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July 16 2010

Is "avoiding tropes" the same thing as telling fresh stories? An article from io9 about the use of tropes (cliches) in TV, using examples from BTVS and Supernatural.

Since the article didn't directly link to it, here's that WWII trope rant. It's pretty funny stuff. And also an interesting article from io9 re: tropes. I think the big issue with it, though, is that it conflates trope and cliché, when one of TVTropes' big mantras is that tropes are NOT necessarily clichés and that, I think, is where the difference between good and bad use of them lies.
If I worried about tropes all the time I wouldn't write anything, fresh or otherwise. I imagine that's true of most fiction writers. It's a pluralistic world we live in. It's all been done. Just try to do it better than anyone else and you're good to go. Tropes are interesting for studying but they shouldn't be used to hinder a good idea just because it's a little derivative. You can only turn a genre on it's ear so many times before it gets dizzy and yammies on your shoes.
I'll just leave this link here...

Also, from the TvTropes home page:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés.
I think if you go out of your way to look for cliches/tropes/whatnots, eventually you're just going to suck all the joy out of being a fan. And then you really have to wonder why you watch tv or movies in the first place.

I remember a more innocent time in fandom or maybe I'm just imagining it.
Thanks Jobo! That WWII rant was pretty funny indeed.

Those early seasons of Buffy certainly were great at the playful subversion of some annoying cliches.

I love a good subversion, but I also love those rare times when cliches are handled really well and you are reminded why they became cliches in the first place. Aaron Sorkin f.e. is a master of this art. And Patrick Rothfuss' book The Name of the Wind recently made me understand why certain fantasy cliches are so common, by showing just how effective they can be.

That TV-tropes page seems absolutely brilliant. Perfect for an obsessive like me ;) Hope I remember it when I have a bit more time to waste.
IMO cliches can be used tastefully in my mind they are cliches because they are in a way classic expressions of some idea. In that way they easily resonate with the audience. Avoiding cliches is good as well because they are by their very definition tired and/or boring and don't by their very nature bring something newer into the a more novel creation would.
To me it's all a question of balance: old vs new, familiar vs strange, etc. A creator should use what ever best suits their creation in order to express it and in that regard they cliches will always have their place.
That being said I usually avoid works that contain a lot of trite ideas because I don't find them interesting. As Salvador Dalí said: "The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot."
The guy, Scott, who wrote the WWII rant, was he talking about a show that re-told the entire war, correctly? Was he for real? Did he not realize that shit had actually happened, or was he just trying to be funny?


I read the original livejournal entry, and it was obviously suppose to be a joke, nevermind.

[ edited by Skytteflickan88 on 2010-07-16 23:18 ]
I agree with the sentiment that there is "no wrong way to take pleasure from a story." =D
"Patterns" by Devo - aka TV Tropes The Theme Song:

Patterns all around you, patterns everywhere
Patterns of behavior, sometimes seem unfair
Can you recognize the patterns that you find?

Patterns unfamiliar, patterns lead you through
To patterns of discovery tracing out the clues
Can you recognize the patterns that you find?
Stuck in your mind

In this land where stability is hard to find
You can rearrange the patterns so unkind
Don't bother asking why a pattern never cries
Old patterns never die, they just go on and on

Patterns multiplying, re-direct our view
Endless variations make it all seem new
Can you recognize the patterns that you find?
Stuck in your mind

In this land where stability is hard to find
You can rearrange the patterns so unkind
Don't bother asking why a pattern never cries
Old patterns never die, they just go on and on

It's All There in the Manual, after all...
Nice to see other TV Tropes fans here. Though I warn anyone new to the site; set aside a few hours before you go on. Possibly a day or two. ;)
I think Tropes are part of good story telling. There are reasons these stories resonate with us. It's because the stories are much older than we are.
TV Tropes is the first thing I thought of when I saw tropes and cliches presented as the same thing. Tropes are simply devices for storytelling. As the site says, when you write a story, don't try making it pure, 100% Essence of Originalcum, because you will fail. "There is nothing new under the sun, including that very statement." And yes, TV Tropes is awesome - although Your Mileage May Vary.
Tropes are part of the language of fiction. The "secret" is to remember that they are language rather than content. Use them to tell a story; don't try to pass them off as story themselves.

Avoiding them is, at best, some kind of art-school exercise, like deciding to paint without using the color blue.

(and the same thing goes for cliches and other forms of stock element)

[ edited by Ghalev on 2010-07-17 08:54 ]
I agree, it's the way the story is told. Tropes is really a stereotype expression that really doesn't hold water. Again, it's the story that matters.
"Really, what storytellers should aspire to, and what us audience-members should look for, is truthfulness. Characters who feel real, and who breathe. Stories that have a momentum that comes from people's emotions as well as the progression of ideas. Because stories that feel like they're being honest and letting their characters be real people will also feel fresh. It's the characters and the ideas, and how truthfully the story plays them out, that make it fresh."

This is exactly what I was thinking when I clicked on the link. It doesn't really matter what tricks the writer uses, as long as they occur naturally for the character and the world they inhabit.

I agree, with what Jobo says, that the article is confusing tropes and cliches. There is obviously nothing wrong with using tropes, as pretty much all stories are made up of them. We wouldn't have Buffy if Joss didn't want to tell the a hero story, one of the oldest tropes of them all. So, I think re-reading the article and replacing the word trope with cliche makes it read much better.

Doing that though, I started raising a question to myself, what happens when subverting a cliche/trope becomes a cliche/trope itself? I have always enjoyed a bit of knowing subverting, but there are plenty of people nowadays that find that kind of thing a smug way of writing, a little bit of a nod and wink sniggering. So, maybe subversion is already a cliche/trope, probably due to the likes of Joss.
I think trope avoidance alone doesn't automatically ensure a great story, but it's a big part of it for me. Like the writer of the article said, if you vault over the sandtrap and then don't go anywhere, you haven't done anything clever. But falling right into the sandtrap isn't a good thing either.

Anytime someone mentions trope/cliche subversion, I immediately think of the scene in the Firefly pilot where Mal walks up to a hostage situation and promptly shoots the bad guy in the face. That scene is a crowning example of a cliche subversion done right. It feels natural for the character and moves the plot right on past the potential trope. That scene is where I sat back and said "Oooooh I think I'm going to love this show".
If I remember the history, TV Tropes started out as a Buffy fan site that tried to analyze what made the show so great. It's since evolved into its own entity, but a significant percentage of the tropes are heavily Whedon-based.

[ edited by Aurec on 2010-07-17 19:00 ]
Bah, Vandelay already mentioned what came to my mind, about when subversion of a trope has become a trope in itself. Whether the writer of the article confused tropes and cliches, she nailed it on the head that what is interesting is truthfulness to the characters. (I'm assuming it is a "she", since "Jane is a girl's name".) Going to a conventional trope can still reveal something new about a particular character, or something unique in the way the character thinks can cause the trope to be avoided.

Same is true for the overall story. When I used to watch Sci-Fi original movies, even if the scenes and lines were different, I was *painfully* aware that I was watching a 2nd-rate Predator or a 3rd-rate Aliens, instead of the 1st-rate original. The aping, without any attempt to bring something new to the mix, was annoying. Contrast that with something like McKellen's "Richard III". (From Wikipedia, McKellen himself stated on his website: "When you put this amazing old story in a believable modern setting, it will hopefully raise the hair on the back of your neck, and you won't be able to dismiss it as 'just a movie' or, indeed, as 'just old-fashioned Shakespeare.' ")
I'm glad that so many people have mentioned the fact that this article aside, cliches and tropes are not the same thing. And that subverting a trope - or even a cliche - can make for great storytelling. (What RaisedByMongrels said, about Firefly).

As for the subversion itself already getting old, I don't think that's ever going to happen, as long as it's done well and with the cleverness that Joss brings to this particular trick.

You can go all the way back to the ancient Greeks for the "there's nothing new under the sun" argument. It just depends on how well it's executed, how well it flows with the story arc and character development, and how well it's woven into contemporary sensibility.

EF: fractured sentence :)

[ edited by Shey on 2010-07-19 07:20 ]
Well, I only clicked on comments to say that tropes are not cliches.

Warms my heart to see everyone's beaten me to it.

< sigh >I love you guys< /sigh >
We are indeed lovable .... as well as mighty. ;)

Only a couple of days left to vote that sentiment, on the Airlock Alpha poll (archives, June 26th).

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