Avoid using tropes in your story
Sometimes our writing feels stale, even though we’ve used active voice, written crisp sentences, and developed a well-structured plot with a main character who grows. But if you sense that you’ve heard your story before, the issue might be that you’re using a trope.
A trope is an overused convention, idea or image that other authors already have used.
For example, many novice science fiction authors simply model their universe after the conventions used in “Star Trek” by having a multi-racial-crew of a starcraft explore the galaxy for the peaceful United Planetary Systems. Their captain, of course, is brave, strong and cunning, and oh, has quite a way with the women (even the blue ones). Simply changing the names and colors – most “Star Trek” series are about a multi-racial-crew of a starship exploring the galaxy for the peaceful United Federation of Planets, and one of the captains did sleep with a green-skinned woman – isn’t sufficient. This strategy sometimes is referred to as used furniture.
Using an idea, such as a plot twist, that an author already has written – even if instead of an organic virus humans use a computer virus to stop an alien invasion – doesn’t work either. As your readers probably already have experienced these ideas, they come off as hackneyed and leave the reader dissatisfied and feeling cheated.
Instead, writers want to create their own unique “universe.” Granted, in some genres, such a police procedural, the structure of the police department will have to be the same as used in at least a few other novels, if only to be realistic. The characters’ personalities should not be the same, though. How many times in books have you read about police chiefs who are crotchety, police partners who are strictly by the book (in contrast to the protagonist detective who breaks a department policy or even a state law at least once a week but always gets the criminal because of it), and a quirky forensic scientist who handles the autopsies?
Images, words and phrases also can be overdone and thus trite. These are called a literary trope. And while you might not directly use the cliché phrase “brick and mortar” in your story, creating an allegory that strings out this worn wording – e.g. “His strong, dominating presence proved to be the brick and his disarming Kennedyesque style the mortar that the organization built itself upon.” – is just as bad.
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