literary tropes blog post image

The damsel in distress. The mad scientist. The complicated love triangle. Chances are you know more than one story that employs each of these tropes.

Some tropes are overused, which leads to painfully predictable, unoriginal stories. But when writers place classic tropes in unique new contexts, or even turn them on their head completely, they can create fresh new spins on old standards.

What Are Tropes?

In the literary world, the word “trope” has several meanings. Traditionally, “trope” has referred to literary devices and figures of speech, including metaphors, allegories, and irony.

However, the word is now more commonly used to categorize recurring themes, motifs, or clichés in both literature and film. For example, “love at first sight” and “enemies to lovers” are two popular romance tropes. This is the type of trope we’ll focus on in this post.

Although they run the risk of becoming tired and redundant, these conventions help readers navigate stories by offering them a starting point that they can make sense of.

Much like archetypes, writers can use tropes to reflect the real types of people and situations that we all know (or have even experienced) universally.

What Is an Example of a Literary Trope?

To help you better understand what tropes are, here are 3 examples of popular tropes from different genres of literature and film.

The “Chosen One”

harry potter image

The trope of the “Chosen One” is especially popular in fantasy and science fiction. It’s this character’s job—actually, often their destiny—to defeat the antagonist.

Perhaps the most famous modern example of this trope is Harry Potter. Known as “the Boy Who Lived,” Harry is prophesied to either defeat or be defeated by Lord Voldemort.

The Chosen One is often reluctant to step into their prescribed role, but their journey and personal transformation is what makes a lot of the story.

Enemies to Lovers

elizabeth bennet image

The enemies to lovers trope is frequently used in romance novels and romantic comedy films. It’s when, as the name suggests, two characters initially can’t stand each other (often because of a misunderstanding or opposing views).

But as he story progresses, it becomes evident that all that “hatred” could be redirected into romantic passion—as the tension between them escalates, so does their attraction and their realization that they may have feelings for one another.

One iconic example of this literary trope can be found in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Most of the story follows the various spats between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, until Elizabeth lets go of her prejudice and Mr. Darcy his pride and they finally become a couple.

The Ticking Clock

ticking clock trope image

Many thrillers and other genres make use of the ticking clock trope in one way or another. There might be a looming deadline, or a literal ticking time bomb that the protagonist must stop before it’s too late.

This trope adds more pressure and raises the tension, making the story’s climax all the more exciting for readers or viewers.

Many of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. For example, in The Lightning Thief, the characters must find the Master Bolt before the summer solstice.

Check out more examples of literary tropes by genre:

How to Use Tropes in Writing

Here are 3 tips for using tropes to enhance your fiction with an original spin on familiar conventions.

1. Make sure the trope fits your story.

Writers should use tropes mindfully. It’s important to understand that just because you’re writing a romance doesn’t mean you need to pack your story full of every classic romance trope. (Actually, that would make for a really bad story!)

Tropes build a familiar landscape for readers and help them to make sense of your story. You should familiarize yourself with common tropes found in your genre, then choose one or two that fit with your story and find an original way to incorporate them in your narrative.

Don’t build your entire story around the most popular tropes. Rather, use them to create a familiar environment to set up your readers’ expectations.


2. Try subverting a popular trope.

Tropes are most effective when they’re used to play on the audience’s expectations. You can do this by taking a familiar trope and turning it on its head.

A good example of this can be found in Gone Girl, which puts a unique twist on the old “the husband did it” thriller trope. It also provides us with not one, but two unreliable narrators.

Throwing in these twists offers readers a new perspective. They have a new reason—a need, really—to keep going and find out what happens next, because you’ve taken something they thought they knew and flipping it completely.

3. Embrace tropes.

Because some tropes are overused, the term itself is often confused with clichés. And while some tropes have become clichés, they don’t have to be.

Trying to avoid tropes altogether is virtually impossible. After all, pretty much everything you’ve ever read has contained tropes, and they’re bound to influence your own work in one way or another.

So instead of futilely running from tropes, embrace them! Use our first two tips to take classic tropes, make them your own, and draw readers in for a ride they won’t soon forget.

Using Genre Tropes and Conventions

Although often used as a derogatory term for tired or cliché fiction, there’s actually nothing wrong with using tropes in your writing.

Look to literary tropes for inspiration and see what you can do to breathe fresh air into classic conventions that have stood the test of time.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!


If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like: