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Just For Fun / The Tropeless Tale

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"One of the things we tried to do with Monty Python's Flying Circus was to try and do something that was so unpredictable that it had no shape and you could never say what the kind of humor was. And I think that the fact that 'Pythonesque' is now a word in the Oxford English Dictionary shows the extent to which we failed."
Terry Jones at the US Comedy Arts Festival, 1998

You're sick of all of those Cliché Storm, Troperrific, and Trope Overdosed stories. It's getting on your nerves. Why doesn't anybody do anything original? Something new enough not to get the label of "trope" stamped on them? It's just a term used to avoid having to say the C-wordnote , anyway!

Then you get an idea. You know what you're going to do! You're going to write one yourself! A Tropeless Tale! So you go on TV Tropes and start finding every trope that exists so that you won't use them, consciously or unwittingly. Work something out afterwards once you know what you're left with.

As you browse the site and learn about more and more tropes to steer clear of, you think about how not using them will restrict you from writing a story conventionally, and how you might work around it:

  1. You can't have a hero or a villain. Not a deal-breaker so far; there have been works with no one who's outright good or evil.
  2. You can't have an Action Guy or a known Non-Action Guy, nor can you have only men or only women.
  3. You can't write about anything you like. That might be fixable, if you just write about what you hate — no, wait! You can't do that, either.
  4. You will not go overboard with your descriptions, but you can't limit those descriptions, either.

But then it hits you: avoiding certain recurring elements invariably brings forth other tropes! As you think about this, you continue gathering tropes and learn:

  1. You can't have anyone opposing the main character... but then your story would have No Antagonist.
  2. No matter how popular your story is, you cannot adapt it into a movie, a show, a video game, a board game, a comic book, an audio play, a pinball machine, a musical, a novel, or any merchandise at all. It looks like you have No Adaptations Allowed... wait, there's a trope for that too?
  3. You will not have a narrative in your story. That means no Dialogue, no Conflict, no Characters, no Plot. Then your story will be about the purely abstract, maybe even nothingness. Just a page or two describing the non-existent scenery that is uTropia. Or maybe just describing nothingness. Aww, nuts, that won't work either...
  4. You can't simply use as few tropes as needed; that is also a trope. So, you should avert all tropes... but you cannot use Averted Trope on any nigh-omnipresent tropes. Sound like some sort of Logic Bomb? Well, you have to avert that now too.note 

It's at this point that your head explodes from the sheer number of paradoxes that have arisen from trying to create a Tropeless Tale. Your spirit rises out of your body into the clouds, where Trope-tan, goddess of tropes, is waiting for you. Incensed, you say to her, "Is this some kind of cosmic prank you're pulling? I'm sure there has to be a way to write a story without tropes!"

Trope-tan shakes her head and answers:

"Even if you actually accomplish it somehow, despite all the other issues you encountered, even if you manage to create a story that is well and truly tropeless, what happens if other people decide they like your ideas enough to copy them in their stories? Then your tale would no longer be tropeless, but instead be the Trope Maker for an entirely new set of tropes, because that's what a trope is: a pattern of elements meant to convey meaning."

Heck, the "story" can't even exist because there is no world, characters, plot, themes, etc.; everything IS a trope, you will just do nothing for that's lazy... to "create" your "franchise", it just can't actually exist... What all just is plain nothing, but think... what the merchandise be made out of. It can't be plastic, wood, fabric, metal, paper or any material at all; can it be made out of air?!? You can't mold air, and it has no shapes... the idea may be already "existing" and that "idea" is nothing™️ in the living mater of existence of the world if it does not...

You stare in silence for several seconds. Finally, Trope-tan asks you, "So, what did you learn?"
And you reply, "I learned two things:"

  1. "I can't write a story without tropes, and that's okay."
  2. "Trying to write a story without tropes will make your head explode."

[The End and roll credits]

Due to the impossibility of writing a story without tropes, it is generally not to be undertaken except as an artistic challenge, and attempting to not use tropes is not necessarily intelligent writing; instead, an easier end toward intelligent writing is to take old tropes and use them in a new way. Watchmen is considered a masterpiece, even though nothing in it was new. It just used the old in a fascinating way. William Shakespeare lifted all of his plots from other works (except maybe one or two). The Belgariad is one of the most critically acclaimed fantasy series in modern fiction, and was deliberately filled with every trope, convention and cliché that the writer could think of. Also, let's not forget that the three highest grossing movies of all time, Titanic (1997), Avatar, and Avengers: Endgame, are riddled with tried and true formulae, familiar story structure and arc characterisations.

It's important to note that this page is not meant as a smug, pop-psychology attack on the stupidity and unoriginality of the human brain, but rather a testament to how many tropes authors and artists have created, including some pairs of tropes that are exact opposites and even some that necessarily occur whenever others don't. In contrast, the message here is that writing a tropeless tale is impossible because writers long ago have thought of so much, often in deliberate attempts to avoid using tropes. So don't take it personally. Heck, even stories purposefully written with as few words as possible can unintentionally spawn a myriad of tropes, such as Hemingway's Six-Word Story, the three surviving lines of The Progeny, and The Ugly Barnacle.

The closest thing to a Tropeless Tale is TV static from a channel you can tune to, but don't get — in other words, a Snowy Screen of Death! Curses! You Are Too Late!

Some works have come close to reaching this nebulous quality such as Allegretto, After Last Season, Empire, Grand Piano Keys, Koyaanisqatsi, My Dinner with Andre, Man with a Movie Camera, NOW That's What I Call Music!, Russian Ark, Decasia, A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates, Une semaine de bonténote , Webdriver Torso, and quite a few True Art Is Incomprehensible works, although all of these are arguable and subjective, and well... they tend to come up with tropes anyway. The closest example in video games is arguably Pyongyang Racer, and that still has some tropes. Also, Finnegans Wake. No, wait, that's a Mind Screw... Arguably, the closest thing to it is the film Roundhay Garden Scene which is 2 seconds long and depicts no real action, but it's questionable whether it can even be considered a "work".

To put it another way, the Tropeless Tale would be... absolutely nothing.note 

See also SoYouWantTo.Be Original.

Look, even this page uses tropes:

  • An Aesop: You can't write a story without tropes, and that's OK.
  • Alliterative Name: The Tropeless Tale.
  • Awful Truth: You will never be 100% original. Yes, it's sad, but you have to accept it and move on.
  • Beige Prose: The only words in the Tropeless Tale are in the title.
  • Break Them by Talking: That's right, go ahead. Try and make a tropeless tale. It is impossible.
  • Conflict: Averted, as the story has no conflict (unless you count the writer trying to make a Tropeless Tale as the conflict).
  • Empty Room Psych: The lack of tropes would make people want to find meaning and content in the story anyway, even if there weren't any content intended in the first place.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a story without tropes (or at least, its ideal is to be one).
  • Flash Fiction: The Tropeless Tale is as short as you can possibly make a story, as it has no words at all (not counting the title).
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: Ideally, the aim of the Tropeless Tale is to have absolutely no content in it at all. But as the other tropes prove, even having the story be completely absent of even the most basic things a story needs, to the point where it has absolutely no words beyond the title, will spawn a myriad of tropes by itself.
  • Mind Screw: A story with no tropes spawns a list of tropes anyway. Try to wrap your head around that.
  • Minimalism: Trying to make a story that uses absolutely no tropes at all is similar to the mindset of this, albeit taken to an insane and impossible extreme.
  • Minimalist Cast: Exaggerated; as this work doesn't contain characters at all.
  • Nameless Narrative: The Tropeless Tale has absolutely no characters in it. In fact, the only "names" are the title itself.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Despite being a story that attempts to use no tropes, its attempt to completely avoid using them ends up spawning a list of tropes for it anyway.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The Tropeless Tale has no plot or narrative to speak of, but it does exist to make a point, ironically due to its utter lack of content.
  • Poe's Law: Is this serious, or is it a challenge to all you writers out there with a bit of guts?
  • Second-Person Narration: The Tropeless Tale narrating itself without the use of "I" or "me".
  • Self-Referential Humor: This is TV Tropes making fun of its troping ability.
  • Schmuck Bait: The challenge to write something tropeless seems appealing.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In the end, you couldn't create a tropeless tale.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The story proves the folly of trying a write a story with no tropes by showing that a story with no tropes has nothing in it at all, and yet still manages to spawn content, tropes, and a reaction to it, anyway.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Can go either way, depending on whether you interpret the impossibility of making a Tropeless Tale as a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Trope Maker: Maybe, just maybe, you might come up with something that averts all existing tropes. Success? Nope, as the page quote shows, the best you can hope for is that you've created a new one.
  • Unpleasable Fanbase: Even if you managed to create a tropeless tale, someone would still find something in your work to bash and/or criticize.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Tropeless Tale is the storytelling equivalent of this by showing writers aspiring to 100% originality that success is impossible.
  • We Do the Impossible: This is the aim of anyone trying to write a Tropeless Tale, as it absolutely is impossible.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Even if it were possible to succeed, any work created that way would act as a Trope Maker for new tropes. If you found a way around that, "tropeless tale" itself would become a trope.
  • You Keep Using That Word: If you honestly think in the way portrayed by the Tropeless Tale, you're confusing "Trope" with "Cliché".

...And that, folks, is the reason why we say Tropes Are Tools around here. Even the mere concept of a Tropeless Tale has tropes.