TV Tropes

The first time someone told me about TV Tropes I didn’t get it. It was on a Facebook group and I thought I was being shown some online version of the dreaded (by me) writers’ manual: well-meaning books about well-made plays that sell better than plays themselves. Or Save the Cat, the most egregious example, which allows bad screenwriters to be just as emotionally manipulative as their heavyweight counterparts, through the use of bullet-pointed lists, like screenwriting judo. I haven’t actually read it, but I’ve never seen eye-to-eye with anyone who has.

Anyway, TV Tropes. It’s none of the above, and is actually fascinating. Yes, it’s reductive, but that’s the point. It’s MO is to spot common tropes in works of fiction, from Shakespeare to comic books. It’s not there to say whether they are good or bad: a trope is not necessarily a cliché, though the words are sometimes interchangeable. And the truly unique elements of any work by their nature won’t be in there. Thinking about what works have in common also helps us look at what makes each unique.

So, for the writer, it does have an instructive role, but without telling you to avoid or include certain devices. They’ll be there anyway. You have to resolve yourself to the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun, and that anything you do, however original, will contain tropes used elsewhere. Then once you’re okay with that you can then think, am I using these tropes well? Am I subverting them? Am I making them feel fresh? I realise I’m guilty of using the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope a bit, and this no doubt says something about me. But confronting that fact at least forces me to think about how I’m using it, which is something for which to be grateful.