I spent my childhood summers in Thailand. One summer, my younger brother was all excited and said our aunt was making pizza. I love Thai food, but we’d been away from the US a while and a pizza sounded pretty awesome.
Then my aunt placed a piece of toast in front of us. It had ketchup spread across it, then a slice of processed American cheese. Then she fried up a few hot dogs and placed them on top. She was so happy she’d made us an American Pizza.
Needless to say, it was not what we’d expected. We ate what she’d made but we didn’t come back for seconds or request it again.
If I were to pick up a book, and similar to the pizza, I thought it would be one thing but it turned out to be completely different, I’d be disappointed.
How do I know I’m going to get what I’m looking for if I’ve never read the book? Well, it’s not a sure thing, but for a book to be of a certain genre, it’s going to have most of the tropes common to the genre.
Do you know the tropes common to your genre? Or…what a trope actually is?
Here’s the definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1 a : a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech
- b : a common or overused theme or device : cliché
I’ll take that definition a bit to the side and add that, in my mind, tropes are characteristic to a genre. They’re key to the story being what it is – a young adult novel without a young adult-aged main character isn’t young adult genre. A romance novel without a relationship or love interest isn’t a romance (happily ever after versus happily for now is open to debate). A science fiction novel without advanced technology or some mode of space travel is difficult to call sci-fi.
A chocolate chip cookie with no chocolate chips, chunks or particles does not a chocolate chip cookie make.
Having the desired tropes in your story, the keys to the genre, satisfy the reader and maybe keeps them coming back for more.
This doesn’t mean you can’t bust those boundaries! By all means, twist things and mix them up. Throw a new spin in there. Cross genres. But when you cross them, don’t exclude the tropes or mutate them beyond recognition. Find a way to incorporate the best from both genres.
And when you’re writing, notice the presence (or lack) of the key tropes for the genre. It’s a part of being able to accurately recognize what genre your story is. Those tropes can be used with skill, like a special ingredient, but they shouldn’t be overused.
A part of being a good writer is knowing your audience and what they want. Another part is knowing your genres and what makes them what they are. This way, you’re not accidentally writing a book that people stumble across and love. This way, you consistently write the kinds of stories that readers come back to as a reliable source of exactly what they’re in the mood to read. You become a go to for them, and your new releases are always on their To Be Read list.