What Is a Trope or Tropes? – Definition and Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

As a writer and author, I love tropes! I understand how important they are when building a compelling plot for just about anything. But not everyone knows about tropes or how to use them. So, I’ll take a quick moment to explain what tropes are and the role they play in books, films, and TV.

Definition of Tropes

What Is a Trope or Tropes Definition Examples

A trope is simply a common or recurring theme or method used in storytelling across all forms of media. Tropes serve as a way for creators to convey certain ideas and messages to their audience in a familiar and recognizable way.

Think of the last book you read or a movie you recently watched. Did you reach a point where you could predict what was going to happen? Or did a character arise, and you immediately know it was the villain? That’s because the creator used tropes to build up the idea or the character.

Now, tropes can also have a negative connotation when someone’s referring to the fact that something is too predictable because it shows lazy writing. They’re often called tired tropes or dead metaphors because they’ve been overdone and are just too predictable. 

Etymology of Tropes

The word itself derives from the Latin term “tropus,” which pretty much means “a figure of speech” or “a turn.” There’s also the Greek word “tropos,” meaning “a turn, direction, or way.”

So, basically, “trope” in any language has always held the same, or at least similar, meaning.

What Are Tropes in Literature, aka Literary Devices?

As a Fantasy Romance author, I use tropes all the time. It’s a way for me to create a story, setting, and characters that I know a reader will understand and relate to. Some readers even look for certain tropes in a book before committing to it, knowing that they’ll love the book if it has the things they love. Some common examples of tropes in books are:

  • A hero’s journey
  • The damsel in distress
  • The wise old mentor
  • Enemies to lovers
  • Found family

The list is endless because, over time, new tropes are created based on reoccurring themes in books that readers bind together and create a demand for.

Some common character tropes (ones specific to the characters themselves rather than the story) are:

  • Mary Sue
  • Hero with a dark past
  • Smart sidekick

What Is a Trope in Film?

Much like books, the film has its own common tropes to lean on. They can include visual or auditory cues like loud music during a fight scene, character archetypes, plot devices, and common settings.

Some simple film tropes I love are the “meet-cute” idea in romantic comedies or the training montage that’s always in sports films (think of Rocky). But one of my favorites is the use of a ticking clock to create building tension in a thriller.

What Is the Most Popular Trope?

It’s so hard to pinpoint the most popular trope because, as I said before, tropes can vary greatly depending on the genre and medium, and there are always new ones arising.

But the hero’s journey is one of the most recognizable tropes in storytelling. It’s literally in almost everything across multiple genres. This trope is also known as the monomyth and follows a very specific narrative pattern.

  1. The hero sets out on an adventure.
  2. Then faces and overcomes challenges and even comes close to failing.
  3. Finally, they ultimately return home transformed.

What Is Another Word for Trope?

  • Motif
  • Theme
  • Plot device
  • Cliché
  • Figure of speech
  • Archetype
  • Method

Using the Word Trope in a Sentence

What Is a Trope or Tropes Definition Examples 1
  • The hero’s journey is a classic trope that appears in all sorts of entertainment, like The Hobbit.
  • As an author, I love using flashbacks as a trope in some of my books.
  • Romantic comedies are the best because they employ the “enemies-to-lovers” trope, which has definitely become a fan favorite.
  • The wise old mentor is a must-have trope to pair with the hero’s journey because they act as a milestone or guide for the hero.
  • Say what you will, but the haunted house trope is a staple of horror movies, and I won’t watch one without it.

It is noteworthy that so many readers … should have been misled by so simple a trope as ‘the king of all our hearts.’ [Practical Criticism, Ivor Armstrong Richards (1946)]

What Tropes Do You Love?

Recognizing tropes can help us engage more deeply with the media we consume and identify patterns across all forms of storytelling. If you’re a writer like me, studying tropes is essential so you understand how to work them into your story.

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