Top 10 Character Tropes and How to Twist Them
Hello Lovely Writers!
There are literally thousands of character tropes in the literary world. Some are good, so good that they border on cliche. Others are offensive to certain groups because they rely heavily on stereotypes. But why do we use tropes in the first place?
For the same reason that stereotypes hold a place, tropes allow us to “cheat” a bit in character-building. Like Barbie, our tropes give us a construct that we can than develop more of the character’s personality around saving us a lot of work in explaining and justifying our character’s choices. What are some of these tropes?
10 Popular Tropes:
- The Girl Next Door– We all love the girl next door because she feels real and relatable. She is simple and easy, and always reliable. Usually she is the pretty in an accessible kind of way, or the “I didn’t realize how pretty she really is” girl. Some great examples of The Girl Next Door would be Ginny from the Harry Potter Series, Jane from Pride and Prejudice, Jamie from A Walk to Remember, and my favorite Kira from Fire’s Love by Alex E. Carey.
- The Stuck up Cheerleader/ Mean Girl– This is the antithesis of the Girl Next Door Trope. She is mean, snotty, judgemental, and needs to be the center of everything. Usually in a female MC story line, she is the antagonist. Examples would be Jessica from Twilight, Caroline from Vampire Diaries, Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie,
- The Dark and Brooding Bad Boy Hero- This takes many forms depending on the genre. In Sci-fi and fantasy, he is often an anti-hero, in drama he is the troubled kid with a heart of gold, in YA he is the bad boy crush. Whichever format you are viewing, he is usually described as scary/ trouble/ mischief and ends up saving the day, acting against the image he portrays. Some examples would be Pony Boy from The Outsiders, Jace from Mortal Instruments, Nicco from The Percy Jackson Series, Snape from Harry Potter, and my favorite, The Hunter from The Last Bucellari series.
- The Clever One/ Misunderstood trope- This can be male or female. The Clever one usually ends up being a character who struggles with interacting with others, isn’t generally liked by the people in the story, but ends up saving everyone in the end. Classic examples would be Sherlock Holmes, Hermione from Harry Potter, Annabeth from Percy Jackson series, Iron Man, and my favorite, Erender from The Song and the Pendant.
- The Jock– This tends to be the male version of the Mean Girl, though often not displayed as intentionally mean in the way that the mean girl is. This guy is usually physically dominant, but intellectually not as swift. He’s often seen as the leader, though often not liked for that role. He is portrayed as a cut above the others, whether he intends that or not. Perfect examples in literature would be Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, Jason from The Lost Heroes series, Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter, Bonzo Madrid from Ender’s Game, and my favorite, Connor from The Winter Smith Series.
- The Tinkerer- Though this can be male or female, it is typically a male. The Tinkerer tends to be good with their hands, building things to problem solve, and often doesn’t relate well to the group. They tend to be the outsiders, or on the fringe of society. Classic examples would be Leo from The Lost Heroes series, The twins from Harry Potter, Dr. Jekyll from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and my favorite Tip from The Journey of the Marked.
- The Damsel in Distress- You would think that this trope would only apply to Fantasy, or historical fiction, but even sci-fi and contemporary fiction have their share of this trope. The damsel isn’t always helpless, but she is ALWAYS in need of help. Though she can often be portrayed as a strong character, she is often the catalyst that brings the other characters together. And she is always female. Classic examples, Piper from The Lost Heroes series, every Disney princess, ever, Bella from Twilight, even Katniss from Hunger Games, but my favorite would have to be Justice from A Raven’s touch.
- The Hero- This is the Male version of the Damsel in Distress. He is the male ptoragonist thrust into a situation in which he must save. In this role, he draws others to him to aid in the salvation. Usually this character is imbued with special talents/ gifts/ or a birth right that puts him in the “Chosen One” trope, but sometimes he is just the one who steps up when a situation goes bad. This is very very rarely a female character. Classic examples, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mocking Bird, and my favorite, Jon Snow of Game of Thrones.
- The Wise One- This trope is different from the clever one, in that it is rarely the one who does the saving, and almost never the actual hero. But they provide wisdom and advice that guides the MC to the right choices. Classic examples would be Gandolf of The Lord of the Rings, Dumbledor in Harry Potter, Haymitch from The Hunger Games, and Glenda from The Wizard of Oz.
- The Villain- This one comes in many mini-tropes, but I was running out of room for the top ten, and no story can be complete without an antagonist/ villain. Generally, the villain is a twist on the hero, a dark version of the good guy. Some have no redeaming qualities, and others are more complex. Some serve only the purpose of giving the hero something to struggle against, whereas others serve as a warning that the ends don’t justify the means.
Now, what’s really fun with tropes is to take a traditional trope and turn it on it’s head, or throw in an unexpected twist to that trope. Some classic examples of this practice are when Hermione, the clever girl, suddenly takes on the Girl Next Door role and goes through her “pretty girl” transformation. Or when Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde and takes on the Villain role. How do you like to twist tropes? Let us know in the comments below!
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