A trope is a device used in storytelling to quickly get an idea across to the audience, relying on shared understanding or experience. For instance, the Chekhov's Gun trope creates suspense in a story by placing a significant object (the gun) in "view" of the audience near the beginning, relying on their understanding that it wouldn't be there unless it was going to come up again later.
Tropes can be employed in a variety of ways to achieve an effect. To continue with the example of Chekhov's Gun, the trope can be:
- Played straight - the gun is used to kill somebody;
- Subverted - everyone is so worried about the gun they don't see the knife that actually does the killing;
- Inverted - the intended victim "kills" the gun;
- Averted - someone throws the gun out the window. It's never seen again.
Tropes are not the same things as clichés. In other word, Tropes Are Not Bad. Equally, Tropes Are Not Good. Tropes are simply tools to be used to achieve a result. Using tropes injudiciously, however, can result in heavy-handed, stale, or downright boring storytelling, which is bad and potentially chargeable.
Comprehensive online guides to various tropes include the well-known TV Tropes wiki and its anti-censorship competitor, All The Tropes. Be forewarned, though, both sites are extremely addictive due to the fact that they contain hundreds if not thousands of pages, all with examples using various continua and lots of shiny links to click.