Sequence 05: Tropes and Archetypes

The Gist

Tropes and archetypes are a powerful short hand for communication between the reader and writer. However, there is only one short step to cliche. Being aware of how tropes and archetypes have been used in the past is key to knowing how to use them well in your own works.

The Roster

  1. Tropes and Archetypes - Exceeding Reader Expectations [08Sep14]
    Though the difference between a trope and a cliche is a fine line. Knowing how and where to tread is essential to using tropes and archetypes well.
  2. Deus Ex Machina - Breaking the Primary Promise [15Sep14]
    The reason why people are so frustrated with the dues ex machina trope is that it cheats the reader out of a satisfying resolution. Though it can be used well, be cautious!
  3. Making Our Characters Suffer for Entertainment and Profit [22Sep14]
    Struggle and sacrifice are the primary engines that drive both tension and the reader’s momentum through the plot. After all, a goal easily achieved is no victory at all.
  4. Arming Yourself with Checkov's Gun [29Sep14]
    A Checkov’s Gun is highly dependent upon delicacy in execution and timing. However, it's a powerful and essential element of foreshadowing if used well.
  5. Suspension of Disbelief - Taking the Hits Only Where You Have To [06Oct14]
    Our reader's suspension of disbelief is a precious resource for a writer. Sometimes we need to push the limits of our readers trust, but do not waste that faith.
  6. An Explosion is a Surprise, a Ticking Bomb is Suspense [13Oct14]
    When I first started writing, I thought that building tension was simply a matter of endangering my characters. However, that's only part of the story. As writers, we need to understand the subtle difference between surprise and suspense.
  7. Navigating our Characters Across the Moral Point of No Return [20Oct14]
    Though many cultures and theologies agree on the existence of evil in the world, no two groups draw the same definitive line as a moral boundary.  As authors, however, we have an advantage that many courts of moral judgment can only dream about - we are able to show our character’s thoughts and directions in quasi real time.
  8. Trust Me, I'm the Author [27Oct14]
    An author needs to recognize when it is appropriate, even advisable, to be intentionally vague in their explanations. Beware, however! Using it too often will stress your reader's suspension of disbelief.
  9. Cracking Open the Black Box and Learning Something Unexpected [01Dec14]
    Even if we choose to present a technology as a magic black box, it is essential for us to have cracked the lid and understand the workings ourselves to avoid stupid errors. One such search that I did, on the simple polygraph machine, changed how I view building an emotional bond with the reader.
  10. Only Imperial Stormtroopers Are (Not) So Precise... [08Dec14]
    The Bad Guy Aim trope is a powerful mechanism for the writer to manage the tension of a scene. For the trope to be effective, however, the danger must be believable.
  11. The MacGuffin - The Literary Bait and Switch [15Dec14]
    In order for there to be a story, the protagonists must actively seek to change their situation. However, deep emotional and philosophical struggles are difficult to convey to the audience, so writers use proxies and metaphors to make the abstract goals of our characters tangible.
  12. Redemption Tales –– The Long March Back Up Into The Sun [22Dec14]
    Good fiction is based on struggle and empathy, and I believe that it is the realization of our own flaws that accounts for the popularity of the redemption archetype. After all, if there is a chance for a better future for a character that has gone so much further down the dark path, there must be hope for the reader as well.
  13. The Power of the Posse [29Dec14]
    Having a protagonist who is universally skilled grinds on the reader’s suspension of disbelief and degrades story tension. Therefore, it only makes sense that we also develop a support group, a Band of Adventurers, to help them in their struggles.
  14. The Power of Choice –– The Difference Between Salvation and Stagnation [05Jan15]
    Once the world is established, and the initiating event has made the character’s status quo unbearable, they must choose to change their scenario and set out into the rising action. Once they make a choice and cross this line, there is no way for them to return to how they were before.
  15. Rebellion –- When Defiance is Only the Beginning [12Jan15]
    While many people yearn for change, they are reluctant to face the consequences of trying and failing. Open rebellion is the most extreme form of these desires, so reading about characters in that situation serves as a dry run for our own, smaller scale changes and challenges.
  16. Underdog Characters -- The Intersection of Ideal and Real [19Jan15]
    As struggle is a fundamental aspect of any dramatic structure, writers often ensure that their protagonists are at a disadvantage up until the moment of their climactic victory. Taken to an extreme of imbalance and prejudice, the character becomes an Underdog, an archetype that is extremely popular because of how easily it fits into other story frameworks and its effectiveness in garnering reader sympathy.
  17. Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi [26Jan15]
    In essence, a Hero’s Journey is the transformation from weakness and naiveté to strength and wisdom. Though stories should be protagonist driven, that doesn’t preclude the character from needing help to realize their destiny. Mentor figures, after all, are an essential part of the Hero's Journey.
  18. Pawn to Queen - The Staircase of Protagonist Power [02Feb15]
    In essence, any story is the transformation of the protagonist from reactionary to an active shaper of their own destiny. However, the more extreme the growth in a single volume, the more difficult it is for us as writers to find a plausible challenge for the next book in the series. Plan ahead and plot wisely.
  19. Coming Full Circle - A Hero's Return Home [09Feb15]
    The protagonist’s character arc in a hero’s journey is nonlinear. After their adventures, the hero must come full circle and return to their starting point either physically or metaphorically. By doing so, the reader can acutely see how the character has changed.
  20. Where The Rubber Meets the Road -- Creating Characters with Tropes and Archetypes [16Feb15]
    When I prewrite a story, I look at what roles I'll need filled and cast my characters according. By doing so, I am able to cut the unnecessary individuals before I invest in them emotionally.
  21. Men in Tights vs Frozen - The Invocation and Subversion of Tropes and Archetypes [23Feb15]
    Tropes and archetypes are effective as a channel of short hand communication between the reader and writer because they are predictable. However, the subversion allows for an element of originality and cleverness that keeps the tropes and archetypes feeling fresh and original.


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