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