Ready for one of my favourite corners of the interwebs?
Ever spend what seems like a few minutes on something and then you look up it’s a different year and you’ve grown a Dumbledorian length beard? This pleasure-based time dilation has been my experience on the website TV Tropes (incidentally on TV Tropes this effect is called Year Outside, Hour Inside). It’s a wiki cataloging of every conceivable plot device or archetype with extensive examples across all genres or media. Except for maybe porn, I don’t think it delves into the complexity of porn.
Apart from being a great time suck, it can also be valuable in writing. It can help you clarify your story, add some depth, and caution you from more pernicious aspects of the trope. For instance, want to tease your readers with a mysterious council of poorly lit villains discussing “the plan” that’s great. It’s called the Omniscient Council of Vagueness and can be an effective means to entice your reader. Unless it’s overused and the discussion is actually a bunch of inconsequential nonsense because it’s too vague or mysterious that the reader tunes out.
Tropes are just tools. Writers understand tropes and use them to control audience expectations either by using them straight or by subverting them, to convey things to the audience quickly without saying them.
Be warned that tropes aren’t necessarily good or bad. While they can inspire or hone in on a plot point, they can just as easily over-complicate it. You’re anti-hero might seem badass in your mind, but he might also be just an asshole. Moreover, accepting and reusing tropes which reinforce the status quo make your story predictable or even harmful. Some writers fail to acknowledge the profound impact that their work has on some people’s lives. So much so that in writing token characters or other cliches, readers internalize and emulate the behaviors exhibited. Anita Sarkeesian does an amazing job at exposing these more problematic tropes in the Feminist Frequency YouTube series Tropes vs Women.
Small warning, Anita, like many women on the internet, faces
harsh criticism threats of rape and death for her work so where ever possible don’t read the comments or responses.
In any case, check out TV Tropes, use it for fun writing prompts, ideas, advice, but don’t pollute your writing with every trope you read about.