I fell into a TVtropes rabbit hole today.
If you’re a writer, and you don’t know about TVtropes.org yet, you should.
I don’t know if there’s a better resource for teaching you that there really and truly is nothing original left in the world for artists to create. A wholly humbling browsing experience. Yet, by the same token, it’s encouraging to click through its wealth of pages to see all the stories that use the same old tired tricks and do just fine.
If you haven’t seen TVtropes yet, it works like this:
You land there for whatever reason. Maybe a fellow writer or critically-minded movie buff refers you to it. Maybe you’re looking for the name of that one guy who was in that one movie and you stumble upon the site. Maybe somebody who secretly hates you and wants to destroy your productivity sends you a link.
You click around a little bit, maybe trying the “random trope” or “random text” functions to have the site spoon up a tasty helping of trope-centric technobabble to your face. Want to write your story with a hero who unwittingly unleashes even greater evil upon the world? There’s a trope for that. How about the twist where a loved one is left dead for the hero to find? Yeah, it’s been done. Maybe you want to see a bunch of examples of the ways heroes have sacrificed themselves in stories. TVTropes has you covered. Whatever your device, whatever the circumstance, whatever unique idea you think you have, it’s been done before and TVtropes has it on record.
Hours later, you’ve got twenty-four browser tabs open compiling all the different sins of all the movies and books you love and all of the tropes with cool names like Toxic Phlebotinum and you forgot to eat lunch and they turned the lights off in the building and you’re wondering, finally, how you can weave all these things into your next story.
The cycle will repeat as long as you leave even one tab open. One thing leads you to the next, and then the next, until you’re miles deep in the forest and everything looks the same. The only way out is for the power to fail on your computer, and even then, you have to have the resolve not to click on that bright, shiny “restore tabs” button when you get booted back up, lest you find yourself falling once more into the black hole…
In all seriousness, while the site sounds like it’s a great way to depress yourself at the prospect of seeing exactly how much and how often a certain device has been done (to death), it’s fascinating nonetheless to see all the different permutations of plot and character which can be perfectly successful. In addition, I’m not sure if there’s a better tool for thinking of ways to carry on a stuck project; simply look up a beloved story, identify some of its defining tropes, explore those tropes, and then bend them to your will.
What felt like endless, zombie-like wandering through the dark alleyways of the site has filled my head with all kinds of ways to expand my current story.
I think that means I can qualify all that mindless clicking as research.
So, I’m off to do more studying…