Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tropes: What They Are and Why They Work

Erica Here:


It's a word we hear often in writerly circles, but what is it?


A trope (noun) is any literary or rhetorical device, as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, that consists in the use of words in other than their literal sense.

Um, yeah. That's what a literary trope is, but what is a trope when it's not all dressed up?


The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.

Wait, wait, wait, cliches? Commonly recurring devices?

Aren't we as writers supposed to be fresh, and new, and avoiding cliches at all costs?

Sure! Of course! 

And yet, tropes are tropes for a reason. It's because they work. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. Every story has been told before in one form or another. Tropes aren't a bad thing. 

Tropes help categorize your book, refine buyers expectations, and connect readers with what they like to read.

And isn't that what we want, to connect with readers/writers who read and write the stuff we love?

There are entire publishing houses and lines that rely on tropes to sell massive quantities of books. 

Don't believe me? Try the mass-market paperback section of your local bookstore. 

Secret Babies
Reunion Romances
Mail Order Brides
Small Town Romance
Marriage of Convenience
Cowboy and City Girl
Bad Boy falls for Good Girl
Sheriff Saves the Town
Amish girl falls for Englisher boy
Amateur Sleuth solves crime while running tea shop/B&B/Yarn Shop/etc.

And many, many more! Most popular fiction begins with a trope. It's the author's imagination and voice that turns it into something unique. Every avid Regency romance reader wants to read another story of how a titled man marries/rescues/enters into a marriage of convenience with a woman who eventually reaches his jaded heart and wins his love.

Every reader of Westerns wants the story of how the loner cowboy in the white hat faces down the evil outlaw in the black hat, good triumphs, justice prevails, and the cowboy gets the girl.

Contemporary romance readers want the billionaire with the baby left on his doorstep to fall in love with the nanny/secretary/girl-next-door who agrees to care for the child until he can make other arrangements.

Readers gobble these stories up! Are they great literature that will change the ages? Doubtful, though there are some mass-market paperbacks full of tropes like these that I re-read and cherish. 

But books like this have a place, a market, and a purpose. They entertain. That's why they're written. To entertain the reader with a familiar-yet-fresh take on a story line that guarantees a happy ending and a chance to share in the emotions of the characters.

Recently, Love Inspired/Harlequin launched a new contest in search of writers for their Historical line of romances. It's called the Manuscript Matchmakers (You can find all about the contest by clicking HERE.) 

They divided the contests into categories/teams according to tropes, the story lines that they were looking for because they are the stories readers love and look for. Here's a list of the teams according to their trope:

Team Amish
Team Mail Order Bride
Team Babies/Children
Team Cowboy/Rancher
Team Marriage of Convenience
Team Reunion Romance
Team Choose Your Own Hook

Love Inspired/Harlequin aren't the only publishers who use tropes. Barbour Publishing has been using tropes to pull together novella collections. Collections like The Cowboy's Bride (Jaime Jo Wright has a story in this collection) The Convenient Bride Collection and The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection (Gabrielle Meyer and I each have stories in these two) and many, many more!

Any time an author can combine tropes, it helps, too, because you can reach the interests of a wider audience. Cowboys who have to take care of babies, Mail Order Brides who marry Cowboys (Think Sagebrush Knights by yours truly) Amish Reunion Romance, Mystery/Hobby, Military/Animal Lovers, etc. 

I'm currently working on a marriage of convenience story, and after that I have a bounty hunter/reunion romance/baby story in the works! I don't mind at all working through a trope.

How about you? What tropes do you like? What have you read enough of? 

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  1. Very interesting information! I love it all except I usually pass on the Amish trope, just not into it any more.

    1. You know, I'm not much of a fan of Amish either. It just doesn't appeal to me, but there sure are a lot of fans out there. :)

  2. Thanks for this interesting post,Erica! Have to admit I like the Marriage of Convenience and Cowboy/Baby stories. I know these have been done before ,but if it's done in a original way it's still a good, classic plotline.

    1. You've hit it on the head...take a well-used trope and make it fresh! :)


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