Book Tropes

What are Book Tropes?

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Trope. Tropes. I’ve been hearing these words more and more when it comes to talking about fiction books. It’s especially frequent on Booktube. If you don’t know what Booktube is, it is channels on Youtube where creators talk about books, almost exclusively. Even though I’m a librarian, a book blogger, and an avid reader, I wasn’t aware of book tropes until recently. So what is a book trope? And what are the most common book tropes? Are there specific tropes for each genre? And do I have book tropes that I like and dislike? Let’s find out.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a trope is a word or expression used in a figurative sense. It is known in the literary world as a figure of speech. That’s the most common definition. It probably takes you back to high school English class. But the other definition is a common or overused theme or device, commonly known as a cliche. This is the definition of a trope that I wasn’t aware of before doing research.

And what is a cliche exactly? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a cliche is an overly familiar or commonplace phrase, theme or expression. The definitions of a trope and a cliche are similar. We can conclude that a cliche is a trope, but is a trope a cliche if it isn’t overused?

All stories have tropes, at least according to children’s author and writing blogger Darcy Pattison in her post Why I LOVE CLiches and Tropes. They are what propel a story along. How a trope becomes a cliche though, is when it’s done so much that it becomes too predictable for the reader. That causes boredom. And that isn’t what an author wants from their book, obviously

Which book tropes are the most common?

According to The Writing Cooperative, these are the top overused story tropes in modern fiction, with my commentary:

  • Love Triangles (think John loves Erin, Erin loves John and Jack)
  • The Evil One (every thriller needs an evil character, who is more than evil right?)
  • Average Person Takes the Crown (I’m a sucker for an underdog story)
  • Ugly Turned Beauty Queen (of course, the makeover story – I’d say most common in YA novels)
  • Save the World (the premise of all kinds of adventure, dystopian, sci-fi novels right?)
  • Cop Falls for Criminal (not as familiar with this one, but it is self-explanatory)
  • Back to a Small Town (You know, when big city living Shauna leaves her fast-paced life behind to settle back in her small Oklahoma town, finds herself and falls in love. Sound about right?)
  • Vampires as Normal People (I think Twilight had a lot to do with this one)
  • Sheriff (there’s always that one hero, that will save the day, no matter what he encounters)
  • The Conspiracy (the what if… phenomenon)
  • Falls in Love with the Unnoticed (shy girl, hot guy. I think this is also a popular YA trope? Does To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before ring a bell?)
  • The Airport Rush (how many last-minute “I think I love them” rush to the airports can you name?)

Are there common tropes for each genre?

I can think of a few off the top of my head that all have to do with romance. One is when two characters hate each other at the beginning of a story but have fallen in love by the end (Hate to Love romance). Another is when two characters have been friends for years, they start to realize they have feelings for each other, and they become a couple and are in love by the end of the novel (Friends to Lovers romance). And then there is the scenario where character 1 loves character 2, but character 2 loves character 1 and character 3, and character 3 loves character 2 ( Love Triangle romance). While I haven’t read every romance book out there, I would say that these are common tropes, maybe even cliches, of this genre.

Examples of other common genre Book Tropes

Here are two common book tropes for different popular fiction genres.

Historical Fiction

World War II

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Amazon / Indigo)
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (Amazon / Indigo)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Amazon / Indigo)

Early America

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker (Amazon / Indigo)
The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd (Amazon / Indigo)
The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton (Amazon / Indigo)

Thriller

Memory Lapses

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (Amazon / Indigo)
The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford (Amazon / Indigo)
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (Amazon / Indigo)

Children in Peril

Hideaway by Nicole Lundrigan (Amazon / Indigo)
The Couple Next Door (Amazon / Indigo)
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (Amazon / Indigo)

Fantasy

Fairy Tale Retellings

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (Amazon / Indigo)
The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine (Amazon / Indigo)
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Amazon / Indigo)

Epics (vivid fantasy worlds with high stakes adventures and a slice of romance)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Amazon / Indigo)
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (Amazon / Indigo)
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (Amazon / Indigo)

Chick Lit

Opposites Attract

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (Amazon / Indigo)
Crazy in Love at The Lonely Hearts Bookshop (Amazon / Indigo)
Moonlight over Manhattan by Sarah Morgan (Amazon / Indigo)

Food (books involving cakes, bakeries, and aspiring chefs)

The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman (Amazon / Indigo)
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Amazon / Indigo)
Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts (Amazon / Indigo)

Mystery

Cold Cases

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman (Amazon / Indigo)
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan (Amazon / Indigo)
Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline (Amazon / Indigo)

Missing Persons

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (Amazon / Indigo)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Amazon / Indigo)
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (Amazon / Indigo)

One of my favourite genres is Women’s Fiction, but when I was researching tropes for this genre I could only find one: Damaged Women. This trope involves stories about women who are overcoming obstacles, but this is actually a trait of the Women’s Fiction genre. There is even more debate over what exactly the Women’s Fiction genre is, but that’s a blog topic for another day. 

Depending on the genre of the book that you are reading, the presence of these tropes may be more or less common. They are all elements that can make a good story. And remember, every story has tropes.

My Most & Least Liked Book Tropes

If this post about book tropes and what they are has intrigued you, then you are probably starting to think about what your most-liked and least-liked tropes in books are. Here are some of mine that I can think of right off the bat.

Most-Liked:

Books set in Fire Stations
Second Chance Romance
Underdog – Average Person Takes the Crown
Back to a Small Town

Least- Liked:

Friends to Lovers
Unreliable Narrators

I encourage you to start thinking about the books you have read and liked, or read and disliked, and see if they have any common tropes in them. It should be an aspect that if you know it’s in the book, you either will or won’t read it because of that aspect.

Have you determined what your largest doorway in a book is? This is another way to understand your reading tastes.

Share the book tropes that come to mind in the comments below. Do we have any in common?

And stay tuned for more posts on book tropes in the future!

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