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Screenwriting Tropes To Avoid



Screenwriting is an art form that requires creativity, originality, and a unique voice. However, writers often fall into the trap of relying on tired, clichéd story elements known as "tropes." Here are some common screen tropes to avoid when writing your screenplay:


The "Chosen One"

This trope features a protagonist who is destined to save the world or defeat the bad guy because of some special ability or quality. The "Chosen One" trope can feel predictable and unoriginal, making it important to find new and innovative ways to approach the hero's journey. If the hero is undefeatable they'll be no jeopardy and the audience won't be invested. Even 'chosen ones' need flaws and weaknesses.


The "Damsel in Distress"

This trope features a female character who is passive and in need of rescuing by a male hero. This trope perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and reinforces the notion that women are helpless and weak. This has been a long standing narrative in both pop culture and society that needs healing. Avoid this trope and create female characters who are active, complex, and capable of saving themselves. Top tip: don't just make a female character a 'strong woman' and think you've fixed the issue. You don't fix a trope by creating a new one to replace it.


The "Evil Corporation"

This trope features a large, faceless corporation as the villain, responsible for all the evil in the world. This trope can feel oversimplified and lacking in nuance, making it important to find more complex and interesting ways to explore the concept of corporate greed and corruption. Whilst there's typically a big boss/king pin, there are many people working under them. This gives you so many options to explore. It opens up brilliant shape shifter opportunities and conspiracies to uncover. As a writer you need to know every character's 'why' instead of answering it with 'They're just the bad guys'.


The "Perfect Love Interest"

This trope features a love interest who is perfect in every way, with no flaws or challenges to overcome. This trope can feel unrealistic and uninteresting, making it important to create love interests with depth, complexity, and challenges to overcome. It's also the reason a lot of people have unrealistic/unhealthy expectations of how relationships should be. There's a big difference between writing a screenplay for an audience and writing your dream partner fantasy in screenplay format...


The "Deus ex Machina"

You might not be familiar with the name Deus ex Machina but you will have experienced examples of it.

This trope features a sudden, unexpected resolution to a story problem that comes out of nowhere. This trope can feel cheap and unsatisfying, making it important to create story resolutions that are grounded in the characters and world you have established. Every plot point you write should be linked to the overall story and what you want the audience to take away. It should never be random. The Deus ex Machina always makes me think of the classic line we all wrote in English class 'and it was all a dream'.


 

By avoiding common screen tropes and focusing on original, complex, and innovative storytelling, you can create a screenplay that stands out and captivates your audience. However, that's not to say that there aren't great examples of using tropes to your advantage, especially in parodies and homages. Think Dr Evil.


Screenwriting advice can sometimes feel contradictory because of the layers of nuance involved at every step. While writers need to stick to certain formulas and rules of the screenwriting world it's also all about taking risks and pushing the boundaries of what's been done before.


Ultimately, it's good to know about common tropes to avoid them OR implement them on purpose. Either way, a good script needs to be carried by good characters... and they rarely come from overused tropes.



 

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