Today’s blog is what you might call a cautionary tale, to warn you all about the dangers of the most addictive substance in the known universe.
My name is Ruth de Haas, and TV Tropes ruined my life.
On 10th August, I’m due to give a class at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, on the topic of plotting fantasy novels http://www.swanwickwritersschool.org.uk/. I’ve been preparing my material, and as part of this I wanted to research some frequently-encountered plot devices from fantasy literature, and the works which have used them. And I knew that, if there’s one website on the whole internet which can provide this information quickly and easily, it’s tvtropes.org.
So, after months of staying away, I went back to the trope face. Oh dear. Like the cleaned-up junkie taking just one more hit ‘for old times’ sake’, I got sucked right back into the black hole of addiction. Within ten minutes I had about 50 tabs open and was reading about the use of ‘Two Lines, No Waiting’ on The Gilmore Girls (a TV show I have never watched and have no particular interest in). Hours and hours of precious time, totally gone to waste. Turns out it would have been quicker and easier to just go to the library and read ALL THE BOOKS.
As you’re reading this, I bet you’ll be having one of two reactions. Reaction 1: what on earth is TV Tropes? Reaction 2: oh god yes me too it’s like crack only Crack Is Cheaper. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Heroin.
There aren’t any other possibilities. Once you click on a link to TV Tropes, Failure Is the Only Option. This is why, if you inhabit a lot of web forums or discussion threads, you may see one person posting a link with a warning note, and then a whole series of people below saying ‘Don’t click on the link!’ Schmuck Bait at its finest.
But what is TV Tropes? Well, it started out, Once Upon a Time, as a wiki cataloguing the use of tropes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then it expanded to cover television in general. Then it expanded some more, and now its remit covers the whole of everything ever, leaving ‘TV Tropes’ as an Artifact Title. It consists of thousands (upon thousands) of articles detailing tropes used in every kind of human creative endeavour from ancient myths to YouTube videos. ‘Tropes’ in this context is a loosely defined term – it can refer to plot devices, stock characters, patterns in storytelling, or basically anything at all. What makes this site so frighteningly addictive is the absurdly extensive cross-referencing, often via dastardly hidden Sink Holes. Each page is linked to hundreds of other pages, and it’s impossible not to start clicking ‘open in new tab’. Look at one trope and before you know it you’re looking at half a dozen other related (or indeed unrelated) tropes, pages for films you’ve never heard of, the Sorting Algorithm of Deadness, the Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness, Character Sheets, Wallbangers, the Darth Wiki, and the Sugar Wiki.
After hours of immersion, you will start peppering your conversation with words and phrases like Fridge Logic, Narm, Your Mileage May Vary, Lampshade Hanging and Fanservice. You will have read spoilers for every pre-existing piece of media you could ever possibly consume. You will start analysing everything – and I mean everything – in terms of tropes, thus ruining your enjoyment of literature, television, film, music, video games, and your own life. Not only does TV Tropes eat up countless hours, it also permanently colours your perceptions of and reactions to absolutely everything. It irrevocably alters your interactions with NPCs (aka other people). It will Ruin Your Life.
And as a writer, it’s ruined my life just a little bit more. All that information on every type of character and narrative convention in one place makes you realise that nothing you can ever write will be remotely original, no matter how hard you try, since it will always fall under one trope or another.
But hey, Tropes Are Not Bad. Maybe I can even come up with some clever Subverted Tropes. And I suppose I can always add my book being listed on TV Tropes and even given as an example for some tropes [not as a result of me putting it on there myself it is a wiki after all] as a life goal. It’s the best I can hope for these days, since TV Tropes Ruined My Life.
It’s too late for me – but not too late for you (unless it is). Don’t let TV Tropes ruin your life. Stay away from that website, kids!
Whatever you do, don’t click on this link.
Seriously, don’t do it.