The Tropes Less Traveled
A reader on Facebook asked the authors in the science fiction and fantasy group about tropes for their books, which sparked a lively discussion. We discussed hot trends, old favorites, and those we hope never to see again. This got me thinking about my own books, and how some of them are the tropes less traveled.
Tropes, and Themes, and Genres (Oh My!)
Let's define trope. The modern meaning is a recurring thread, motif, or device in fiction. By the way, trope is not a theme, a genre, or a cliché. Themes are more related to underlying messages or overarching questions, such as “embracing your destiny brings happiness.” Genres are broad categories of form, style, and conventions. Examples include science fiction, romance, mystery, thriller, fantasy, etc. They also include subgenres, such as space opera or paranormal romance, and mashups/crossovers, such as time-travel historical romance.
Cliché is distinct from trope in that it refers to the overused and obvious, and often irritating. However, I'll admit that with some stories, the line between trope and cliché is blurred. And of course, trope vs. clichè is in the eye of the beholder.
Off the Beaten Trope
For this discussion, I'm going to focus on romance tropes. Primarily because I believe romance has by far the most, though science fiction might be a close second. The most popular romance tropes cut across subgenre. For example, triends to lovers, insta-love/soul mates, stuck together, or fake relationship can work almost anywhere, from a small town to the next galaxy. Or any time, from ancient Egypt to the distant future. They're time-honored, too. Shakespeare's comedies made good use of mistaken identity and in disguise for the romance plot lines.
Here are three tropes that you don't see in the popular lists, which is why I call them less traveled, but they work for my books.
On the Run
The would-be lovers are uprooted from their comfortable existence and on the run. They might have an implacable enemy or two on their heels, such as in Shifter Mate Magic, book 1 of my Ice Age Shifters® paranormal romance series, or in Jumper's Hope, book 4 of my Central Galactic Concordance space opera romance series. Or they might be running toward a prize or destination, or even freedom. I like this trope because stress reveals the true character of the lovers, without the niceties or strictures of civilization to mask it.
Must Love Pets
I blame my cats for this one. These are stories where pets play an important role in the plot, and in bringing the lovers together. The pets are actual supporting characters, not just the catalyst for the meet-cute*. How the lovers respond to the pets, or bond over a shared interest in them, feels very real and touching to me. About half my space opera books** have pets in them, and all five of my paranormal romance series have animals. Or at least the times when when the shifters aren't in their human form. My love of this trope is partly the reason why I wrote several stories for the Pets in Space® science fiction romance anthologies, and am now the editor of them.
There's a hidden world just out of sight from the everyday existence of one or more of the lovers. You often find this in paranormal romances, where a human is introduced to the hidden world of shifter packs, or of magic, or vampire society. The new reality tests the bond of the lovers, and tests their mettle, too. In Shift of Destiny, if the heroine wants love, she must accept that magic is real. Furthermore, if she wants to survive, she must believe in her own magic. In Shifter's Storm, the hidden world is the equivalent of a pocket dimension held together with magic. Hidden worlds can also be more abstract, such as the clandestine world of spies found in Minder Rising in my space opera series.
One more trope for the less-traveled road: Diversity
To be honest, I'm annoyed with our modern culture that we have to call this a trope. All my books have multiethnic characters and interracial romances because that's what I see in my own family and friends. I'm not colorblind, and neither are readers. I love learning about other cultures and languages and writing characters with a different experience than mine. I love reading stories by authors of color for that very reason.
* “Meet-cute” is romancelandia's shorthand for how/when/where the lovers meet. If done well, it sets the tone for the whole romance.
** Last Ship Off Polaris-G, Jumper's Hope, and Cats of War all have cats. Pet Trade has cats, dogs, birds, a weasel, and a red panda, not to mention a miniature dinosaur. Yes, I may have gotten carried away with that last one.
Photo credit: SIphotography @ DepositPhotos.com