Writing Is A Bad Habit: Super Troperiffic Sterrotype GO! a.k.a. Embracing the Archetypical

Tropes are bad.  Archetypes are hackneyed.  Stereotypes are horrible.

Except when tropes are great, archetypes resonate with our souls, and stereotypes have that hard kernel of truth.

Look, let’s face facts: that entire extended statement is the reality of writing.  The well-worn roads of tropes and archetypes can indeed be such old hat to make your works tired and uninteresting.  However, there’s a reason these literary devices, characters, and plots have been around for so long.  They touch on elements deep in the human psyche.  Hopes, fears, desires, and despair, whether the source of those feelings are ancestral, genetic, or modern.  These feelings, that resonance is what makes tropes and archetypes such powerful tools for writers to use.

To put it in culinary terms, as is my nature, there is a reason that chocolate cake exists after all of these centuries.  It is a recipe that the vast majority finds delicious and so it is recreated again and again.  We often experiment with that recipe, adding new ingredients and flavors and removing others, yet in the end, we are still making chocolate cake.

In fact, that culinary experimentation is a perfect figure of speech to describe the ways to make the old tropes into something fresh.  While never getting rid of the core premise, we can add new elements to the mix, new character traits or plot elements, while eliminating others.  I’m not talking about just deconstruction and reconstruction, just using a trope relatively straight while altering some aspects of it can be sufficient.  Most readers still want their chocolate cake, you see, but they want it in some new way, something to spice it up to stand out from every other chocolate cake.  That necessary spice comes from you, the author, and how you play with your tropes and archetypes to bring about something wonderful.

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!


  1. I find stereotypes most useful when filling in as much detail as possible in as little time as possible. Most tropes fall apart (or become something other then a simple trope) the more time/attention is placed upon it. If it doesn’t it is called a hack, right? But if you need to fill in a stack of details in a hurry there is nothing like a stereotype to get the job done. Example:
    A butler answers a door. The butler is a trivial character that may not even have a name but you don’t want it to be this apersonal blob stuck to a door handle. So you give it an English/foreign accent and tilt his nose up as he answers. Viola! Instant impression of a total character because everyone know s the English butler. And for that one page that he appeared that was all you needed.

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