So, there are these things in literature called tropes. Basically, tropes are themes or character types that pop up over and over in a lot of books. The hero’s journey or forbidden love, the jock or the hardass or the air headed pretty girl.
Or the smart pretty girl that doesn’t realize she’s pretty even though literally every one she meets falls in love with her and wants to get into her pants. That one seems to be increasingly popular, of late.
Tropes are everywhere, and they’re pretty hard to avoid.
And tropes aren’t bad, in and of themselves. If you’re not sure where to begin, they can provide a jumping off point.
But relying on them to heavily can prove disastrous for a book.
It breeds boring, two-dimensional characters and insanely predictable books.
If every character is a well-known stereotype and the story itself is a formula story, then there’s no real depth to draw a reader in and make them wonder what might happen.
Because they already know.
Because they’ve read that exact story with those exact characters a million different times.
Or worse, the cheesiness of all the over-the-top tropes could just become too much, ruining what might otherwise be a real edge-of-your-seat page turner.
You might think, “Well, I’ll just be completely original and not use a single trope.”
To which, I say…good luck. There’s bound to be some sort of trope in there somewhere.
There are literal tons of them.
Orphan finds out they’re magical, marriage of convenience, whirlwind billionaire romance, elderly mentor, secret heir, magical object to save the world, love triangle, the list goes on.
Plus, when you’re busy striving for originality, you get stuck thinking of what’s already been done (trying to avoid it) rather than just writing and letting your voice make whatever you write an original.
Which brings me to the first way to avoid over-troping your book.
Find your voice.
Every author has a signature style, a way of writing that is uniquely them.
It’s a mixture of the types of stories they tell, the words they choose, the aesthetic they tend to go for, the level of detail they strive for, the tense and the POV they write in, and many other things.
And if you really develop your voice as an author, you can write the tropiest tropes that ever troped, and still make something original.
Because it’s been spun in your unique voice.
The second way to avoid accidentally trashing your book with tons of blatant tropes is to study psychology.
Getting a better grasp on how people think (and what might have lead them to think that way) will inform your writing and deepen your character development.
You don’t have to get a degree. (I did, but not with the intention of using it for writing. I intended to become a therapist, at the time.)
But do some research into personality development and the effects of trauma or various disorders. Maybe buy a used psychology textbook online or take a class at a community college.
Third, study sociology and history. Again, no degree necessary, but do some research, watch some documentaries, read some books.
Learning how empires rise and fall, seeing how precarious some societies really are, and how small problems can topple mighty countries might show you something that you could use in a rebellion in your book. Or it might show you what it takes to rebuild afterward.
Tropes for the story line (star-crossed lovers, make-over, villain decay, the chosen one, etc.) are usually okay because there’s so much going on within and around them that it mixes it up. Just try not to draw attention to the fact that it’s there (let the readers analyze/enjoy the story without you saying hey look what I did here), and don’t throw too many of them into one story.
And last but not least, ask yourself these simple questions. (And answer honestly. The success of your book depends on you being honest with yourself about what it contains.)
Is there more to this character than the trope they spawned from? If the answer is no, you need to workshop that character and develop their personality.
Are all of my characters directly linked to a trope? If the answer is yes, you might need to mix it up. There should be at least a few characters that don’t spawn from a trope.
Get a second opinion, if you aren’t sure. Ask them to read it with this in mind. If you’ve developed your characters well enough beyond their trope spawn point, you could pull it off beautifully. But there’s the risk of making your book cheesy if all your characters are tropes.
And no one wants that.
Now, go forth and write deeply developed characters and plot lines.
Keep reading. Keep writing.