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I'll have a trope with that…

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

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I have taken Bryan Cohen's free course on Amazon ads on several occasions. I'm far from a master at running ads, but his free courses are worthwhile. Cohen provides hints on how to write better blurbs, for one thing. For another, he occasionally drops book recommendations. One that he recently dropped was The Trope Thesaurus by Jennifer Hilt. I had heard of the book before but never picked it up. This time I decided to give it a read.


book cover
This quick, easily understandable manual offers an interesting way to think about conflict, character motivation, and plot. It might get you thinking about your writing differently, which can only be a good thing.

The Trope Thesaurus is a writing book I wished I had read a few years ago. I think it would've helped me explore and communicate my characters' motivations. You see, my writing group puts a big emphasis on what we call the three C's: conflict, crises, climax.

Conflict is simply whatever happens in a scene obstructing the protagonist from achieving their goal. The crises, which build in intensity to the climax, are the points of action that detail the conflict. For example, if the conflict is Zakira needs to save her boyfriend from a bunch of laser gun-toting space aliens, your crises might be as follows.

  1. Zakira is in a shootout with half a dozen aliens. She must win to save Roy, her boyfriend.

  2. Zakira takes a wound—it's not fatal, but it hurts like hell and makes her task harder.

  3. Zakira has taken out all the aliens but two. The one with a gun to Roy's head and one she must battle in hand-to-hand combat.

  4. Zakira is getting beat up by the stronger alien, but she uses some mixed martial arts moves to break its neck.

  5. The remaining alien cackles that she better surrender, or it will fry Roy with its laser. Zakira drops to the ground, pulls her backup gun from her ankle holster, and shoots the alien between the eyes. Boyfriend saved.

As you can see from the example, there is a big emphasis on the rising action to the climax. I became pretty good at this over the years while struggling to write and publish a novel. What I wrestled with was creating memorable characters. I had difficulty expressing my characters' motivations.

So how does The Trope Thesaurus factor into this, you ask. Well, Hilt does an excellent job explaining how tropes tie into a character's motivation. She relates tropes to the character's Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC). This is an interesting and helpful way to think about characters.

Hilt also spends a good deal of time showing how tropes can be used to plot an entire story. She offers numerous examples from television, movies, and novels. These examples drive home her points.

In the book's final section, Hilt describes dozens of tropes. Overall, this is a practical and easily digestible writing craft book. Give it a read, especially if you want to spice up your story with a few time-tested tropes without making the tale trite.

Just want a list of tropes? Hilt offers a PDF listing numerous tropes by category in exchange for signing up to her newsletter.

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