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Playing with a Trope

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A handy-dandy visual reference. Thanks, SonicLover!

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.

Note: If it's Not a Trope (YMMV, Trivia), it can't be played with, it either happens straight or not at all. The only exceptions are In-Universe examples of an Invoked Trope.

This is a quick-reference guide of ways to play a trope, illustrated for clarity with three simple examples:

The typical forms of using a trope include:

  • Played Straight: The trope is simply used.
  • Justified: The trope has a reason In-Universe to be present.note 
    • 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 be Beneath Suspicion.
    • Powerful weapons glow because the villains are sentient shadows. Or the weapon is a Laser Blade, which glows by its nature. (This trope is not normally Justified beyond rule of cool.)
    • The driver explains that he was distracted and didn't see the glass until the last moment.
  • 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.
    • Two workers are carrying a pane of glass while running and then they make it shatter over a parked car. Or a large pane of glass falls off the back of a truck and two people catch it intact.
  • 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. Or, a character appears at first to be wielding a Laser Blade but it turns out he's actually just holding a large glowstick.
    • The car misses the pane of glass. Or, something else causes the glass to be broken before the car can even make it to where the glass pane broke. Or the car stops in time before hitting the glass and takes another route.
  • Double Subverted: The trope is Subverted, and then Subverted again so that it occurs after all.
    • 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.
    • The car misses the pane of glass but a second car breaks it instead. Or, the pane of glass is broken before being hit by the car, which then drives through a different pane of glass carried by a second pair of workers. Or, the car hits the glass and knocks it out of the workers' hands without damage to the glass or car... and the glass crumbles after it gets picked back up (which is also Played for Laughs).
  • Parodied: The form of the trope is twisted and used in a silly way, specifically for comic effect.
    • Butlers learn their trade at butler college where they are taught cleaning, cooking, and murdering.
    • The heroes fight with giant glowsticks, the kind that you have to snap and shake, and act like they were proper weapons.
    • The driver flinches as the car zooms between the two workers, then realizes that they're just pantomiming and there is no glass. Or, the car drives into the pane of glass, but it's the car that shatters (instead of the glass), or the workers.
  • 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. A Deconstruction does not always have to be a less nice version of the straight trope. It just points out the trope's flaws or how it's even possible.
    • The butler and his victim were lifelong friends who never got in conflict with one another. It wouldn't make sense for the butler to just murder his best friend for no apparent reason.
    • The most powerful characters all gradually suffer retinal damage and eventually go blind due to the brightness of their weapons.
    • The car drives through the glass, and views are shown of damage sustained by the car either complicating the driveability of the vehicle and/or injuring someone.
  • Reconstructed: Reconstructed tropes are the new and improved Played Straight of an often deconstructed trope. A Reconstruction admits the assumptions pointed out in Deconstruction, so it reassembles the trope into something that resembles the original to become useful again. In other words, this is the inversion of a Deconstruction.
    • The butler didn't kill his best friend out of personal motivation, but for a large sum of money to improve his poor livelihood, and the rest of the story is about figuring out who paid him to murder his friend.
    • The most powerful characters wear Cool Shades when their weapons are out.
    • The chasing cars get flat tires driving over the glass shards strewn across the street, or if the drivers stop to see to the workers' injuries from the broken glass.
  • 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 out of necessity because the victim was going to do something monstrous.
    • There's a fifteen-page-long chart explaining how effective weapons with different glow intensities are against one another. And the authors still manage to do a complete Ass Pull every once in a while.
    • A car chase swerves off the road and into the campus of a huge glass sheet factory. The first car dodges several sets of workers carrying panes of glass, then barely misses another while making a wisecrack about how close that was. As the pursuing car crashes through the first of the previously dodged sheets, the rest of the workers drop (and break) their sheets and run.
  • Averted: The trope is simply absent from the work. It is not used, mentioned, or implied at all. As there are literally thousands of tropes, and many, many possible uses for most of those tropes, Aversions are generally not worth noting unless they are especially surprising, such as for a nearly universally-used trope or a trope that is very common in the genre.
    • A butler with the reputation of being violent appears but no crime occurs. Or there is a crime in a mansion, but there is no butler. Or there is neither.
    • The weapons do not glow but in previous episodes they glowed. Or there are no weapons at all in a franchise with duels of glowing swords. Or a spell disables this feature which would otherwise enact as was explained earlier by a character.
    • There is no pane of glass despite road signs saying "glass factory", or no car chase despite hearing engines roaring from the distance while the workers transport the glass through the road.
  • Enforced: The trope occurs solely because of outside expectations or obligations placed on the writer, such as Executive Meddling or censorship.
    • The producer hates butlers, so he ordered the writers to cast the butler as the killer. Or the producer is playing Follow the Leader to a recent popular murder mystery in which the butler is the killer.
    • 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.
    • The car hits the pane of glass and drives through unharmed because the car company paid to have their car in the film and wouldn't allow its use unless it was shown undamaged.
  • 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.
    • The car disappears from view and isn't seen again until after the sound of glass breaking.
  • Logical Extreme: The trope is taken as far as it can logically go while still fitting within the description.
    • All butlers are in a conspiracy to commit murder.
    • The sword's blade is actually made from an energy beam.
    • The car crashes into a glass factory and somehow contrives to smash every single pane of glass within it.

Tropes can also be played differently in terms of tone and style:

  • Exaggerated: The trope is used to an extreme. Note that this does not necessarily have to be used humourously—a trope can be exaggerated and still played completely seriously.
    • All the butlers in the city go on a killing spree, and nobody suspects a thing. Or, the butler is revealed to be a serial killer.
    • The strongest weapons completely obscure the screen by their glow.
    • An escalating series of over-the-top stunts as the driver careens around, over, and through warehouses of glass being transported by workers and machinery, smashing every conceivable glass possible, ending in the car being coated in molten glass, which is then flash-cooled and shattered.
  • Downplayed: The trope is used to a far lesser degree than typical.
  • Played for Laughs: The humorous elements of a trope are played up. Differs from Parodied by not parodying the trope itself, but simply using it for comedy. 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 to 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 they have to smack it a few times to get it working again.
    • The car drives into the pane of glass, and the result is that the glass merely has a car-shaped hole in it.
  • 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 as to why he did it are shown and discussed in great detail.
    • In a setting where Magic Is Evil, only evil weapons glow, causing the user much angst.
    • The car hits the pane of glass because the driver is desperately escaping from a terrible danger and cannot slow down.
  • Played for Horror: The horrific elements of a trope are played up. Usually not applicable to horror tropes unless some further horror is played out with them.
    • The Butler killed the family he was working for in sadistic fashion, which he does to every master that doesn't live up to his unreasonably strict standards of how "proper" Rich People should act.
    • The weapons give off a Sickly Green Glow, which is a warning that the wielders will soon suffer Demonic Possession.
    • Somebody is hit by the glass shards or by the car who lost control, resulting in blood and gore.
  • Other Variations on a Trope: Sometimes, the difference isn't in how the trope is played functionally, but in how it's presented. The trope is still being Played Straight, but it's dressed up in a way that's unique, often due to other tropes present in the story interacting with it to show the full picture. Especially memorable variations may sometimes evolve into Sub Tropes through other creators attempting to Follow the Leader.
    • The murderer isn't called a butler in the story, because the role as we know it doesn't exist in that place or time — but most of their responsibilities or their relationship to their employer-turned-victim are basically the same.
    • Powerful weapons glow, and variations in color and intensity will consistently represent something significant about the way a weapon functions.
    • The pane is not made of glass, but of a different material such as crystal or plexiglass. Or the vehicle is a Flying Car which strikes a pane that is also being carried by airborne means.

Specific characters (or the narrator) can also play with tropes:

  • Lampshaded: A trope is Played Straight and explicitly pointed out by one or more characters.
    • "So the butler did it! I Always Wanted to Say That."
    • "Why are glowing swords more powerful? I mean, it just doesn't make much sense."
    • "Why is it that cars that are being chased can apparently avoid nearly everything but a pane of glass?"
  • Invoked: A character is Genre Savvy, and/or uses their knowledge of a trope as a reason for their own actions, hoping that the effect will come through.
    • Ex-butlers are employed as assassin trainers because of their experience as potential murderers.
    • The hero looks for the brightest weapon they can find, seeing how brightness is power.
    • The car is not doomed to hit the pane of glass, but one of the workers sees the car coming and stops in the street such that the car drives into the pane of glass.
  • Defied: A character recognizes a trope is about to happen, and takes steps to avoid it. It is not to be confused with an averted trope, which is never acknowledged and avoided by the characters.
    • "We have to lock all the butlers up before they can kill!"
    • "Try not to make the sword glow. We don't want the enemy to know which one to take if they capture us."
    • "Stop, brake! Watch out, we nearly hit this pane of glass, like in films."
  • 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. Or the butler, knowing he will be a suspect in the murder that he plans to commit, plants evidence to make it look like he was framed.
    • The hero finds a sword with glow power and uses it as a flashlight in a dark cave.
    • The car hits the pane of glass, and the chasing car(s) regain their lost trail from the scattered pieces of glass.
  • Discussed: The trope may or may not be used, but it is explicitly discussed by Genre Savvy characters in a relevant situation where it could occur.
    • "Unlike what you may read in detective stories, the butler is an unlikely suspect in any murder investigation of this sort."
    • "I don't care what anime has taught you: in the real world, a glowier sword is not more powerful."
    • "Pay attention to the road, a car could suddenly pop-up at full speed before we get this pane of glass to the other side."
  • Conversed: A conversation about tropes the characters have seen in another work, such as a Show Within a Show. Differs from a Discussed Trope mainly in either its sheer irrelevance, or being used purely to lean on the fourth wall.
    • "These murder mysteries are too predictable. The butler always does it."
    • "In a bad movie like this, the more powerful swords always glow."
    • "It's silly how many films show car chases that lead to a pane of glass being carried across a street."

Here are two rarer transformations:

  • 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 Un-Twist 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.
    • A car controlled by an AI that always brakes at the right time is approaching the pane of glass, but for some reason the car doesn't brake.
  • Unparodied: This can mean one of two things: a Parodied Trope is either Subverted into a straight use, or simply used seriously.
    • There is an evil butler suit that brainwashes the wearer into committing murder. Someone dumb puts the suit on and, next thing he knows, he has committed 100 murders. He then ends up serving a Longer-Than-Life Sentence.
    • The glowing weapons look like giant glowsticks, but it turns out that they are just as solid and dangerous as iron clubs.
    • The car breaks the pane of glass while using the reverse gear to leave the garage.

And finally, two special cases:

See our Playing With Wiki, an entire subwiki dedicated to doing this to every trope in The Catalogue, and in particular the Literal folder in PlayingWith.Trope Name, which is a reasonably concise version of this list.

Alternative Title(s): Meta Trope Intro, Playing With Tropes, Played With, Played Straight