Ah, tropes! You gotta love ‘em. I mean, sure, they're a bit predictable and can feel tired at times, but they’ve managed to stick around for a reason — they often encapsulate great storytelling and readers love seeing them executed well. It’s not for nothing that they’ve managed to become such a central part of popular culture.
The fact that tropes have been done so many times before can sometimes scare authors away from using them — no one wants to be accused of lazy or uninventive writing. But a carefully chosen plot trope applied in the right way can really make your unique writing skills shine.
So, save yourself the worry and trouble — and perhaps even avoid potential writer’s block — by leaning into your favourite tropes.
In this article, I’ll list my top 3 reasons to use more genre plot tropes in your stories.
1. Tropes Help You to Meet Reader Expectations
One of the things most authors discover quite early on, especially if they’re writing any type of “genre fiction”, is that it’s no use trying to avoid tropes entirely. Mainly because they’re so prevalent that it becomes an almost impossible challenge to reinvent the wheel, but also because they usually serve a pretty central purpose.
Take the romance genre, for example.
The friends-to-lovers plot trope is a veritable staple in the genre, and the third-act-crisis followed by an inevitable reconciliation and happy ending are pretty much a requirement at this point. And these tropes work because they help showcase the character dynamics and raise the stakes in an otherwise pretty predictable situation.
Readers enjoy these dynamics and tense situations: they pick up books in that genre expecting to see elements of some of their favourite tropes.
Don’t get me wrong — you can certainly put a new and unique spin on the genre by foregoing all tropes if you want, but it might be an uphill battle convincing your readers that you are indeed writing romance in the first place. The tropes are just so closely connected to the genre that they’ve become an excellent way to signal what type of story you’re writing.
In meeting the reader's expectation for the genre, you also help yourself. Far from lazy, this is about being economical with your effort: by letting readers follow a storyline they're familiar with, you avoid having to invent a whole new one, and instead get to focus on making your characters and setting stand out.
Essentially, tropes leave more space for your personal writing style and language to come through since readers are already onboard with your plot beats.
And in addition to all this, you’ll also make it easier for book publishers to see a market for your novel if it clearly adheres to the conventions of your genre. This not only makes it more likely for your manuscript to be picked up, but it’ll also be easier to get your book in front of the right audience.
2. You Can Twist Them to Keep Readers Engaged
Storytelling is an art as old as time and there are only so many new ways you can go about it. Racking your brain to come up with ways to avoid tropes can be more effort than it’s worth and may even cause some serious writer’s block.
But it is true that authors and readers alike can get pretty fed up with reading the same trope being executed in the same way, over and over again. That’s why you might want to keep readers on their toes by adding a little twist to your trope of choice.
If you don’t want to directly employ tropes into your writing, a different way to approach it is to subvert them slightly. Play with the original idea of the trope, but challenge and change it to fit your novel. You generally don’t have to make huge changes to achieve this — it can be subtle and still be effective.
In fact, sometimes subtle subversion of common tropes can toe the sweet line of meeting reader expectations while still piquing their curiosity with something unfamiliar. When it’s subtle, readers will notice that something is different, but might not be able to put their fingers on what, and so an old trope suddenly feels new, fresh, and interesting.