Horror tropes get a bad rap for being clichéd, overused, and lacking originality; but there is value in these common expressions of shared fears.
A few years ago I was talking with an English professor. He told me that he would never teach/ allow genre fiction in his creative writing class because of people’s tendency to explore tropes. I understand this position, however, I do not agree with it. There is a reason why tropes exist. There’s a reason why there are a billon, almost indistinguishable, vampire, werewolf, and fairy stories, etc.
The reason is this:
Tropes are a rash on the collective conscience. They represent something itchy that needs to be itched. By mining these tropes, mimicking these them, and marveling at them, we are exploring what makes these common themes so itchy. We are exploring what makes them important.
Tropes don’t develop out of pure novelty. While novelty certainly plays its part, these common devices speak beyond novelty — to something that’s universal. And while plenty of semi-original “literary” fiction claims to speak to universal themes, more often than not it speaks to a small crowd of devotees. There’s a reason why popular fiction is, by definition, more popular (and more reliant on tropes).
Popular fiction is more accessible. Popular fiction speaks the language of the people, the common people, whose struggles are so eloquently illustrated in small novellas published in limited runs by obscure, literary presses.
I would like to cap off this little article with an example that helps illustrate my point. I mentioned in a previous article that I enjoy collecting latex monster masks. There exist many tropes in the world of latex monster masks. Case in point: the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy. These creatures have been reworked into a billion different masks, just as they’ve been reworked into a billion different stories.
Still, mask collectors will pay upwards of 200 or more to get a slightly different sculpt of these universal monsters. That’s right…universal. These universal monsters have, arguably, kept interest in monster masks and mask making alive. They are the foundation.
In the same way, tropes are the foundation for all pieces of imagination. No matter how “original” something may be, it stands — maybe not obviously, but undeniably — on the shoulders of a handful of works and their innumerable inspirations.