When is something a trope and when is it a cliche?
I see tropes as familiar elements in stories, whether in world-building, character arcs or plot. They’re basically narrative elements, like having magic as a part of the world, a Chosen One type scenario, a post-apocalyptic societies governed by a despotic government, or the classic good-vs-evil epic fantasy saga.
Cliches on the other hand, are extensions of tropes – specifically, badly written, poorly used or unrealistic tropes – and as such any trope can become a cliche. Some common ones I’ve come across are love triangles, black-and-white morality and the kind of HEA ending where everyone gets what they want.
Can cliches and tropes be done well? When do you enjoy cliches or tropes, and when do you not? How much do cliches/tropes affect your overall opinion of a book?
In and of themselves, tropes are neither good nor bad. All stories have them, and it’s nearly impossible to find a book that’s completely original and devoid of tropes. Generally speaking, I don’t mind most tropes, and it’s really interesting when authors use them in unique ways. I have several favourite tropes, and while I don’t actively seek out books that contain them, it’s always a nice to come across a book with a good old-fashioned enemies to lovers romance, secret identities, or my personal favourites: prophecies, quests, epic battles and the perfect ‘here comes the cavalry’ moments.
I have a really bad opinion of cliches in general, but they can be done well, and the best example of that I’ve come across to date is how Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series handles the love triangle. It wasn’t predictable and I was genuinely invested in finding out how it was going to end.
Cliches and tropes can have a huge effect on my opinion of a book in a positive or negative manner. For example, the Book of the Ancestor series which I read last year, took what I felt was an interesting approach to the Chosen One trope which made it fun to read even though said trope is such a common and often overused one. If it feels like the book is following a trope or cliche almost like a script with nothing to make it stand out, that is something I tend to dislike. Ultimately, whether I enjoy a trope or not depends entirely on how it is written and if the interpretation is believable.
What are your thoughts on cliches and tropes? Do you have a favourite trope? Share your thoughts in the comments below!