Tropes and Deviations from the Audience’s Expectations

14 comments

We be talkin’ about tropes in this post.

What are tropes?

Tropes are about “conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details” (the definition found on TVTropes). As a result, tropes streamline the story since the audience doesn’t have to sit through unreasonable amounts of exposition or narration, but tropes also risk becoming standardized and predictable (and thus devolving into clichés).

An example of a trope would feature the main character in a mecha anime series falling into the cockpit of a mecha within the first few episodes of said show despite never operating a mecha before. He or she ends up surviving and then decides to become an actual pilot.

Including these sequence of events in the series establishes:

a) The main character is innately talented with either raw skill or strategic smarts. How else would he or she still be alive despite entering a life-or-death situation with no (or minimal, at best) prior training ?

b) The main character can still improve. His or her first rodeo is almost always a bit messy, after all, and the mecha he or she pilots is usually trashed. Much of the series will focus on his or her development as a pilot and also as a person.

Whenever you start watching a mecha show, what I’ve outlined above is what should come to mind and what you should expect to see. The series doesn’t have to include sappy narration explaining this line of reasoning as a result; the audience should understand the direction of the story is headed towards just from watching.

However, that sort of opening is essentially standard for a mecha show. And in an industry where many viewers drop entire shows after only 3 episodes, the writers behind a series have to work hard to retain their audience’s interest. Tried-and-true developments (like the main-character-pilot-scenario mentioned above) may be familiar, but they can also be described as boring and can be considered to be sufficient grounds to abandon said show (according to the viewership).

Why am I talking about this? Well, subversions of these tropes are what fascinate me. They cause the audience to believe this-or-that is going to happen before unexpected events occur and predictions are throughly debunked. That’s certainly one way to keep the audience’s attention!

If we were to continue with the example I provided earlier, then let’s say our main character is an average guy who somehow ends up inside a cockpit. He’s going to scrap by, demonstrate he actually has some degree of unpolished skill, and then start training in order to become a pilot, right?

WRONG

If it were my story, he’ll become completely maimed from his first mecha fight because he jumped into a dangerous situation without any practice. The rest of the series will have him providing support from the sidelines because his prosthetic limbs are awkward and prevent him from doing any delicate activites. That would be pretty unexpected, huh?

However, there are risks to doing things like this. Sometimes a show makes it seem like these subversions are only happening in order to generate some shock value and grab people’s attention. Consquently, the development, and the show itself, comes across as shallow. In some cases, I find myself wondering if the author really thought things through before writing this in (such as my example of a maimed mecha pilot). Sensationalism isn’t everything, after all.

All in all, I don’t actually expect reckless subversions of tropes to solve much. However, I did wanted to share some ideas I had in mind. This is meant to be a fun post, after all!


The Trope: Our female protagonist is running late to school, so she has a slice of toast in her mouth. She bumps into someone who is fated to be her love interest. In other words, I’m describing the common shoujo rom-com encounter that’s been done to death.

The Subversion: Her love interest has been stalking the female protagonist for weeks in order to figure out her schedule. Consquently, their fated first encounter is not due to destiny but due to exhaustive planning and creepiness.

The Trope: Our main character was childhood friends with his love interest! But it seems like he’s forgotten about that and can’t remember how he made some sort of promise with his love interest back when they were both kids!

The Subversion: The main character can’t remember his past because the childhood promise never happened. In fact, they never met as kids and they’re meeting as the first time as strangers in high school / college. The love interest is either delusional or is manipulating the situation in order to worm his or her way into the main character’s heart.

The Trope: A cute girl always uses both of her hands to hold onto and eat melonpan, her favorite food in the whole world. Even while her classmates eat with one hand and gesture / write with the other hand, she sticks with her methodology in regards to eating.

The Subversion: She has poor circulation so her fingers tend to lock up. Using both hands is her attempt to minimalize the risk of dropping her food onto the ground; she’s not just trying to look cute while eating.


Maybe these developments can breathe some life into overused clichés. Or maybe I just have twisted ideas and I shouldn’t be trusted to write a story. In any case, I’d love to read some of your ideas in the comments section if you have any! I should really sleep, though. It’s 4 AM…

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14 comments on “Tropes and Deviations from the Audience’s Expectations”

  1. Hmmm, you certainly have some very interesting ideas here. I agree that some things are just so overused, that one almost gets lazy and pretty much expects it to happen this way. It is when it happens in an entirely different way, that things can be become pretty awesome. Like the examples you are giving here. Great post ! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool ideas you’ve got. I would 100% trust you with a story. The toast-in-mouth-bumping subversion and the one with the delusional love interest would both make for some interesting stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny thing is, the use of “subversions” are becoming tropes in themselves, in that people expect them to be broken. This has lead to the sudden resurgence of “classic” themes. You can actually see this same phenomenon happening in JRPG design philosophy.

    Love the screenshot, btw. Mahjong > Poker any day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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