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So You Want To / Deconstruct a Trope

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To command nature... one must first learn to obey it..

So you want to use a trope. But you don't want to use it the normal way. Well, you do want it to be used the normal way, but also in a less glorious way.

Understanding the Trope

To first learn how to deconstruct a trope, you must first learn to obey it. Tropes exist for reasons and only a fool disrespects the tropes. That being said, a wise author learns to go beyond the trope. The trope is like a compass telling you which way is north but if all you ever do is go north, (following the trope as if it were a law), you might never get where you're going. A wise person looks at the trope to get their bearing and then heads off in a new direction.

Let's use the trope of the hero since it is one of the oldest and arguably most powerful trope in existence. The antihero is a subversion of this trope but even the antihero is still a hero. Is there any story ever written that doesn't have some form of a hero? When people write stories that fly in the face of well established tropes, the stories always wind up chaotic and leave the reader confused or alienated. The only way to deconstruct a trope is to identify the essential elements of that trope and then change the non-essential elements.

The straight trope is designed to be enjoyed, but not necessarily to be realistic. A deconstruction is not only the trope played straight; it is the trope played straighter than normal. There is no glamour behind this trope. There are no Acceptable Breaks from Reality. This trope is in play, maybe even invoked, but it's not going the way it's thought it would. The trope ought to come with a warning label.


For example, The Hero is a trope about, well, a hero. That character who does the Heroic things, kills the dragon, defeats Emperor Evulz, saves the princess. Now, think of this trope, but deconstruct it. Make it fall apart. Would that Hero like his job? Would he be appreciated for his job? Would it affect his sanity? Yes, the good side is still there, but now there's a bad side you didn't notice before. There's a thousand things that can go wrong if you just take the time to list them.


Deconstructing the Trope

Now if you really want this to have an effect, there are two things you need to focus on; reality, and magnitude. The deconstructed trope is a mixture of reality and a straight trope, so the amount of reality in the mix is important. That is, increasing the level of deconstruction does not increase the level of reality. There's only so bad an effect reality can have on a trope. So what if the Hero hates his job, or can't confine to the laws of Herohood? If the world starts to fall to pieces just because the Hero is unhappy, then you haven't found the realistic balance, you've gotten to the other side of the scale. The reality part of the deconstruction ought to affect mostly the Hero, and most likely the people around him.

The magnitude part of the deconstruction can get a little unrealistic, as it partly relies on luck. A trope with a lot of magnitude is not an exaggerated trope. The magnitude part of this trope is the importance of the trope in the story. For example, how important is the Hero? We've established that the people he cares about are affected by his trope's deconstruction, but who are those people? Are they just minor characters, who may notice the deconstruction, but are barely noticed by us? Or are they part of something bigger, like an official, famous, government-supported crime stopping force?

The importance of the trope affects how powerful the deconstruction is, as the more lies at stake with this trope, the worse the outcome should the trope fall apart, but it can also affect how powerful the force towards the deconstruction is. If the Hero's job is super important, then it's so much more important that he does it right, and enjoys it, and is appreciated it. If he's not, it's a hell of a lot easier for him to start hating it.

Also a really important part of deconstructing a trope is avoiding Fridge Logic, as noted in several Mons deconstructions, if your world has lots of powerful easy-to-control creatures, it would be really weird for the goverment to ignore all the lethal potential of said creatures.

Ways to Deconstruct a Trope

There are many ways to deconstruct a single trope. For example, in a Cosmic Horror Story you could say that the Eldritch Abomination's life is sad and depressing, or you could say that humanity could simply ignore the existence of Eldritch Abominations, or you could say that humanity feared Eldritch Abominations so much that they commited mass suicide.

Going with The Hero example above, you could say that the hero actually does enjoy his lifestyle, but he's so efficient that all his True Companions feel worthless as heroes.


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22 Basic Guidelines

22 basic ( and purpously flexible ) questions to help you deconstruct tropes quickly.

  • 1.How can I twist it with logic?
  • 2.Unexpected yet logical (horrible, ironic or funny) origins and/or consequences?
  • 3.How efficient/inefficient is this?
  • 4.How can I purpously misinterpret it?
  • 5.How Hard/Easy is this?
  • 6.How can I twist its morality with logic?
  • 7.To what horrible things I can expose it?
  • 8.How can I twist it with details?
  • 9.How can I twist it with physics?
  • 10.How can I twist it with biology?
  • 11.How horrible/possible it really is?
  • 12.What would happen if people believed it's happening but it isn't?
  • 13.How can I twist it with psychology?
  • 14.How can I twist it with economy?
  • 15.How can I twist it with the law system?
  • 16.How can I twist it with time?
  • 17.How can I twist it with senses?
  • 18.How can I twist it with intelligence/stupidness?
  • 19.How can I twist it with people/loneliness?
  • 20.How boring/exciting it really is?
  • 21.How does it interact/compare with other things?
  • 22.How it can be self-destructive?

Before saying you deconstructed a trope confirm it answers this: What can change the nature of the trope?

Tropes to Avert

Suggested Tropes

Do not Deconstruct for Its Own Sake

Tropes exist for a reason. In order to deconstruct a trope, you must show how the trope would work in reality...but entertainment is the ultimate goal. If you deconstruct the trope, but have not actually said anything insightful or entertaining, you have mostly wasted your and everyone else's time.

Also, many people think that deconstruction is just the act of pointing out how various fictional characters and tropes are actually dark and raunchy, for the sake of exaggeration or destruction of innocence and idealism. While deconstruction sometimes looks like that on the surface, the point is that it injects REALITY into the equation, not implications or dark turns.

For example, a story where Willy Wonka is revealed to be a serial killer who kills little kids and turns their corpses into Oompa-Loompas is not deconstruction. It does not tell us anything that would better explain the story and their motivations, and it would not tell us anything about real-life implications. A deconstruction would be more along the lines of Willy Wonka continually having maintenance issues due to his unique factory he keeps completely closed off to people, and he has to figure out how to get it working again.

Extra credit

The greats

The epic fails


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


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