Whenever we open a new novel, or open a notebook and begin scribbling down a plot outline, we are engaging with tropes. Wikipedia defines a trope as “commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or cliches in creative works”. Each category and genre of story, there’s a host of tropes associated with it–sometimes negatively, as in the case of the “Chosen One” trope, and sometimes positively, “Enemies to Lovers” trope.
Anyway, all that to say, I’m here to talk about tropes. In particular, the ones I really, really love. It’s kind of the rage at the moment to write blogs about how terrible tropes are, or make lists of particularly hated tropes, but there is nothing inherently wrong with something being a trope. A trope is literally just a neutral storytelling device. And there’s so much negativity in both my life and the world at large at the moment that I just want to focus on some fun, positive things for today’s post.
However, since I have a lot of favourite tropes, I’ll be listing 10 today, and 10 next week. So, let’s get into it!
1.Kind and Quiet Mentors
There’s many sorts of mentors in the world, but my absolute favourites are the ones that are kind, gentle and quiet–exactly like Remus Lupin. Look, I’m not a fan of Rowling at all, especially after the hi-jinxes she’s pulled in the last few years, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Remus Lupin is the coolest guy in Harry Potter and I could rave about him forever. He’s supportive of Harry, he’s kind and helpful to Neville, he’s protective and brave. I just love him.
Of course, other mentors fall into this category. Gandalf, despite being very powerful and almost God-like, is usually very gentle and kind, particularly to the hobbits and others who are weak and powerless. Aslan is similar, kind to those who need his kindness, and powerful to those who need that.
But Lupin is still the best.
2. Unlikely Heroes
I love this trope too. As a kid, I was stick thin and very tiny, with big ears that stuck out almost ridiculously, and I couldn’t smile properly, so I liked it when I came across heroes who were similar. Hiccup, from How to Train Your Dragon (both the books and the first movie), was a favourite. I also have asthma, and spent a good deal of my early teenage years with a bad knee due to a sport’s injury. I was painfully shy, not good at talking and intensely interested in things either “too grown up” for me, or “too boring” for other people my age. All in all, I didn’t relate to a lot of heroes, particularly in fantasy. So I have a deep love for heroes that don’t fit the mould–Hiccup, Ron Weasley, Georgie Tanner from The Magician’s Daughter, Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, Wish from The Wizards of Once, etc.
3. Strong Female Characters
I know I’m about to get controversial here, but I actually really like the “Strong female character” trope, with one caveat. The girl actually needs some personality and depth. However, I do like this trope, again because it’s one I relate to. Despite being that weedy little kid I mentioned earlier, I was a tomboy, I was physically strong (I still am now), I enjoyed hanging out with boys and I was interested in, and acted in, a traditionally masculine way. So I related, and still relate, to the characters that people tend to dismiss as one-dimensional or rip offs of male characters. Katniss is one of my favourites now, but I also like Black Widow, Leiaand Jyn Erso from Star Wars, Cinder and Scarlet from The Lunar Chronicles and Eowyn from LOTR.
Having said all that, they aren’t the only types of women I like in fiction. I also love the trope of the woman who is apologetically feminine, but still awesome and well-rounded. These characters have sadly been looked down upon in movies and novels, because there’s a horrible, but underlying assumption, that feminine women are weak and/or spiteful and petty. But this obviously isn’t the case at all. Women with traditionally feminine interests, ways of dressing and lifestyles can still be awesome characters. And, despite what Hollywood may be telling us, there’s room for both of these character tropes in our stories. A few of my favourite characters in this category include Sophie Hatter (Sophie is the epitome of all tropes), Cress and Winter from The Lunar Chronicles, Beth and Meg from Little Women, even Galadriel and Arwen.
5. Characters That Can Turn Into Animals (or are turned into animals)
This one will never get old in my books, because I’ve always wanted to be able to shapeshift into animals. It really would be the coolest power. These characters kind of fall into two characters–those who can shapeshift into animals as part of their power or a curse, and those who are turned into animals by another force.
In the first category, we have Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, Beorn from The Hobbit, and Loki (who often took the form of an animal or monster). In the second category, we have Odette from Swan Lake, Elise’s brothers in The Wild Swans, Kuzco in The Emperor’s New Groove, and a myriad of other fairy tale and fantasy characters.
6. Mischief Making Identical Twins
Like so many other favourite tropes, this one stems from my childhood, specifically from watching and reading hours upon hours of Thomas the Tank Engine. Which sounds weird, but my brother and I loved these stories, which are actually quite interesting and intelligent if you read the originals. Anyway, these stories have two sets of mischief making twins–Donald and Douglas, the Scottish Engines, and Bill and Ben, the quarry engines. Both of these twins are identical and use that fact to cause chaos wherever they go. They are fond of practical jokes and like creating messes for everyone else to deal with. However, despite that, they have good hearts and good intentions. Of course, a more modern version of this trope is George and Fred Weasley. I even put a pair of twins in my own novel Southern Cross, though since the story revolves around the part they play in the Great War, the mischief stage is pretty firmly over.
7. Unusual Settings
For this trope, I don’t necessarily mean unusual countries or cultures, though I do like those, I mean more unusual habitats and buildings. Like swamps and marshes, for example. Or mangroves. Or books set on houseboats. Or an entire novel set in a small town museum, or a local brewery. Or a vineyard. Or a truffle farm. Or a dog kennel…
I just love these sorts of settings.
8. Best Friends Who Become Enemies
Two characters are best friends and inseparable. They have no secrets from each other, and they would die for each other…and then something changes. It can be anything from a moral or ethical dilemma, to a divergence in lifestyles or paths. Either way, they grow apart–and then become enemies. My favourite example of this is Erik Lensherr/Magneto and Professor X/Charles Xavier, who are divided in their opinions on how to save the Mutants, though sometimes they do work together. More often than that, they are at odds, and even trying to kill each other. There’s also Moses and Rameses in The Prince of Egypt who are another great example of this trope. And there’s Obi-Wan and Anakin, perhaps the ultimate, best-known friends to enemies.
I just love magical swords–magical weapons of all kind, really. There’s something thrilling about swords with magical powers, that can only be wielded by certain people, or can do clever things like fight by themselves or talk. There’s a few classics, like Excalibur, Dyrnwyn, the Sword of Gryffindor, and Sting. But there’s also newer swords, like Magnus Chase’s talking sword (Jack?), the Witch Killing sword from The Wizards of Once, and light sabres are cool and kind of magic.
I love dogs, which probably isn’t a surprise to most of you. I work with dogs every day and I think they are the greatest creatures on God’s green earth. So I love it when they have a role to play in stories. However, I do not like it when dogs die, because apparently, dogs are so pure that they have to die in horrific ways. So I like it when dogs live, like Snowy in the English versions of Tintin, Timmy in The Famous Five, and Lassie.
Anyway, that’s it for today! I hope you guys enjoyed this. What are your favourite tropes? Do you like animals in fiction, or do they annoy you? Do you like weird weapons? Do you prefer sassy, sarcastic mentors or quiet and kind ones?