How Can I Avoid Tropes and Archetypes in My Writing?

What are some tips for writers who want to avoid overdone character tropes and archetypes? originally appeared on Quora the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Cassandra Clarke, Author of ‘Star’s End‘ and five other novels, on Quora:

I think the most important thing is to go into a story with a healthy understanding of tropes and archetypes.

Personally, I agree with TV tropes that tropes themselves are not bad. They are part of a natural human inclination toward pattern recognition, a way of grouping people and events into a satisfying story. They can serve as a convenient shorthand within genres (a dedicated science fiction reader doesn’t need a book to explain what FTL travel is, for example), and they can allow us to skip basic introductory information to get to the real meat of a story—at which point we can see those tropes and archetypes with a new perspective.

I’m going to give a weird example of what I mean here, so bear with me. The other day I watched a documentary on Hulu called Fursonas. It was centered around furry fandom, but—and here’s what made it interesting to me—the documentary made the assumption that the viewers were already familiar with furries and who they are and what they do. Which meant we got to skip the tedious stuff you see on every human interest news piece about furries, and get into an examination of the politics and conflicts within the fandom. Which was absolutely fascinating.

Yes, this was a documentary, but I think the technique it employed is a good one to consider when working with tropes, including overdone ones. Think of those overdone tropes as a starting place from which you can explore new plot lines, new approaches, new attitudes. I don’t think you need to necessarily subvert every trope you come into contact with (hello, George R. R. Martin!) but I think letting an overdone trope be a true shorthand with which you can…

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