5 movie franchise, or a book trilogy. A novel with a complicated, intricate plot will also use many more tropes than a simpler story. Consider the analogy of a house: a 7-bedroom house obviously uses more materials than a two bedroom one. Constructing a floor of a building as a twisty maze uses much more materials than a floor with just a couple of corridors, etc. Tropes are the cement that holds together the words (water) and concepts (aggregate) used to create the story (concrete).

Consider the following points before you label simply including a common story element or character type as a sign of creative failure:

"But it's what this author is doing this time that matters, as much as, if not more than, what he or she did last time, and that, certainly, matters far more than its kinships, its family likenesses with its mode, its genres, its formal kind."
Valentine Cunningham, Oxford

There is nothing new under the sun. Including that very statement. And the book from which it comes. Completely ignoring the possibility that one's favorite show just might not be hewn from the very essence of the universe by Thor himself and placed in the periodic table under Or for "Originalium" doesn't change the fact that it wasn't. And acknowledging that it isn't should not lessen its appeal, either.

Every story is influenced by what came before it — and storytellers (e.g., writers, directors, actors) are bound to show that influence, intentionally or not, in the process of telling. Just because something's been used before doesn't mean it's a Cliché; and stories often gain something by having ties to other works. That said, there certainly is such thing as too derivative, but there's a difference between playing a trope straight and utter Cliché Storm (and even those aren't necessarily bad).

It's impossible to write something completely and utterly without tropes, anyway, so stop trying.

Almost every trope has a silver lining. The All Just a Dream trope, which quite a few dislike for being overused and often leading to anticlimactic endings, was — let's not forget — used in one of the most highly regarded series finales in the history of television, as well as one of the best twist endings in any movie. While Darker and Edgier revisionism isn't always a good thing, it was used in the biggest blockbuster of 2008. Even if a trope didn't have a silver lining, every trope could still be used honorably by way of subversion, parody, or appropriately employed and treated in-universe examples.
Furthermore, C. S. Lewis pointed out a silver lining to Values Dissonance in his essay "On the Reading of Old Books":

None of us can fully escape this blindness [of our age], but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. ... To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Fiction isn't necessarily supposed to be realistic. When your reader wants to escape from the tired drudgery of reality, you shouldn't be trying to indexically recreate it. Much fiction seeks to show not what is, but what could be, or what should be. Or conversely, it might be warning us of what might be in order to try to prevent it from happening. A trope being unrealistic isn't necessarily a flaw, and is often covered by Rule of Cool, Rule of Funny, or Rule of Scary. Indeed, a trope, however unrealistic, can be a convenient shorthand when played straight; setting up aversions or subversions for it can be more wordy than is needed to get on with story.

Tropes that are bad when imitated in real life are not automatically bad in fiction. This is an important distinction. Many tropes contain or imply cultural, social, or moral value judgments that simply don't work the same way in fiction as they do in real life. Uncle Tomfoolery may be racist in real life, and based on some very nasty stereotypes, but when seen in a work, it simply is. It's not necessary to tell everyone how awful it is, either in the examples or in the trope description. An extreme version of this comes when somebody wants us to cut a trope because they think it describes something bad. See also Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Language.

Tropes Are Not Good

Tropes Are Not Bad covers the bad half of this, but there are good reasons to remember Tropes Are Not Good, too:

All tropes can be written badly. This includes tropes that everyone thinks are good, like Guile Hero. A badly written Guile Hero may be done in such a way that everyone else in the story holds Idiot Balls and generally gives less of an impression of intelligence and more of an impression of cheating or changing the internal rules of the story. Refuge in Audacity has different breaking points for different people.

All tropes can be overused. Too many Xanatos Gambits tend to make the show confusing, no matter how well written they are. Too many cool details included in the show take up storytelling room. Rule of Cool can make up for weak points in a story, but rarely does it work as the story.

Just because a trope is realistic doesn't mean it's good. There is a reason why we have an entire category devoted to Acceptable Breaks from Reality. Some of the most fundamental character archetypes are usually unrealistic, simply for the matter of condensing a large Ensemble Cast into a streamlined group that the story can more easily follow. The important thing when writing a story is that it's believable, not that it's real. The power of a story often comes from recognizing emotions more than the specific presentation of events. Reality Is Unrealistic, after all; often people are so used to tropes that it's reality they find jarring.

Subverting tropes is not necessarily good. Just like tropes themselves are not bad, subversions are not automatically good, witty, original or clever. If a trope serves as convenient shorthand when played straight, setting up a subversion for it may just waste time and distract from the overall story. Sometimes, a writer may throw in nonsensical subversions in the name of making the story unpredictable and/or in the belief that subversions will make the work seem smarter. This belief may be why some tropers are prone to misusing the term "subversion" — see Not a Subversion.

Deconstructing tropes is not necessarily good. While many acclaimed works are deconstructions, it's the careful use and analysis of tropes that makes them acclaimed, and not the mere fact that they're deconstructions. A poorly-executed deconstruction may amount to (often unrealistically) darkening a trope and/or creating a Shallow Parody without providing the meaningful insight that a deconstruction is supposed to provide. Also, deconstructions are (or at least try to be) realistic, but as we've mentioned a couple of times, realism is not inherently good. Like the term "subversion", "deconstruction" is frequently misused. See Not a Deconstruction.

A good show doesn't need "good" tropes. People often search for an ideal recipe for a hit show, as if entertainment was some sort of alchemical process, and are surprised when their stitched-together creation lurches three steps before disappearing into critical oblivion. A well written show won't be any worse if it doesn't have a Chessmaster. A good show doesn't get worse if the main five characters don't form a Five-Man Band. Heck, a good show doesn't even need basic and Omnipresent Tropes like red fire, blue water and antagonists.

Tropes don't automatically become "good" just because they appear in a "good" show. Nobody's perfect, and that includes the writers of your favorite show. Sooner or later, they'll slip up and add a Plot Hole, Series Continuity Error, have someone grab the Idiot Ball or act Out of Character, or they might add some Unfortunate Implications. While it might be tempting to explain why these things aren't that bad, or come up with some convoluted explanation to fit these issues into a sensical narrative, the simplest, and most likely true, explanation for this is just that the writers made an error. No, people won't turn into haters just because they read an example about a flaw in a show without an accompanying justification. If people were only allowed to like shows with zero flaws whatsoever, let alone only make perfect shows, the world would be a much more boring place.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Tropes Are Not Good, Tropes Are Not Bad


Why Liar Revealed Gets Flack

During a review of a movie that prominently features this trope, the Nostalgia Critic breaks down why the trope, while mentioning the times it works (invoking that tropes are tools), completely ruins a film when done poorly.

How well does it match the trope?

4.32 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / LiarRevealed

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