Have you ever wondered what makes famous tropes famous? In Mike Chen’s Here and Now and Then there are two major tropes: (1) the travel back in time to fix something trope and (2) the disappeared/action girl dad trope. Time travel is familiar to anyone who has ever loved Dr. Who and, more recently, Outlander. The term girl dad became a hashtag everyone tried to use in memory of Kobe Bryant and his daughter—now everyone is in love with the concept of a father doing anything for his daughter.
Famous Tropes: Familiarity = Relatability
Because we’ve been exposed to them before, these tropes are familiar. They are not strange to us, we can relate to them. The more we recognize something, the more we accept them. People like the familiar. We complain about change (as reactions to changes in Facebook’s news feed designs have shown). Using famous tropes in stories makes them relatable, familiar and potentially popular.
The Famous Caillebotte Seven
In Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson, he talked about the Power of Exposure and the Caillebotte Seven. Although I love impressionist paintings, I’ve never heard of Gustave Caillebotte, but I knew 5 out of 7 of the Caillebotte Seven.
- Paul Cezanne
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- Edouard Manet
- Claude Monet
- Edgar Degas
- Alfred Sisley
- Camille Pissarro
Caillebotte produced 400 paintings in his lifetime. He came from a wealthy Parisian family and was a last resort buyer of his peers’ impressionist paintings. When he died in 1894, Renoir and his younger brother had to execute his will to persuade the French government to add his collection of paintings to the national collection.
The Caillebotte Bequest comprised works by the seven painters listed above. The French government thought the acceptance of the 68 paintings Caillebotte wanted displayed in the Louvre was tricky. Rebellious painters using a style not widely accepted made the collection. It had more than the maximum of three paintings per artist that they usually allow. But after much debate, public discussion, and notoriety, they hung the paintings on the national museum’s walls.
And these painters whose works Caillebotte collected became the most popular impressionists of their time, assisted by the exposure brought on by the Caillebotte Bequest. Note that because the bequest did not include his own paintings, Caillebotte’s work did not become as popular.
Famous Tropes: Popularity By Association
The major advantage of a traditionally published author over an independently published one is the distribution network. The big publishers already have established platforms to promote their books. You see traditionally published books advertised everywhere. Someone who is marketing their book themselves may not have the resources or access to these platforms.
But a trope that resonates with more people? It increases your target audience by making your work more relatable. When Dr. Who fans read time-traveling secret agent in your blurb and feel excited, they associate the emotion with your book. When loyal Black Mamba fans reading family man and struggling to connect with teenage daughter recognize their idol in your principal character, they’re more likely to purchase your book.
It’s not a silver bullet. Some readers dislike stories that follow famous tropes. But inspect the bestsellers on your shelf. How many have a famous trope in their plot?