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Tropes Vs. Cliches: A Storyteller’s Guide

Oh, internet – WE NEED TO TALK!!


You bet your ass there’s “tropes” everywhere in writing, filmmaking or any other creative work. That’s because the REAL definition of “trope” is thus:


a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
“both clothes and illness became tropes for new attitudes toward the self”
a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
“she uses the Eucharist as a pictorial trope” (definition via Google)

Redefined For The Digital Age?

Seems to me, internet-wide, the word “trope” has come to mean THIS:

– I don’t like this genre

– I don’t like this story

– I don’t like this character role function

– I don’t like there’s a lack of variety 

Guess how many of the above has ANYTHING TO DO with the actual creative work under the miscroscope? (Hint: NONE).

Of course, if we don’t like various genres, stories or character role functions, that’s not our fault either. We like what we like and we dislike what we dislike. That’s just the way it is. But purposefully looking for trouble is pointless, because we WILL find it — because, GUESS WHAT! We don’t like that shit. BOOM! 

Tropes Vs cliches

Tropes Vs. Clichés

So really, we don’t mean “trope” at all … We mean THIS:



a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
“that old cliché ‘a woman’s place is in the home’” (definition via Google)

Check out the language in the above definition: OVERUSED and LACK OF ORIGINAL THOUGHT. This is the issue: NOT the genre; NOT the story; NOT the character role function … It’s the fact we don’t have enough VARIETY!

Hate Something, Change Something

So think of a genre, story or character you’re bored of seeing at the moment. I could give about twenty, just like that. So what? None of us are out to save the industry here. the mainstream doesn’t need saving! It’s making a stack of cash, thanks very much. Who says, “Hey, this is working … LET’S STOP!!!” No one, that’s who.

The indie scene NEEDS our support however – and if you want to hear from marginalised voices and support them in “trickling upwards” towards the mainstream, that’s where you need to lend your support, both in terms of time and money. Think of just about anyone mainstream now who wasn’t a rich and white (and probably a dude) and where did they start? That’s right — INDIE.

See? This is how we get more VARIETY. The evidence is in front of our eyes. We didn’t get those people from complaining about mainstream stuff that already exists, but CHAMPIONING those people’s indie efforts and ensuring they make the kind of money that gets them noticed by the mainstream.

It’s The Same-Old Vs Pre-Sold

Stereotypes and stock characters are bad. Le duh. Yet generally, writers and filmmakers don’t write these as standard, as much critique suggests (usually using the word “trope”!!!).

I put it to you that no genre, story or (especially modern) character role function is inherently BAD. We may dislike some of them for very good reasons, but fact is — as soon as anyone says, “I never want to see or read an X again”, someone comes along with something so groundbreaking we can’t believe we haven’t seen it before.

But this is the thing: it groundbreaking within a certain set of expectations the target audience is already familiar with. That writer or filmmaker has taken a genre, story or character role function and taken us from one angle and made us look at it from ANOTHER angle. It is the same, but different, or rather, it is “pre-sold”.

Problems occur then when there is not “enough” groundbreaking material to satisfy audience demand; or there is too much, because audiences don’t always want groundbreaking, they may want comfort viewing too. It’s a difficult balancing act, because when does “comfort viewing” become cliché?? The 64 gazillion dollar question.

Bad Romance

ALSO — and here’s the biggie – it perplexes me to hear that people “hate read” or “hate watch” certain stories, expecting them to magically entertain them, even though it couldn’t possibly if they hate it … What’s up with that???

So please tell me where this cabal of horrible people are who are trying to RUIN EVERYBODY’S LIVES via the medium of entertainment, just so we can disband it once and for all … Oh right: it DOESN’T EXIST:

ellardent 2

The above NAILS IT for me (whoops, sorry — cliché alert!)


So we don’t mean “trope”, we mean cliché: cut the latter out, NOT the former — that’s the way of ensuring great storytelling.

As for what is deemed “good” and “bad”, I think we really need to stop drawing lines in the sand. Deciding who and what DESERVES to be included in terms of genre, story or even character role function only brings more of the same judgemental BS we’ve got now.  What’s the point?? It’s TRUE we need variety … and pretty much everyone I’ve met agrees, whether audience or industry pro. Of course, if only it were that simple, cos then it would be fixed now!

But one thing I AM sure of: watching and supporting the same old (mainstream) stories and then complaining about them will change NOTHING. Whether you’re a writer, a filmmaker or audience member, why not support NEW ways of looking at stories and throwing your positive energy behind new stories and characters, instead of slagging the old ones off and ignoring the new ones? Just think what that could do.


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1 thought on “Tropes Vs. Cliches: A Storyteller’s Guide”

  1. Good article. It should help a lot of people think twice about what they should dismiss rather than hate.

    Trope is the new way of seeing the word. I can’t say I condone it – but it’s just the way things seem to be: much like the word irony being used improperly most of the time.

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