Thursday, July 30, 2015

Overusing Tropes Can Be Dangersous

A trope, by definition, is the use of a figurative language. In other words, authors would use a trope to get across a meaning, different than what the literature language would mean. But, within literature, tropes have taken on a new definition. Writers will often hear professionals talking about common tropes as being, reoccurring motifs or cliches within stories. Some of those common tropes we have seen can include (but not limited to):

  • Millionaire hotty heroes
  • Lost loves regained
  • Arranged marriages
  • Unknown baby stories
  • Overheard conversations
  • Ugly duckling stories
  • Marriage of convenience
  • etc.
Unfortunately, for the romance industry, many authors have missed the point when it comes to tropes and doing one of two things. Either A) they are assuming the trope is a template to the entire story; or B) believing if one trope is good, more is better.

What writers need to understand is that using a trope is fine, but misusing a trope (or multiple tropes) does result in a story that sounds formulaic. This will also lead to stories that come across sounding very forced and unnatural.

We see this a lot in series romance. Authors have this assumption that a particular series line has to have a plot that is constructed 100% around those tropes. Take, for example, the Harlequin American line. When you read the description, you can see how easily an author can fall into the trap of overusing tropes:

You love small towns and cowboys! Harlequin American Romance stories are heartwarming contemporary tales of everyday women finding love, becoming part of a family or community—or maybe starting a family of her own.

But here is the thing. The real element that makes a story great for the American line is the second part of that description. "...heartwarming contemporary tales of everyday women finding love, becoming part of a family or community - or maybe starting a family..." The comment about the small towns and the cowboys would be the trope elements, but this does not mean it IS the story.

Digging deeper into the submission guideline information further supports that the tropes DO NOT make the story:

  • Central romance is driven by the hero's or heroine's (or both) desire to be a part of a family or community
  • Stories showcase the comforts of home and a sense of place – particularly the charm of small-town America and the ruggedness of western locales
  • Must be set in the USA
  • Western heroes and heroines are very popular – cowboys (ranchers, rodeo riders), law enforcement (sheriffs, deputies, Texas Rangers), etc
  • All stories must feature strong family elements such as pregnancy, young children, blended families, etc
  • Warmhearted stories offer a range of tones, from light humor to drama
  • Level of sensuality is low to moderate
  • Word count of 55,000 means stories must be fast-paced and plot-driven

Stories showcase comforts of home
Strong family elements such as pregnancy, young children...

Please note, there are suggestions of certain tropes (cowboys, ranchers, law-enforcement) but this does not mean you have to incorporate all of these.

When we talk about using tropes, we are basing these ideas around common themes market research is showing that the readers like and gravitate to.

The thing to remember is the trope does not make the story. As seen is this single submission guideline, it is the theme that creates the story. It is the theme and the message that dictates the plot you want to use and the characters that you want to tell that story.

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