Just to clear up any confusion right off the bat, bunnies are the worst! Sure they may look cute, hopping around with their cotton tails and twitchy noses, but it’s all a trick. They will destroy your grass by eating it down to the roots and by peeing and pooping on it like mad-which also kills the grass. They will also gnaw off the bark of your fruit trees, which is not good for them at all, and those freaky jackrabbits’ giant creepy teeth, I’m pretty sure, could chew through your ankle if it got the chance.
Bunnies are NOT cool.
And, neither are overused genre tropes.
What is a trope?
A trope is a familiar and repeated (aka overused) symbol, meme, theme, motif, style, character or thing (anything) that is spread throughout a particular genre.
The problem with tropes is not necessarily that it kills your story, like bunnies will do to your lawn, but they have the potential to kill your readers’ interest in your story.
When a reader picks up a book and sees the same types of characters, the same pattern behind a storyline, the same hints that his 16-year-old nobody is destined to save anything and everything by discovering their deeply buried inner strength/power/importance/etc., they start to see how the story is going to end, because well…they’ve read it before. Maybe the names have changed, or the setting, or the mythology, or whatever, but if the overall concept is something every other genre writer is using, readers are going to pick up on that.
Is that to say you can’t ever write using some of these tropes?
Of course not. The key is to use them in their barest form. Strip them down to the essence of what makes readers connect with the trope to begin with, and add from there.
Weak, friendless, unimportant teen becomes the hero? Check. We’ve all been there, so we identify with those emotions and frustrations, and especially the hope for something more.
Self-conscious, doesn’t understand her own worth heroine who thinks she’ll never find love. Again, check. Everyone has those moments of thinking they aren’t good enough to find their happily ever after.
The problem with tropes isn’t that they exist and are used. The problem arises when writers stop there, and don’t expand, delve deeper, experiment, make it unique.
If your male lead has commitment issues, give him a REAL reason for his fears or avoidance. Being too awesome to be tied down isn’t going to cut it in most cases.
Your teen hero is going to save the world? Fabulous, but make him or her take a different path to get there than the typical camp/school/mentor/etc.
What new, exciting, difficult, gut-wrenching ways can your characters develop into their final self? It doesn’t have to be so complicated that solving the prime number equation looks easy, but it does need to be unique to your story, character, and plot.
Working with teen writers over the summer, most start out with fan fiction. It’s a great place to start, because a lot of the difficult world and character development is done for them and they can focus on the story and figuring out their style. It’s a great learning experience, and it’s okay that their stories often end up being a mishmash of all their favorite books, because they’re working on their craft.
However, as that writing skill develops, we need to move away from well-worn tropes and begin experimenting with new, fresh concepts that will take a story from something frustratingly familiar to one that stands out from all the others.
So, don’t let the bunnies destroy your grass, and don’t let your story get passed over because it’s just more of the same.