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The Periodic Table of Storytelling, a non-exhaustive list of tropes compiled by James Harris from examples on the TV Tropes website.
Tropes are recurring themes, motifs, or devices that are commonly used in storytelling to convey a particular idea or create a certain effect. They can be literary, visual, or aural, and they can be used intentionally or unintentionally. Tropes can be an effective tool for creating a sense of familiarity or expectation for the audience, but they can also be overused or misused, resulting in clichéd or unoriginal storytelling.
Here are some examples of good and bad uses of tropes:
Good Use of Tropes:
- The "Hero's Journey" is a common trope in which the protagonist sets out on a quest, faces challenges and trials, and returns transformed. This trope has been used in many successful stories, including J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and George Lucas's "Star Wars" franchise.
- The "Love Triangle" is another common trope in which two characters are in love with the same person. When done well, this trope can add tension and drama to a story, such as in "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer.
Bad Use of Tropes:
- The "Damsel in Distress" trope, in which a female character is helpless and needs to be rescued by a male character, is often criticized for being sexist and perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes. This trope has been used in many classic stories, such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Beauty and the Beast."
- The "Magical Negro" trope is another example of a problematic use of a trope. This trope involves a Black character who exists solely to aid and support the white protagonist. This trope has been used in many movies, such as "The Green Mile" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance."
Tropes can enhance writing and storytelling when used effectively. They can help establish a sense of familiarity or expectation for the audience, which can be useful in building a connection between the audience and the story. Additionally, tropes can be used to subvert expectations or to add layers of meaning to a story.
Here are some common tropes:
The Chosen One: A character who is selected to go on a quest or fulfill a destiny can provide an opportunity for exciting character development.
- The Mentor: A wise, experienced character who helps guide the protagonist can add depth to the story.
- Hero's Journey: A classic trope in which a protagonist sets out on a journey or quest, overcomes obstacles and returns home transformed.
- The Big Bad: The main villain or antagonist in a story who poses a significant threat to the protagonist.
- Deus ex Machina: A trope where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by an unexpected or improbable event.
- The MacGuffin: An object, device or goal that drives the plot but is ultimately unimportant to the story.
- Red Herring: A trope where a character or event is introduced to mislead the audience or divert attention away from the real plot.
- The Twist: A sudden and unexpected revelation that changes the audience's understanding of the story.
- Underdog Story: A story where the protagonist is at a disadvantage or faces significant obstacles but ultimately triumphs over their challenges.
- Forbidden Love: A romantic relationship between characters that is forbidden by societal norms, rules, or expectations.
- Coming of Age: A trope where the protagonist experiences significant personal growth and development as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.
- Fish out of Water: A trope where a character is placed in an unfamiliar environment or situation and must adapt to new circumstances.
Every story or narrative genre contains certain cliches, certain archetypal themes that occur time and again and whose presence defines a genre.
If, to give a ridiculous caricature of an example, a story features an alcoholic ex-detective renting a grungy office, whose hired by a glamorous blonde in furs and high heels to check on the wealthy husband she has a loveless relationship with, you know that's a Crime Noir story.
In writing science fiction (or science fantasy, or whatever the case may be), certain tropes are used, and again, the types of tropes determine the type of science fiction (space opera, time travel, cyberpunk, steampunk, parallel worlds, post-apocalyptic, etc). In general, tropes have to be of a technological or pretend-technological nature for a story to qualify as science fiction rather than fantasy. If for example, there are spaceships, it's science fiction. Dragons, it's fantasy (however it is sometimes possible to have both and still be science fiction)
The following is a partial and highly biased and incomplete list of tropes that feature that are commonly found in space opera type science fiction. See the Periodic Table of Tropes for more
- Alien artifact
- Badass Babe: "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" "No, have you?" (Aliens) (youtube link)
- Badass Monk - “I Am One With the Force and the Force Is With Me” (Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One, Star Wars) (youtube link)
- Big Fucking Ship - because every space opera needs gigantic hunks of metal and fullerene studded with guns and greebles (youtube link)
- Bounty Hunter
- City Planet
- Cool Spaceship
- Desert Planet
- Eldar Race
- Galactic Empire
- Motley band of misfits.
- Ocean Planet
- Scum and Villainy - "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." (youtube link)
- Space Gods
- Space Habitat
- Space is an Ocean
- Space Marines - because every space opera needs space marines. (youtube link)
- Splice (manimal)
When using tropes, it is important to be aware of their potential implications and to use them intentionally and thoughtfully. Additionally, it is important to avoid overusing or relying too heavily on tropes, as this can result in unoriginal or predictable storytelling.
TV Tropes - a vast and highly addictive website, featuring just about every trope known to man, and then some.
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Page by M Alan Kazlev, 2023