The Trope Wars

by Josiah Bancroft


It's not uncommon for readers and reviewers to reference a book's tropes to explain their reasons for disliking (or sometimes liking) a book. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a trope is an established narrative device. For example, a common fantasy trope would be "the Chosen One," where the protagonist, often the subject of prophesy, is born into a role possessing all the innate gifts necessary to succeed in the role.)

Some tropes are more heavily used than others. But dismissing a work out of hand because it employs tropes seems a little silly. At the same time, tropes can be useful for identifying and discussing genre trends which readers find irksome or overused. A nuanced discussion of tropes can be rewarding and worthwhile, I think.

Some readers who excitedly and simply equate a particular trope with bad/flawed/evil writing are going through that sophomoric thrill of discovering a new term or concept. I think most of us can relate to this process. When I first learned the term "bourgeois," everything was bourgeois for a solid six months.

So, I would say:

  1. Labeling a thing is not the same as understanding it.
  2. If you are determined to label a thing, you will often mislabel it or ignore the aspects that don't match the label, which leads to a poor or incomplete understanding of it.
  3. Labeling things is part of the learning and discovery process, and though some people will stop there and never progress beyond simple labeling, for many, it is just a step along the way to a more nuanced understanding of things.

I think that readers who've already gone through this process find people who are going through it particularly irritating. When I hear a twenty year old say, "Dude, don't be so bougie!" I want to yell, "Stop that! Bad! You're doing it wrong." But I don't, because once upon I time I was that twenty year old, and you know, like, I don't want to be bougie, man.

(This post was adapted from a thread on r/fantasy.)