Do you ever find yourself reading a book or watching a movie and noticing certain elements in the story that you’re sure you’ve seen before in the plots of other works of fiction? Or better still, do you ever find yourself talking about stories from these media and mentioning said elements in the form of a question that starts with, “You know that thing where…”?
Chances are there’s a trope for that.
What is a trope, you ask? Well, it’s not entirely easy to explain, as the definitions may vary slightly based on opinion. The simple definition is that tropes in fiction are devices that have become common enough throughout their respective media to have established themselves as conventions in the minds of the audience, and thus are reliable to writers as useful tools in creating fiction. A slightly more complex definition expands on this simpler one to also include examples of such conventions in real life, as in behind the scenes or even real-world events. Of course, a much more thorough explanation can be found on the website’s homepage itself, so instead of launching into a long and tedious description of TV Tropes and its endless supply of examples, I’ll simply provide a brief account of my own experience with the site and leave the option of following the link provided to your own discretion.
One of my first visits to this site was when I was looking up information about a certain Disney movie (I want to say it was Tangled, but my memory fails me). What I found was an abundance of tropes used throughout the film that could be easily recognized as conventions present in the plots of other stories (Character Development, Non-Human Sidekick, Happily Ever After, etc.). I was so intrigued by this new resource I had discovered that it wasn’t long before I started referring to it for examples of tropes in other fiction works – films, TV series, literature – learning more about these devices with each page I opened.
So why would I say this site will ruin your life? Because there’s a very good chance that at least once (and probably on your first visit), you’ll fall into the same trap I did: the web of tropes. On virtually every TV Tropes page, there will be a link that catches your eye, leading you to another page with more interesting information and new links, which in turn lead you to other pages with their own intriguing links… until the next thing you know, it’s an hour later and you can’t remember which page you originally meant to read without checking your browser tabs or history for a reminder. How did that happen?
Here’s an example of one of my typical TV Tropes sessions: I start by opening the page of a classic Disney film, let’s say Beauty and the Beast. One of the listed tropes is the famous True Love’s Kiss, complete with a brief explanation of how the instance in this particular movie is more of a variation than a straight example, which sparks my curiosity to read about other examples in different works. A moment later, I’m reading this trope’s description on its own page when… Wait, what in the world is a Dead Unicorn Trope? Obviously I go to that page to find out, only to realize in two seconds that I’ll first need to know what a Dead Horse Trope is in order to understand the unicorn variation, but this one interestingly turns out to be a common cause of a phenomenon known as Seinfeld is Unfunny… Several pot holes later, I’m back at the True Love’s Kiss page reading about how it’s a subcategory of a greater trope known as the Magic Kiss, leading me into another chain of links through the site. After another half hour, I go back to reading the list of tropes in Beauty and the Beast, where I soon find another trope that intrigues me, and the whole thing starts all over again.
TV Tropes is an excellent resource for anyone who appreciates works of fiction, and especially for writers of such works. Learning about the various devices used in media and how they function in their respective plots teaches us how to analyze fiction critically, allowing us to develop a keener understanding of the elements that make up a story. This is particularly important for writers, because we more than anyone else should have as thorough a knowledge as possible in the workings of the stories we wish to create. How can we expect to write good fiction if we don’t have a decent understanding of the myriad of tools at our disposal?
So yes, by pulling you into its vortex of interesting content, TV Tropes may easily ruin your life. But in the end, if you somehow emerge with a refined outlook and even a new respect for the fiction you already love, then wouldn’t you really just be exchanging it for a better life?