Tropes as Narrative Shortcut

in Advice

Repeat after me: Tropes are not bad.

A lot of people attempt to avoid tropes, they think of them as cliches that weaken their story.

"Ha, no one has made a world that looks like mine!" "1. You weren't alive in the 80s were you? 2. Ow, I like my eyes, why"

“Ha, no one has made a world that looks like mine!”
“1. You weren’t alive in the 80s were you?
2. Ow, I like my eyes, why”

But it just isn’t true. Tropes exist because they work narratively. You can’t avoid them all and there are plenty of reasons to embrace them. Today, I’m going to look at one specific way to use them, as narrative shortcuts.

So what do I mean by narrative shortcuts? I mean that you can use a trope to get a player to understand a situation or character very quickly.

But I know what you are thinking: But every situation and character should be meticulously detailed and blah blah blah. Yeah, well, yes and no. Should your main characters be fleshed out? Sure, but you can’t flesh out every character in your story completely. Sometimes you just need to establish a minor villain for a short arc and you can just plop in “Corrupt Priest” done, and it works.

People know how a corrupt priest will act. People know the motivations of a corrupt priest. They don’t have to wonder how or why, they just know.

Well, you aren't wrong... but you are kind of a jerk.

Well, you aren’t wrong… but you are kind of a jerk.

And even for your main characters, starting with a trope helps people get going quickly. and then, when you reveal information about them that DOESN’T match the trope to flesh them out, it makes the contrast even more noticeable.

You don’t have time to go into backstories and personal details of every single character, situation, village. You should do as much as you can if that is where your passions lie in game creating, but too much exposition or too much character building can truly bring your game down.

The more minor the component, the fewer details we need to know about it. And tropes fill in all those voids that we don’t need to know about.

So how do you use tropes in your game? Do you find yourself using it to communicate information to the player quickly? What other ways do you use them? Tell us in the comments below.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Diretooth

    Alternatively, Tropes are Tools. You can never make a work that doesn’t take a trope and play it straight, or for parody, or for drama. Hell, not using a trope is, itself, a trope.

  • Anja

    Tropes are not cliches, they are story parts which work out. You can use them, modify them, and do something new with them, which is good. And, as the post says, you can be sure people will recognize them, so you save on explanations.