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Jay Lake
Date: 2008-02-04 06:52
Subject: [process] A taxonomy of tropes
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Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Music:work noises
Tags:process, writing
ozarque has suggested a taxonomy of tropes within our field, in something of the same fashion as I am currently noodling with a taxonomy of (sub)genres. That strikes me as another layer deeper, fuzzier and more complex than the genre question, and therefore an eminently suitable topic of discussion on this here blog. (Plus if we're lucky we might get a slap-fight out of it.)

So, part I of that process. What do you think a genre trope consists of? Please provide examples.

My initial, off-the-cuff answer, is to cite Gardner Dozois who from time to time comments on "the furniture of science fiction." FTL travel, for example, or strong AI — story elements which are common to the (sub)genre in which they are found, generally don't require definition ab initio, and can be experienced purely in context.

I suspect this is a highly insufficient characterization of a "trope", however.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
User: jp_davis
Date: 2008-02-05 12:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I second this definition. Much about a trope is simply a pre-established bit of lore that doesn't need to be re-explained to the genre-educated reader. In a recent example, my sig other wrote a book with zombies in it. She gave it to her mother, who was completely unfamiliar with the genre or its tropes. After reading about twenty pages, her mother looked up and said, "Wait... are they supposed to be dead?"
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Elf M. Sternberg
User: elfs
Date: 2008-02-04 17:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
TV Tropes. While the site's mostly about television, it covers movies and books (and a ton of anime) as well, and it will blow your mind just how many tropes there are. Just the section labeled "Evil" will take hours out of your life. A short list of the tropes listed there are "Evil is Sexy," "Sorting Algorithm of Evil," "Evil Redheads," and "Evil Tastes Good," "Even Evil Has Standards."

Site maintainers define trope this way: "Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. If a trope gets used too much, then it becomes clichéd." One page I especially like is Playing With a Trope, in which the writers describe things you can do with a trope: Lampshade it (i.e. have a character in the story make fun of it: "I always wanted to shout 'The Butler Did It!'"), parody it, invert it, justify it, subvert it ("We're pretty sure the butler didn't do it, even though he had the murder weapon on his person."), double subvert it ("At first, even though it seemed obvious the butler did it, we didn't believe it was he. Turns out it was."), or deconstruct it (the trope persists, but the story builds such a strong scaffold to support it, with myriad underlying supports, that it makes sense in context).
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