What are examples of tropes? What is a trope? And how does it work? Why can it be seen in literature, movies, comic books, and other mediums? These are all great questions that will get answered in this comprehensive guide on tropes.
What Is A Trope?
A trope is any kind of recurring story device used in storytelling.
The word “trope” comes from Latin, meaning “figure in rhetoric,” from the Greek word “tropos.”
|Trope (Definition) /trōp/||a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.|
You might not have heard of the word “trope,” but nearly anyone can identify a trope when they see one.
The hero being the chosen one is a common trope. A prophecy is another kind of trope. A group of henchmen shooting at the hero while missing every shot is an action movie trope that almost everyone is familiar with.
A love triangle ending with one person dying is an incredibly common romance trope.
Tropes are something like the universal building blocks of storytelling.
The biggest reason storytellers use tropes is that people are familiar with them. They are tools to push a story in the direction you want it to go. If you’re watching a romance, chances are the main couple will break apart towards the end of the movie because of a misunderstanding of some sort.
The male lead will inevitably have to perform a grand gesture and redeem himself in the girl’s eyes before the story ends.
Each genre has its tropes. But this doesn’t mean tropes are exclusive to their genre. You can find comedy tropes in a horror story, and mixing and matching tropes and genres happen all the time.
Let’s look at some examples to get a better idea of tropes.
Examples of Tropes
Bad Guys Wear Black
All over the world, black is the color most synonymous with evil. If the hero and villain are color-coded, the hero will have a white motif, and the villain will have a black motif. Neutral characters might wear more neutral colors to show you where they belong in the story.
Black is usually worn for funerals and is commonly associated with death, disease, darkness, and decay.
Here’s an in-depth analysis of the color black to understand why it’s often used as a color theme.
Some stories would be too dark without a true comic relief character to lighten the mood. These characters might come in the form of a bumbling sidekick or a witty support character.
They are usually ready with a snappy one-liner after a moment of high tension. Their simple presence lets the audience relax and learn to laugh, whatever the circumstances might be for the hero.
This doesn’t stop the comic relief from secretly turning out to be traitors and bad guys in disguise sometimes.
Here’s a list of examples of comic relief characters.
The reluctant hero is a very common character trope, usually presented as an everyman character in the story. If you’re having trouble imagining what an “everyman” kind of character is, think of Jim Carrey.
The reluctant hero is a relatable, average person who is usually thrust into a crazy situation and forced to rise to the occasion. The critical aspect of the reluctant hero is that they never seek out trouble. Trouble finds them.
The reluctant hero has an exciting growth arc where they are forced to prove themselves at essential points so they might become worthy of being considered a “true hero” of sorts.
Here’s a guide on writing the reluctant hero trope in your story.
Comic Book Tropes (Examples)
It’s time for a dream team of ragtag misfits to come together to put an end to the villain, finally!
Or to pull off a heist, caper, or a scheme of some kind.
Each member of the team is unique and has their own hobbies, philosophy, and lifestyle that ultimately defines them as a human being.
This culminates in a scene where all of the members stand together, shoulder to shoulder, while audiences scream at the big screen in what is usually considered the high point of the story.
The Avengers is the most famous example of this trope.
This is the name given to any classic superhero.
A superhero is a cape. But superheroes don’t necessarily wear capes (No capes!). All capes are usually easily identifiable because they have a signature look. They usually have a very strict moral code they refuse to break and represent the best attributes and traits that a good human being can have.
They are modest and humble and rise to action when needed. But they are relatable at just the right moments to remind us that they are also humans. They struggle with day-to-day problems that any human would struggle with.
They are very fast to point out that they’re just ordinary people with powers. They often point to firefighters, law enforcement, teachers, and doctors as the real heroes in society. Capes are usually good role models for kids.
Here’s a look at the ten greatest superheroes that wear capes.
Superheroes (usually)tend to be grown men with extraordinary abilities. Their teenage sidekicks are meant as someone for younger audiences to identify with. The teenage sidekick can often be a genius or highly talented in some manner that they use to assist the main hero.
They also end up becoming hostages at times for the superhero to rescue. Or they might play a much-needed moral compass to the hero at times when the hero is wavering and having trouble with doing the right thing. Batman and Robin are the best examples of this trope.
Here’s a list of nearly every comic book teenage sidekick there.
Literary Tropes (Examples)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Much romantic drama is filled with period pieces focusing on different social classes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an example of a man and a woman being separated by social status yet falling in love despite their differences.
She might be a noblewoman, and him, a peasant. Or he might be a professor, and her, a modestly-dressed flower seller who slowly adjusts and adapts to upper-class challenges.
Look no further than most of Jane Austen’s work for examples of this trope. This story was a revolutionary landmark in changing the public perception of freedom of expression in the publishing world.
Teens Are Forever
Unlike in real life, most teenage cartoon characters never grow up. Their primary audience grows and moves on, but these fictional teen heroes stay the same age. Changing their age would irreversibly change the dynamic of the entire main cast and ruin the setup of the story they live in.
Bart Simpson and Ash Ketchum will never grow up. They will forever live season after season in endless shenanigans because they serve a very specific role in their stories that can’t be changed.
Size Means Power
In stories that involve a prominent opponent versus a much smaller opponent, the camera will be sure to linger on the sheer size of the bigger one, making the stakes very apparent.
Having an opponent tower over the hero lets audiences know who the underdog is and who to root for.
This is one of the most enduring tropes in all of fiction, with David and Goliath being the best example.
Movie Tropes (Examples)
One Man Army
Sometimes the hero has to take out an army by himself.
This is the moment when the villain tells the hero, “You and what army?” And the hero goes on to show that he doesn’t need one.
The one-man army is often a superhero or super soldier of some kind, facing an endless barrage of nameless thugs that fly into the skies with a single punch.
Any big-name modern superhero fulfills this trope nicely. If you like this trope, here’s a list of the best one-man heroes in all cinema.
Beware The Silly Ones
So you have the hero playing the comic relief role when suddenly, they show you they know kung fu! Goofy and silly in no way imply weakness, and this trope is proof of that.
Any movie with Jackie Chan is an excellent example of this trope.
Beware The Quiet Ones
Quiet people are considered agreeable, conflict-avoidant, or extreme doormats in some cases.
But push them too far, or hurt their loved ones, and you find that they might unleash a rage of epic proportions.
This trope features the most relatable heroes who are forced to defend their loved ones in some way.
Other Types Of Tropes (Examples)
Having the contextual opposite happen in a situation shows the differences between two things. Think of a firefighter coming home to find his house burned down.
This occurs when the writer wants to show audiences the similarities between two seemingly different things through symbolism.
Think of Superman, a ghostly figure to save humanity, as an allegory of sorts to messiah figures in real religions.
This happens when the writer frames something in a positive light using specific word choices. Think of a mole, for example. A nice-looking mole is often said to be a beauty spot.
This occurs when the writer wants to show the similarities between two things through imagery.
Think of a man with biceps the size of basketballs.
Learn more about a metaphor.
This is substituting the name of something for an actual object that represents it.
This is like calling a business executive a suit or a superhero a cape.
This is a figure of speech where a part represents the whole in some way. Think of how soldiers are referred to as “boots” in some places. Or how manual labor is referred to as “grunt” work.
This is a figure of speech that tries to compare, unlike things, in an exciting way.
Think of someone as tall as a skyscraper.
Learn more about similes.
Not a Trope
Any prose, phrase, proverb, or common saying hackneyed and overdone is a cliche. These are not necessarily bad but do often come with negative connotations.
Learn more about cliche.
Think of an archetype as nothing more than an ancient stereotype.
Good versus evil is an archetype, as is a mysterious wise old man that confers wisdom on young heroes.
To learn the origin and meaning of archetypes, read this.
Tropes Aren’t Bad
Tropes are often disrespected because of how ubiquitous they are in storytelling.
Writers might be discouraged from using them and be told to write an authentic, original story instead.
But tropes are just tools, nothing more. Like any tool, there are good and bad ways to use them.
People dislike when they are used poorly and love it when they are used well.
To learn where and how to use tropes, read this.
Different Types of Drama In Literature
According to the Greeks, there are two main types of drama.
According to the Greeks, a comedy was any story that ended in happiness. It does not refer to the modern comedy of today, with jokes at the forefront aiming to make people laugh.
A comedy-drama is light-hearted, uses misunderstandings, and concludes happily and joyously. Often with a wedding or celebration of some kind.
According to the Greeks, a tragedy was any story that ended in sadness.
Modern tragedies focus on extremely flawed protagonists with fatal flaw that usually results in their demise.
To read more about Greek drama types, click here.
Satire Examples in Literature and Modern Life
This novella is a criticism of the Bolshevik revolution. It focuses on farmyard animals who overthrow their human rulers and slowly grow corrupt, eventually resembling their corrupt masters.
This is probably one of the most enduring critiques of capitalism there is. The main character, a serial killer, named Patrick Bateman, is used to satire capitalism and the pursuit of relentless consumerism.
Fight Club aimed at everything from capitalism to toxic masculinity and consumerism. The main character, Tyler Durden, fights society so aggressively that he creates what he hates first.
What is a common trope?
The damsel in distress is a common trope.
What is a synonym for trope?
Metaphor, conceit, and allegory are common synonyms for the word trope.
What is a romance trope example?
Forbidden love is an example of a romance trope.
Inside this article
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- Abstract Noun
- Accusative Case
- Active Sentence
- Adjective Clause
- Adjective Phrase
- Adverbial Clause
- Appositive Phrase
- Compound Adjective
- Complex Sentence
- Compound Words
- Compound Predicate
- Common Noun
- Comparative Adjective
- Comparative and Superlative
- Compound Noun
- Compound Subject
- Compound Sentence
- Copular Verb
- Collective Noun
- Concrete Noun
- Conditional Sentence
- Comma Splice
- Correlative Conjunction
- Coordinating Conjunction
- Coordinate Adjective
- Cumulative Adjective
- Dative Case
- Declarative Sentence
- Declarative Statement
- Direct Object Pronoun
- Direct Object
- Dangling Modifier
- Demonstrative Pronoun
- Demonstrative Adjective
- Direct Characterization
- Definite Article
- False Dilemma Fallacy
- Future Perfect Progressive
- Future Simple
- Future Perfect Continuous
- Future Perfect
- First Conditional
- Irregular Adjective
- Irregular Verb
- Imperative Sentence
- Indefinite Article
- Intransitive Verb
- Introductory Phrase
- Indefinite Pronoun
- Indirect Characterization
- Interrogative Sentence
- Intensive Pronoun
- Inanimate Object
- Indefinite Tense
- Infinitive Phrase
- Indicative Mood
- Prepositional Phrase
- Past Simple Tense
- Past Continuous Tense
- Past Perfect Tense
- Past Progressive Tense
- Present Simple Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
- Personal Pronoun
- Persuasive Writing
- Parallel Structure
- Phrasal Verb
- Predicate Adjective
- Predicate Nominative
- Phonetic Language
- Plural Noun
- Punctuation Marks
- Preposition of Place
- Parts of Speech
- Possessive Adjective
- Possessive Determiner
- Possessive Case
- Possessive Noun
- Proper Adjective
- Proper Noun
- Present Participle
- Subordinating Conjunction
- Simple Future Tense
- Stative Verb
- Subject Complement
- Subject of a Sentence
- Sentence Variety
- Second Conditional
- Superlative Adjective
- Slash Symbol