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Markov on The Evolution of Tropes

Posted on March 16, 2016 by Flames

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Recently, Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates launched a Kickstarter to fund an anthology titled Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. Today, in an exclusive update for, one of the collection’s contributors, Haralambi Markov, is here to share with you his insights into tropes and cliches. For more about the author, visit: For more about the anthology, visit Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling on Kickstarter–and be sure to read our updates!

On the Evolution of Tropes

Written by Haralambi Markov

Tropes aren’t necessarily evil. Controversial opinion, but before their calcification into clichés readers can spot and predict after encountering their first marker, tropes begin life as beloved story phenotypes. They resonate with readers; create an insatiable and vicious appetite. Once upon a time, stories about brave knights saving damsels, villains far removed from humanity, special children and vast city planets felt limitless. Electrifying. Powerful.

Today, these tropes are, at worst, cringeworthy. At best, they feel like coming home. As much as I support inventive new writing, I can’t resist the call of apprentice-to-the-wizard stories where a novice practices the mystic arts and discovers herself in the process. Sometimes I need to come home and home is the familiar. There’s the old carpet I spend afternoons spread upon with a book. There’s the kitchen table where I watched grandmother roll out dough for mantu. The are no surprises. I don’t mind that I can guess the beats in the story I’m reading. As long as the writer has written the trope lovingly, I can fall in love all over again.

But herein lies the danger. Nostalgia for what made us happy as early readers threatens with stale storytelling and overall stagnation. Tropes are our past and belong in our tradition. That can never be disputed. However, their use without purposeful interrogation and examination is lazy and in direct contradiction with what speculative fiction has been all about: breaking rules, stretching the imagination and discovering new horizons. It behooves us not to pretend our self-made rules are unbreakable and beyond reproach.

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