Weekend Reads #112: Cliches & Tropes

Weekend Reads is a weekly post in which I discuss a variety of topics and mention the books I’m currently reading.

For this week, I’ve decided to participate in the Let’s Talk Bookish meme hosted by Eternity Books and Literary Lion. A discussion topic is given each week for us to post about. This week’s topic is

Cliches and Tropes

Can cliches and tropes be done well? When is something a trope and when is it a cliche? When do you enjoy cliches or tropes, and when do you not? How much do cliches/tropes affect your overall opinion of a book?

In my opinion, a cliché is an overused phrase or expression, and a trope is an overused theme or literary device. Off the top of my head (← cliché), here are a few examples:

Cliches

  • cold as ice
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • like a kid in a candy store
  • one in a million
  • play favorites

Tropes

  • rags to riches
  • enemies to lovers
  • chosen one
  • the Dark Lord
  • latent magical powers
  • coming of age
  • reluctant hero

I do not consider the two the same, but they are similar in that they are so overused that people can quickly understand the cliché or trope without having it explained to them. Because they are so common, they can be helpful in writing by serving as a shortcut to quickly convey a point to the reader. However, it is best not to overuse them in one’s writing.

As a reader, I don’t mind the use of clichés in the work I read as long as they aren’t overused. Once or twice is enough and, depending on how the writer inserts it, it can help me connect with the author’s work by making it seem more relatable.

As for tropes, there are some I love and don’t mind seeing in everything I read. For example, as a fan of fantasy novels, I love the chosen one trope that’s usually presented as a youngster (who’s often poor and a farm boy) learning that they are special and destined for greatest, which causes another trope to pop up — the quest that the chosen one must go on to learn who they truly are, like in Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I love that trope, but it’s overused in fantasy and folks who have read many more fantasy novels than I have are tired of it.

And that’s where things get tricky, I think. Stories can contain several tropes, some that may appeal to you and some that may not. For example, I used to enjoy YA fantasy novels, many of which use the chosen one trope, but I got turned off from such books because they also often include a love triangle, which is a trope I hate. So far, I believe there’s only one YA fantasy novel published in the 2010s I’ve read and liked despite its love triangle and it’s Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch — but this might be because the love triangle begins in the first book and wasn’t fully explored there. I haven’t yet read the other books in the trilogy.

Sometimes authors take a trope and put a twist on it, which helps to make the story more interesting. An example is making the chosen one, who is often the hero, morally gray or even evil; or making the chosen one older. Often in fantasy, the chosen one trope is combined with the coming of age trope because the protagonist is a teenager or younger and the story follows the character as they mature, like Harry Potter. But there are stories where the chosen one is older, or an experienced warrior or veteran of some kind, like Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. I believe Caz is in his thirties when the story begins and is returning after fighting in several wars.

Anyway, cliches and tropes have a bad rep because one’s writing comes off as unoriginal if they are overused in it. However, I believe they can be helpful in engaging and connecting the reader to the writing/story. The writer just needs to be smart about how they use them. “Less is more.” (← cliché)


WHAT I’M CURRENTLY READING

(NOTE: If the layout below looks wonky, it’s most likely because you’re viewing this on your phone in the WordPress Reader app which, for some reason unknown to me, keeps messing up the layout when I use certain gallery settings to format image layouts. If you view it on the website instead, it will show correctly.)

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

This is the February readalong book for Turtle Recall, a year-long Discworld reading challenge. It’s a laid-back challenge; folks read as many books as they want. My goal is to read 5, and The Colour of Magic is the first I’ve picked up this year. I’m only 48 pages in. It’s interesting so far but not as delightful as the Witches books I’ve read.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I enjoy reading Brown’s mystery novels and try to read one at the beginning of each year since finishing Angels & Demons. The Lost Symbol is the third book and although I’m only a few pages in, I’m already hooked because it’s set in D.C. and I’m familiar with many of the buildings and landmarks mentioned so far.

Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

I’ll start on this soon for a readalong that the Wyrd & Wonder crew is hosting in February.


What tropes Do you like or dislike?
And WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

38 thoughts on “Weekend Reads #112: Cliches & Tropes

  1. I agree so much with all of this! Clichés & tropes can be used as a bridge between the author & their readers, a way to connect them easily & efficiently so that focus can be granted toward things with greater importance. When your reader understands that these enemies are likely going to turn into lovers, there’s less footwork that the author has to do because these tropes have been so well-established, and thus, they can spend time on more world building or character development or something else. I know people eyeroll a lot over clichés & tropes, but they’re such a handy tool to utilize, and why not!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My thoughts about cliches and tropes are very similar to yours. I don’t have any problem with them, in and of themselves, just when they get used too much, and perhaps too carelessly. Of course what too much is varies from person to person. A big reason I have no problem with them is each year there’s a slew of new readers born and I don’t see any reason they should HAVE to first go back and read the first examples of what have since become tropes. I’d certainly encourage them to read older works, too, but I’d also expect them to want to read newer works. And so what are tropes and cliches to some won’t yet feel like tropes and cliches to them since they’re discovering them for the first time. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I haven’t always enjoyed some of the books and series others have absolutely loved (Harry Potter), I’ve gotten tired of some tropes or cliches and others haven’t.

    The Colour of Magic was my introduction to Discworld and so I do have a soft spot for it. But I’m with you, I enjoyed Equal Rites over both The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. And that’s all I’ve read of it so far… much more to explore! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get that. These days, many people say they are tired of the chosen one trope, but I still consider myself new fantasy because I haven’t read very many fantasy books, so that trope still appeals to me.

      Oh yes! Much more of Discworld for you to explore. I heard that the Death books are some of the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. And I’ve also found that even when I think I’m tired of what feels like an overused trope I’ll occassionally read a book that uses it and absolutely love the book. So perhaps I’m not as tired of it as I thought. Vampires are this way for me. I’ve gotten tired of how vampires are used in many stories so I don’t read that many anymore, but anytime I see a new vampire book coming out I’m instantly curious about it wondering if it’ll be the one to rekindle my love of vampires.

        My next Discworld book (currently reading in publication order) is Mort, the first Death book, so now I can’t wait to read it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t mind love triangles BUT what I do mind about them is that they always are set up and play out the exact. same. way. I would *love* to see a bit more variety there.
    But yeah, there are tropes I love and tropes I hate too. (I think my most hated is reincarnation which I don’t know if its exactly a ‘trope’ but done in certain ways is very tropey)

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    1. What is it that you don’t like about the reincarnation one? I’m curious. I don’t mind it, but I sometimes get annoyed when things come very easy to the character because they are reincarnated (thinking of Wheel of Time here, which touches on this).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. When it’s like an immortal character and their lover dies but then is reincarnated like 100 years later and they’re just going to pick up their relationship like it never left off. What.
        I think specifically that just because your past self was somehow in love with someone that your present self will be…I don’t know, maybe you lived a past life but also you have lived this new life with all new experiences and you’re not exactly the same person now?
        Obviously I have *thoughts* on this LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Lol! I see. And totally agree. Dying and being reincarnated is an experience itself, so it would change a person. Like maybe they feel like they’ve gotten a second chance at life and decide to try something new including a new relationship or no relationship.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Apologies to but in
          But I was just wondering if reanimation would be a better word to describe that trope.
          And wonder even more about the possibility of reincarnation,
          If the mind creates the body
          And the definition of reincarnation is “been the same mind in a different body”
          I would think the body would revert to be the same?
          Just thinking.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Yes definitely reincarnation!
          Absolutely tropey
          One I don’t think I’ve encountered
          I can see all the problematic issues you’ve raised in continuing any relationship, but now I wonder if an immortal would have changed, or is it possible for them to change?

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’ve always thought of cliches as happening on the line level, so like a word or phrase; but I think over time many in the online book community use it to mean trope as well 🙂 .

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you said, I think it depends both on which tropes are used and how they are used. I love a good subversion of tropes or a twist on one and your example of Caz as the older grizzled man being The Chosen One is such a perfect example! I also love some tropes played straight, like found family is usually a big winner for me! Others either don’t appeal to me much to begin with so they quickly get old (like the love triangle) or they’re so prevalent at one point in time that they become overused – like The Hunger Games is a great series but there were so many YA dystopias that followed using similar formulas to try and catch some of that readalike magic and so many of them just fell flat.

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    1. You’re right about some tropes being overused due to authors trying to tap into the success of books that did it well. Some other examples are those trying to be like Harry Potter or even Twilight.

      Like

  5. Yes I’m not overly fond of the love triangle trope – it was greatly overused but, I would still read a book though, just to see if it’s done well.
    Happy reading this week.
    Lynn 😀

    Like

  6. It’ll be interesting to see your thoughts on Dan brown’s tweed man version 3
    I read angles and demons and thought it better than da vinci code, much the same, but I think the helicopter part worked really good for me.
    I think something like that rather than waiting for the smoke would do great things for those guys!
    (I was kinda hoping that he really FELL for the dumdass who made the antimatter time bomb, splat) haha.
    The helicopter making the castle tremble and the dude rescuing the damsel trope were this book’s refuse.
    Like she was the agile one, the captor a crazy Arab, she could have saved tweed man just as the crazy man’s knife sliced that tweed exposing a hairy nutcase and bum!
    AND there shan’t be trembling Castles unless
    1 the castle is frightened
    2 its a trembling castle.
    3 there’s probably a third, but it’s not from a helicopter.

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    1. 🤣🤣 I also preferred Angels & Demons over Da Vinci Code.

      lol at “she could have saved tweed man just as the crazy man’s knife sliced that tweed exposing a hairy nutcase and bum!”

      Like

      1. There was no eagerness to see Langdons jewel sack or ass,
        LET me make that clear!
        I was just meaning like she could have written in lipstick
        “oy vey, a kappa seeks to examine your shiri!!! on the castle window,, something like that.
        Something different!

        Like

        1. 🤣🤣 Oh man. And here I was reimagining how I remembered the story to include eagerness to see more than Langdon’s tweeds. Oh well.

          Like

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