Tropes are popular for a reason. The reluctant hero character has been used countless times, and somehow it always works. Tropes can give us a sense of familiarity, a comfort in knowing that a character’s interactions can mimic our own life. With that being said, some tropes aren’t planned out or don’t have a substantial base. Without proper motivation and worldbuilding, tropes can come off as lazy writing or fill unsavoury stereotypes. Here are five common tropes in the sci-fi genre and how you as a creator can use them while still creating a memorable story
As society progresses, we get closer to the nanotech that we once could only dream of in a sci-fi world. It’s not hard to see why nanotech is common throughout sci-fi books and movies. Seeing advanced technology exist within the size of a fingernail gives humans a somewhat realistic idea of a goal to strive for. After all, our tech does seem to get smaller as it gets better. With all that in mind, if you’re using nanotech in your sci-fi story, make sure you know how this tech came into place. What are the weaknesses/limitations? How long did it take this society to figure out nanotech? Think of it this way: humans have become great at developing Bluetooth in our phones, so it was only a natural progression to add Bluetooth to cars. Creating a world in which your nanotech makes sense allows your reader to become more immersed in the story. Without reason, adding nanotech for no reason could come off as a boring trope.
Like nanotech, AI is becoming less of an “if” and more of a “when.” Nevertheless, AI apocalypse stories are classics. If you’re writing a story about an evil tech uprising, consider the reason why: other than the typical idea that humans are just selfish brutes. Because AI apocalypse stories have been done many times before, try thinking about what makes this one different. A standard part of this trope is that humans and science are evil, and the AI believes it is doing Earth a service through humanity’s extinction. But science is as limitless as fiction is. Take a look at Stephen King’s The Waste Lands, where the homicidal AI in question is a sentient train, looking to kill humans one passenger at a time. Having secrets and mystery in your AI apocalypse story will add intrigue and can keep your writing unique.
Metallic Body Mods
You’ll see a futuristic society where characters have metal body parts in tons of sci-fi books and movies. Maybe your character has a super robotic arm like Bucky Barnes in The Avengers, or tech has become inseparable from their body like Cyborg in Teen Titans. Regardless of what type of body modification someone has, what makes these characters iconic is the background and how they deal with this new body. There is a literary technique called Chekhov’s gun, which states that all parts of a story should be significant, and anything unnecessary towards plot/worldbuilding should be cut. It’s not obligatory to use this principle (filler fluff, anyone?), the science and tech aspect of a sci-fi story is essential. Your technology should make sense. If you’re making a character with modified body parts, think about how these changes will alter your plot. Does the villain use this tech for nefarious reasons? How does it affect your character’s daily life? Remember: there are genuine people who use prosthetic limbs. Consider looking into their experiences to create authenticity. If your body mods aren’t discussed, your reader may forget about them altogether.
Currently, this trope is one that humans are not at all close to achieving. However, there have been reports of people since the 1970s seeking to be cryogenically frozen after death. As of 2021, there is no scientific evidence to support that we can bring people in and out of cryosleep. The idea of a human suspended in time for decades only to emerge in an incredible new world is inconceivable. But of course, the cryosleep does not last forever. Captain America always wakes up. The events which follow upon waking up are what make cryosleep tropes so addictive. It’s appealing to consider what would happen if an average person did something as simple as sleeping, only to reemerge in an unexpected society. In every story, cryosleep is only as effective as the plot it’s mechanizing. This means that cryosleep will push your plot forward: what happens after the cryosleep, and why should the reader care? In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers emerging from cryosleep is how the film ends, pushing the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward in creating the Avengers movies. Asking yourself about the details of cryosleep is essential because it keeps the reader interested.What if they never wake up? What kind of life are they leaving behind?
Interstellar (American) Politics
There are countless stories and movies about human interaction with aliens and their power systems. Except, there tends to be a strange trend. The alien hierarchies mimic American politics. More specifically, oppressive galactic powers imitate conservative American policies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being critical of these power structures and wanting to reflect social injustices in your writing. That being said, it should make sense why your interstellar politics are the way they are. American politics today are because of a lengthy historical context, only some of which include slavery, colonialism, financial instability, multiple wars, and probably more laws than regulations. Do your interstellar politics mirror American ones on purpose, or is that just the default because it may come naturally to you? If you want to change it up, take a lot at how other countries rule, especially before colonization. Take a look at the pre-colonial lifestyle of the Philippines, for example. Before the 1500s, Indigenous societies and leadership thrived, prioritizing martial arts, literacy and education, and sacred peace pacts. Interstellar politics can be anything you’d like!
is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. When she isn't writing, she's reading and working on her bullet journal. You can read more of her work at ashaswann.com