Enlivening Old Tropes

It’s Wednesday and therefore “Workshop” day according to the Foil & Phaser calendar. This post isn’t exactly a workshop, but I’m a big fan of TvTropes.org and I came across this: The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés. It reads like a list of classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in some points, but I think we can all agree that many of the storylines and settings are overused at best. The sight of them in a new story we’re reading or even one we’re writing can elicit verbal exhortations that frighten our significant others. I certainly didn’t make such a cry when I realized I was about to write myself into a version of “It was all a dream.”

Anyway, my question for the group is what overused tropes are you most fond of? How do you think they could be reinvigorated? What spin could be added to some of these clichéd tropes to give them a new life? What other common themes not mentioned do you think are overused?

For me, it’s quest story/hack&slash fantasy. I eat that stuff up, and, honestly, not a ton of difference between Eddings’ The Elenium, Dragonlance, Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, Wheel of Time, Lord of the Rings, etc. I think GRRM did a fairly good job of reinvigorating the genre with a little gratuitous sex and violence as well as punchy chapters that moved the plot forward at a good clip (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*). Well-drawn characters as well. Basically, with good writing all around without, in my opinion, a ton of “new” ideas. Even the tons of interwoven POV characters had been done previously, if not to such a large extent. So, is that the only way to enliven old tropes is with good writing? What do y’all think?

By the way, for an example of a trope-laden book written that way on purpose, I’d recommend Lex Grossman’s The Magicians. Actually a pretty good, if rather blatant combination of Narnia and Harry Potter.

Anyway, I just wanted to jump start a discussion on the overuse of common themes, a particular issue in speculative fiction, I think. How do y’all avoid using them in your writing? How do you deal with the issue of tropes being tropes for a reason? Interested to hear from everyone!

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James Hedrick is a PhD Candidate in Political Science living in Washington, DC. He spends his days writing about politics and his evenings writing about anything but. He will soon self-publish the first book in his urban fantasy series Hell Against Texas entitled "Cauldron Bubble."

Posted in Non-Fiction, Writing Advice
4 comments on “Enlivening Old Tropes
  1. misskzebra says:

    It’s certainly difficult, but you have to be really strict with yourself when considering your plot and story ideas and ask yourself if this has been done before, and how you can make it different. Sometimes it just comes down to being patient and looking/waiting for inspiration.

  2. eranamage says:

    Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    I was playing spot the film/book here.

  3. eranamage says:

    I have to say the links made me chuckle. I really was playing spot the book/film. I suppose we get influenced by common tropes and cliches and it is hard not to use them. Although done a new or interesting way can make for a good read. Sometimes people do like to read the familiar.
    Reblogged and shared:)

  4. bull4499 says:

    they say there is no longer such thing as a new idea, but I think if using the clichés as a starting point adapt, change and create new twists and plot lines to make it your own. I like the star trek idea cant help it. scientists in space discovering new things, but I also think that plot/story line is the hardest to redo.

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