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Tropes In Movies: Good or Bad?

Tropes in movies and TV— are they good or are they bad? 

Tropes has become a dirty word in modern storytelling, perhaps rightfully so…

As a script consultant, I’ve broken down this argument and assessed whether they serve as creative catalysts or stumbling blocks for screenwriters.

flawed characters / tropes in writing

What Is A Trope? More Than Just Clichés

A trope is a recurring theme, plot device, character type, or storytelling element. 

Through consistent use, tropes become a recognisable and often expected convention in literature, film, or other forms of storytelling.

While the term often carries a negative connotation, it’s essential to recognise that tropes aren’t inherently detrimental to storytelling.

Embracing Tropes: Genre Identity and Audience Expectations

Tropes play a pivotal role in shaping and defining genres.

For instance, a jump scare in a horror movie or the presence of a detective protagonist in a crime/thriller are classic examples.

Genres thrive on the familiarity that tropes provide, and audiences often expect their inclusion.

In the absence of these anticipated elements, fans may feel shortchanged.

Moreover, tropes aren’t just storytelling tools—they contribute to the identity of genres, forming a cinematic language that fans understand and cherish.

tropes in writing

The Power of Subversion: Tropes for Comedic Effect

While tropes are foundational, their subversion or satirical use can birth comedic brilliance.

The Scary Movie franchise, built on mocking horror tropes, exemplifies how playing with audience expectations can lead to comedy.

Subverting tropes inject freshness into well-trodden narratives, offering a new perspective while eliciting comedic relief.

scary movie tropes in writing

The Pitfalls of Tropes in Movies…

Despite their merits, tropes demand careful navigation. Here are three reasons why writers must exercise caution:

Problematic Tropes in Movies: The Final Girl

Tropes often reflect narratives from the past, and some can be problematic when transplanted into modern storytelling.

Take the “Final Girl” trope, popularised in 1970s slasher films.

The Final Girl trope refers to the last surviving female character who confronts and ultimately defeats the antagonist in the final moments of the story.

The Final Girl is typically portrayed as resourceful, morally upright, and able to endure various trials throughout the narrative.

The trope’s roots lie in stereotypical portrayals of women based on dated virtues associated with femininity and gender norms, reinforcing outdated and potentially harmful narratives.

Using Tropes In Movies: The Risk of Mediocrity

Overreliance on tropes can mark a writer as unoriginal. Craftsmanship in storytelling involves drawing from diverse influences, observing nuances in life, and infusing personal experiences.

A skilled writer relies on imagination to navigate story complexities, avoiding the pitfalls of formulaic storytelling.

How Tropes Disrupt Tension

The use of tropes in movies often dilutes the tension at play within a scene.

Familiar lines of dialogue or situations heard repeatedly may inadvertently break the fourth wall, causing the audience to groan as they are reminded that they are watching a film. 

In the realm of storytelling, tropes serve as tools—neither inherently good nor bad.

Their impact hinges on how writers wield them. Embracing tropes can be a celebration of genre conventions, fostering a shared language with the audience.

However, writers must exercise prudence, steering clear of outdated narratives and finding innovative ways to infuse authenticity into their work.

Nick Fore Script Doctor / Script Consultant

Nick Fore is an experienced script consultant who reads screenplays for the British Film Institute.

He has written comprehensive coverage on over 1,000 scripts and has helped screenwriters get their work into development with production companies such as Imagine Entertainment and Screen Ireland. 

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