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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Malpass

Top Ten Tropes

Friends, do you know about tropes? Tropes are commonly used literary devices that provide context and familiarity to readers. Used properly, they can help advance a story along and even add to the reader's fun! But sometimes a particular trope will be used so frequently it gets worn out and becomes a cliché. Although writers should avoid using a lot of clichés in their writing, most every good storyteller ends up using an occasional trope or two, now and then.

In this story, there's a beautiful princess with a problem. Copyright 2010 by The Walt Disney Company.

Let me this story, there's a beautiful princess, but she has a problem. Don't worry, though. I imagine a handsome fellow is going to show up sooner or later to help her out. I wonder if they'll fall in love?

Here are ten of my favorite tropes, each with an illustrating example.

  1. Time travel. The hero must use the time machine to go back in time to fix the problem.

  2. Secret knowledge. The group stumbles upon ancient writings that explain everything. Now they have a chance to make things right!

  3. Science can help. Thank goodness the Professor was stranded with us on this deserted island! With his knowledge of science, he can use spare parts from the radio to build a device to solve our problem!

  4. They fall in love. He's incorrigible! She's impossible! But as they spend more time together, those romantic feelings begin to blossom.

  5. High speed chase. The hero "borrows" a conveniently-idling motorcycle to get away from the bad guys, who chase him through the narrow city streets in their SUVs. Watch out, hero—that big truck is pulling out of the alley into your path!

  6. Unexpected hero. She was introduced briefly at the beginning of the story, but we haven't heard anything about her since then. Just in time, she shows up and helps the group out of a tight jam!

  7. Underdog prevails. He's just a poor college student struggling to make his own way. But with plenty of hard work and tenacity, he eventually succeeds.

  8. Fish out of water. The hero is from a different country, a different culture. Will she learn to fit in here?

  9. Epic journey. The cattlemen must drive the herd across the Montana countryside—through raging rivers, over majestic mountains, under bright blue skies. There will be hardship. But in the end, it'll be worth it.

  10. Good triumphs over evil. The greedy banker is wealthy, arrogant, and corrupt. Our hero teaches Sunday school, listens to his parents and washes his hands before dinner. We all know who's going to win this showdown, don't we?

No, dude! Find a conveniently-idling motorcycle to make your getaway from the bad guys.

No, dude, that'll never work! You need to find a conveniently-idling motorcycle to make your getaway from the bad guys. Sheesh!

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