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 (or index) describing these variations at a glance. A common, but unfortunate, side effect is that editors may start referencing the list solely by its letter or number designations, which naturally leads to citations like this:
Show contains examples of these tropes
- MacGuffin: A Type 3 example.
And what, to the uninitiated viewer, is a "type 3" supposed to indicate?
This is a bad citation, and should be avoided for a few reasons:
- It doesn't actually explain the example. I.e. the 'who' or the 'what', the 'where' or 'when', the 'why' or 'how' of the example. A mere letter or number doesn't explain any of that; all it does is reference some item in a list, relying on said list to fill in the missing gaps for it.
- The actual number/letter designation is irrelevant (or may be subject to change). In most cases the list is our creation and we're free to expand or reorganize it later if needednote , and this may impact what letter describes which definition, in turn making references to the 'old' version of the type list look misleading (or invalid) when interpreted according to the 'new' version of the list.
- Individual types need 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 each number is supposed to mean, but also because it imposes an exercise on the reader.
- One should never have to visit page B to understand a trope example on page A. Since you're already painting a picture of how Bob fits a trope, it should (more or less) be a complete picture of Bob and his trope. Referring to vague labels that require reading a different page to understand something immediately relevant to the page you're already on, and readers who choose NOT to figure out the meaning of type labels will totally miss out on understanding it.
It's worthwhile to note that there are a few ways to prevent this problem from developing in the first place. The following tip is free, courtesy of (the original) Murphy's Law:
Avoid assigning positional number/letter labels to a soft split or sliding scale.
E.g., rather than relying on positional labels (A, B, C or 1, 2, 3) to identify types, come up with descriptive phrases of your own for the distinct Internal Subtropes. Descriptive labels provide fixed mnemonics which won't (usually) get mixed around if the list is changed or reorganized in the future, and unlike generic letters or numbers these labels actually say something at face value. In addition, they make TLP's job easier should the subtropes eventually get split out.
For help fixing these, please consult this project thread.
As a related issue, never use a sliding scale or sorting algorithm article as a trope example. Instead, use one of the tropes that it references for positions on the scale. Remember that trope examples are never speculative or theoretical. Don't hypothesize about someone's position in the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality on the work article.