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Tropes

Updated: Apr 12

The word trope can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times in particular genre as a kind of shorthand to get information across to a reader. Common tropes in fantasy literature include


-          The chosen one

-          Dragons as a fantasy creature

-          Hidden lineage (you really are the princess / prince!)

-          The reluctant protagonist.

-          Prophecies and legends of long-gone times


Every one of these carries information that readers can fill in the assumed story and assumed arcs and twists that may exist.



The chosen one may merge with the reluctant protagonist. They don’t want to be the chosen one, but they have to save the world anyway. The chosen one may carry with it the common surrounding cast of the mentor, the protectors, a band of friends who come together to help the chosen one grow and change.


Or… we may immediately assume the opposite. We may assume the writer will not use the tropes, but will deliberately twist them for effect. The chosen one isn’t the chosen one, it was all a lie. The chosen one is in fact energetic about it, wants to be the chosen one and in fact pays attention to everything the mentor character says. Maybe as a chosen one, they throw away their friends, thinking they are better than them now and try to make a go of the “quest,” alone.


In these cases tropes are not the enemy.  Some specific tropes rise and fall, become more and less common as time marches on, or fall in and out of vogue. The reality is that tropes cannot be avoided in full, so it is important to know you are doing them and know how to do them well, whether you lean into the trope or away from it knowingly. Over the next few weeks, we will talk about the common ones found in fantasy and science fiction and a handful that can show up in any genre.


Remembering we can not escape them is extremely useful as our starting place. Imagine a science fiction novel that doesn’t involve in some way one of these:

-          Space travel: sub light speed.

-          Space travel: faster than light speed

-          Post apocalyptic worlds

-          Dystopian society

-          AI / Robot uprisings.

-          Subspecies uprisings.

-          Alternate reality and parallel universes.

-          Time travel

-          Steam punk / cyber punk

-          Aliens


There are more but that alone cuts out the majority of science fiction books even though these are all a wonderful basis to build books on. They are what make science fiction science fiction. Doing them well is the key.


See you next time, as we begin with the oldest fantasy trope of all. The chosen one!

For more help on writing don’t forget to subscribe, and check out our other sections on dialogue, architectural writing, villains and conflict. If you want to see these principles in action, check out our free short story section here.


Always remember, writers write.

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