Tropes. You either love 'em or you hate 'em. But sometimes they're just irresistible (I'm looking at you, Love Interest with a Dark Secret). How do you find tropes for your book without going overboard and ending up with a Mary Sue? Here's how I do it.
Despite the fact that I profess to despise them, tropes are an essential part of my writing process. I need them to build my characters and story arcs; without them, my books would be flat and lifeless. So how do I find new tropes without resorting to clichés? Here are three methods that work for me.
Good Old-Fashioned Brainstorming
You really can't beat good old-fashioned brainstorming with a pen and paper. No, I mean it. Grab a pen and paper and don't think. Just write!
There are a few questions I ask myself during this brainstorming session if I get stuck:
- What is my character trying to achieve/avoid at all costs?
- How does my character feel about themselves and others?
- What is my character's backstory?
- What motivates my character?
Often, if I answer these questions, I find that my characters already fit into a trope. Then I can use that trope to further round out my characters and bring them to life! For example, in my book Sparks and Shadow, Everly fits into several tropes: the Superhero Complex, the Orphan, and the Loner, just to name a few. I didn't pick and choose these tropes. The more I brainstormed about who she was as a person, the more these tropes came to life.
To apply this to your own brainstorming session, take your main characters (or side characters - this works for them too!) and answer the questions above on a piece of paper. Look for patterns. Does a trope stand out to you? If so, can you twist it or expound on it to further round out your character?
Craft Books / Blog Posts
Craft books and online resources are EVERYTHING to me as an author. I'm a researcher by nature, so I get all giddy when I get to go digging for some information I want to know. I especially love The Trope Thesaurus for a great list to reference. There are also a TON of blog posts besides mine about this exact topic, including this one.
Take a look at these lists and see if something jumps out at you. How can you twist it into something fresh?
TV & Movies
There's a reason TV and movies are one of the most popular forms of entertainment these days (Netflix binge, anyone?). I love consuming story via all forms, the silver screen included, so I take a lot of inspiration from the characters I see there. You'll find that character tropes spread across all forms of media, not just books!
So how do you find them? Well, first off, consume lots of media. But I probably don't need to tell you that. You probably already do! So take the movies and TV shows you love to watch and start watching them with a critical eye. What patterns do you see in your favorite characters? What motivates them? Can you assign them to a trope?
If you have a favorite character and you've determined that they have the Nerdy Best Friend trope, take a deeper look. What traits/motivations/goals could you take from the TV show or movie and put into your own character? Which ones can you twist into something new?
There you have it! Three tried-and-true methods for finding character tropes for your books. I hope this gives you a good starting point for your next project so you can create well-rounded and compelling characters that your readers will love. Now it’s time to get out there and do some brainstorming! What are your favorite techniques for finding character tropes? Do you have a favorite trope? Let me know in the comments below.