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Thursday, April 11, 2013


I've been told that there are only 2 stories; A stranger comes to town, and someone leaves town.  Really, there is only one story- change.

For years I have been a terrible person to watch TV or movies with.  It is fairly rare when I don't predict exactly what is going to happen, perhaps that episode, or perhaps a few later.  It happens so frequently, that my friends have told me not to spoil the show for them, as if I've seen it before.  Combined with my ADHD, I have a tendency to say things before my brain has had a chance to stop my mouth.

Now, I only have a degree in "creative nonfiction," and a bachelor's at that.  Not storyboarding, fiction writing, screenwriting, or anything like that.  So how is it that I am able to predict shows with such frequency?  Is it because our TV shows and movies are lacking in their originality?  Or is it something else?

Part of it, I'm sure, is that there is little originality, but if you look hard you can still find it.  And part of it is that we've watched TV shows and movies our whole lives, so we've seen a lot of the formulae that producers and directors "know" work.  But, that's not all.  I think it has more to do with something called "tropes."

Tropes are tools that writers use.  They are parts of stories, characters, etc. that work because we all have formed some expectation in our minds of how things are supposed to work, whether or not we are aware of them.  And if you use them correctly, they can bring your story to life, give you an audience, and let you genuinely surprise people.

Perhaps the original study into tropes is a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It goes into delicious detail explaining which characters work, which don't, and why.  Granted, it's not really ABOUT tropes and it involves a lot of philosophy and mythology, but it also is about tropes if you keep an open mind.

There is a good source that I once in a while go to when I'm looking for a trope (but I find that the more I write, the more tropes are in my arsenal without needing to search).  TV Tropes is a wiki page, so you need to take what you read with a grain of salt, but if you're stuck in a rut, this source may just be what you need to get out.  But  I warn you; once you start learning about tropes, you (and possibly yours friends) will never enjoy TV the same way again.

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