Have you ever noticed that certain characters or themes or plots reappear over and over again?
For example, the basic plot of Harry Potter and Star Wars: A New Hope are kind of similar. An orphan boy discovers he is actually very special, and he leaves the family that’s been taking care of him to pursue a greater destiny.
Or what about the Cinderella plot, where an orphan is taken in by cruel family members or citizens? This has happened to Jane Eyre, the Baudelaire children (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Harry Potter, Sarah in A Little Princess, and Cinderella herself.
Or the role of the elderly, wise mentor: Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mufasa, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dumbledore.
Stories often recycle familiar roles and plots. This isn’t because authors are unoriginal (well, most of the time that’s not the case), but because a lot of stories have already been told. It’s hard to come up with a completely original story. Also, readers will expect certain formulas based on genre and form. Of course, they don’t want the exact same story they’re already read or seen, but people read romance because they want the heroine and hero to end up together. They watch crime shows because they want a story where the good guys try to catch the bad guys. They go to see a horror movie because they want to see people fighting against an unknown, hostile force.
All this to recommend to you a website: TV Tropes. This is a fun website that explores hundreds (maybe even thousands) of different “tropes” in fiction. These tropes are elements that come up again and again in different stories. They explore TV, movies, and books, as well as anime, web comics, video games, and more.
If you didn’t see these common threads before, you definitely will after exploring this website! Though it seems like it’s emphasizing cliches, it can actually help writers of fiction (whether it’s stories, comics, scripts, or whatever) to give them new ideas. It can help them see what’s been done before and in what way. I’ve used quite a few tropes in my stories — they’re all mixed into my ideas and characters and plot lines. Some are more obvious than others, but a frequent visitor of TV Tropes would probably be able to point them all out!
So, if you’re a writer or a reader, enjoy TV Tropes. Don’t waste too much time.