I have a weakness for popular culture – specifically, popular culture through the media of film and TV. For a time, I walked in secret shame. Discovering David Foster Wallace was a revelation. And you can imagine my relief at learning that his posthumously published The Pale King references, of all things, my favourite female buddy trope of all: Laverne and Shirley.
So, tropes. Shorthanding set-up and character, they’re the stuff that crowds and flows on whiteboards of the stressed-out writers’ room for hit shows from Mad Men to Grey’s Anatomy, that distills story for the Hollywood execs who want to know what it’s about in less than three minutes (a satire on which style is inelegantly provided in Reservoir Dogs, where the group consider the meaning of Madonna’s completely obvious hit single Like a Virgin). Tropes are life represented to us as we are happy to see it, and how tropes are brought together in their magical arrangements explains why Friends was a cultural moment and why Joey, its spin-off, tanked. They also show us why so many TV series lose their mojo the minute that the potentially romantic leads get theirs on. In a wiki that would seriously impress Vladimir Propp, TV Tropes brings together the stock devices in plot and character; it’s an amusing read, but it’s also an insightful one, whether you’re interested in screen – or whether you’re a fictioneer.
My more recent discovery of another site, Overthinking It, has led me to the wonderful female characters trope flowchart. It’s tremendous fun. But it also gives food for thought. Try it out on your favourite females from film, TV and fiction, and see for yourself how hard it is to land on ‘Strong Female Character’.