Tropes: Using them to their best advantage

During a recent snowday, my family took our positions in the family room and watched Anna.  For those of you who don’t know the movie, she is a beautiful girl who is also a brilliant Russian assassin.  “How many times are they going to make the same movie?” asked my son. “We saw the same thing with Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow.”

The next day, I read Margo Dill’s blog post on tropes.  For those of you who may not know the term, a trope is a common story line or story element in a particular genre.  Spy/assassin movies?  Someone is going to be a double or triple agent.  Romance?  The couple end up together?

The problem is that when you don’t know the tropes, you don’t know what readers or viewers expect.  Romance?  They are going to end up together.  Adventure?  They are going to find the treasure or make the escape depending on the adventure.

I could only think of one cozy trope – the amateur detective will solve the mystery.  So I wondered what other mystery tropes I might need to know about.  Poking around I found several lists.  They included:

  • The butler did it.
  • The murder victim is a jerk so there is no shortage of suspects.
  • There are no clues.
  • The closed circle where everyone is stuck in a limited area.  Maybe they are snowed in, on a train or traveling through space.
  • The victim is found in a locked room.
  • The detective chats up the murderer who gives himself away by revealing a clue that has not been made public.
  • Red herrings.
  • The old dark house as a location.
  • The suicide that is murder.
  • The fake weapon that wasn’t fake.
  • Dying onstage.

At this point, I’m only making use of the amateur detective and the jerky victim.  Oh, and red herrings.  I’m seriously not sure how you would do a mystery without red herrings.  But this list has definitely given me something to think about as I continue to write.


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