“Tropes Outline”? – Look at this fun thing I’m doing

When I write, it tends to be pretty wild and unstructured. I get an idea in my head, accompanied by a really vivid scene or two, add in a cool concept I’ve been distilling – and I’m off. Creativity goes wild, accompanied by some restructuring and outlining as I move along.

(Until I hit about the 2/3 point, but we won’t talk about that.)

This is totally unlike my partner in crime. He starts almost completely from the point of view of theme and trope – meddling with concept and outline until he likes it – and isn’t driven by weird insanity-muse-moments. Our conversations get pretty interesting when it comes to writing. From my point of view, it’s pretty great to have someone who writes so differently; I can learn a lot.

The other evening, in between bellyaching rejections and new stories and how to improve myself as a writer and this new Novella idea I want to do for a competition coming up, I found myself given an assignment.

Now, we’ve been trying to give each other assignments for a few weeks now. Me, in an effort to get him to write more; him, in an effort to push my boundaries and improve. We haven’t quite pulled it off yet, what with the water line exploding somewhere on the property (cue lots of digging) and barn cleaning out and life. I know, excuses, excuses.

So, since I am such a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person, my partner gave me a scary assignment for all pantsers: An Outline.

Not just any outline though. One that involves digging through tropes, and forming an outline based on themes, character archetypes, and overall concept.

And if you don’t know what a trope is, here are the basics: a common plot device. These often turn into cliches if they’re used enough. For example: The Epic Quest (see Lord of the Rings). The Dark Lord (Sauron from LOTR, and Voldemort from Harry Potter, etc). The Beauty and the Beast (it’s both a classic story and a trope).


A few Romance tropes

Those ones are pretty broad, but tropes can be both broad and specific. For example, in Revenge, we have: You Killed my Father (revenge on the person who killed the hero’s parent), Feuding Families (families trying to kill each other – see every mafia-related show ever), Gaia’s Revenge (The earth has enough of humanity and tries to kill us – see The Day After Tomorrow), and etc etc.

As my father likes to remind me, there is nothing new under the sun, in regards to tropes anyway. But it’s the combination of different tropes in new orders or with new twists that create something new and refreshing.

So my assignment is both an attempt to make me pay attention to tropes in fiction (you can’t break the rules until you know them!), and practice in knowing how to create a story with a focused, specific goal in mind.

At first I was like… yikes. But then I started googling my writer-butt off and found out that a) TV Tropes is my best friend, and b) this is actually a lot of fun. Thinking of how to combine things in different ways makes all sorts of story ideas.

So, I’m applying this assignment to a novella for a writing competition I’ve got my eye on. It’s a speculative-fiction contest, and I figure this is an excellent project to try this out: I’m looking to stay on the literary side of things, so this should help me stay on track on what I’m really saying.

I haven’t finished the assignment as this is the busy week from down under apparently. But I really want to am going to kick my butt into gear this weekend…

… somewhere around the several farm projects and my internship event.


Must. Schedule. Writing time. 

I’ll let you guys know how this whole trope outline goes. I’m rather excited to see how it turns out.

What about you all — have you ever written a “trope outline”? Have you engaged in traded assignments with friends and loved ones? Any advice on navigating busy weeks and writing time (isn’t that the real question, ha!)?

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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