Friday, October 26, 2012

Tropes, Archetypes and Stereotypes

Since this has become a discussion among both the Entangled Smackdown and Minxy groups, I thought today I'd clear up the difference between tropes and archetypes.

A trope is a concept, while an archetype relates more to character. So as an example, 'Reformed Rake' might be the trope, while 'Bad Boy' would be the archetype. A cop or sheik might be an archetype, but their story could be any from the lengthy list of tropes, for example, Boy Next Door or Stranded.

And this is exactly why I think the romance genre will never be boring or formulaic. There are endless combinations of characters, settings, conflicts and tropes, so every story is different from the one before. Add in the author's own voice and no two stories are ever really the same.

However, just as a trope can head into cliché territory if not handled properly, so weak writing can turn an archetype into a stereotype. The line between the two is thin, but very clear.

An archetype is a universal character type that your reader can immediately identify.

Examples include:
  • the young man on the rise (Luke Skywalker)
  • the wise grandfather (Obi Wan)
  • the court jester (C3PO)
  • the damsel in distress (Princess Leia)
  • the lone ranger (Han Solo)
  • the sidekick (Wookie)
  • the evil villain (Darth Vader)
Written well, these characters are complex, well-rounded people, even while representing certain character types we can all immediately identify.

A stereotype, on the other hand, is a cardboard cut-out. This is where the writer has used a character type as a shorthand rather than developing a true-to-life character, and often it signifies laziness (or ignorance) on the author's part.

Examples include:
  • the timid secretary
  • the villainous boss
  • the blonde bimbo
  • the dumb jock
  • the Mary-Sue
And the ultimate of all stereotypes - Prince Charming in Disney’s Cinderella – the poor man doesn’t even get a name!

Have any questions, good examples, or even want to disagree? Please leave a comment,and keep teh discussion going.


  1. Thanks so much for clarifying the difference between a stereotype and an archetype!

  2. I love that you used Star Wars characters to explain the archetypes. Speaks to the geek in us all. :) Good post and explanations.