May 14

Tropes & Universal Fantasies: What’s the difference?

Tropes in writing refer to recurring themes, motifs, or conventions commonly used and recognized within a particular genre or type of literature. These can include character archetypes (like the hero's journey or the wise mentor), plot devices (such as the “chosen one” trope or the love triangle), or narrative structures (like the “rags to riches” story arc or the “quest” narrative).

Universal fantasies in writing and book publishing are themes or elements that resonate with a broad audience across cultures and periods. These fantasies often tap into fundamental human desires, fears, and aspirations. Examples include the desire for adventure, love, power, or escape from mundane reality. Universal fantasies can manifest in various forms within literature, from epic quests and heroic journeys to tales of romance and personal transformation. They are powerful storytelling devices that captivate readers and offer a sense of connection and catharsis.

So, what’s the difference between the two, and why are they essential in crafting your book?

The second half of the question is more straightforward because they’re the story elements that connect your readers to your stories/ads/social media/newsletter and keep them there (reading/watching/following you) and becoming fans. You’re serving up the dish they want to consume with a special sauce that will remain in their memory long after the story has finished. 

The first half of the question is a little harder to grasp (and still open to individual interpretation, of course).

It took me a lot of mulling, reading Theodora Taylor’s book 7 Figure Fiction: How to Use Universal Fantasy to SELL Your Books to ANYONE, and reading the analysis of other authors to come up with my answer. For me, tropes are the story elements that convey to readers (in shorthand) what is contained in that story. We recognize them quickly, and they should be telegraphed clearly to readers through our covers and blurbs.

Universal fantasies (again, my take only) are the WHY we like those tropes; it’s the more profound level, primal desires, and dreams within us, and we resonate with the characters experiencing them in the story. They’re the dopamine hits of emotion that lift a story from pedestrian to I LOVED THIS!

Universal fantasies can take many forms and are often deeply intertwined with fundamental human desires and fears.

The Hero's Journey: This is a classic fantasy where an ordinary individual is called to adventure, faces trials and tribulations, and ultimately undergoes transformation into a hero figure. Examples include Frodo's journey in “The Lord of the Rings” or Harry Potter's journey in the Harry Potter series.

Romantic Love: The desire for romantic connection and companionship is a universal fantasy explored in countless novels. From classic love stories like “Romeo and Juliet” to contemporary romances like “Pride and Prejudice,” the theme of finding love and overcoming obstacles resonates with readers worldwide.

Escape and Adventure: Many people fantasize about breaking free from their everyday lives and embarking on thrilling adventures. Stories like “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” tap into this desire for escape and exploration of fantastical worlds.

Power and Mastery: The fantasy of gaining power, influence, or mastery over oneself and one's surroundings is a common theme in literature. This can manifest in stories of ambition, like “Macbeth,” or in tales of self-discovery and personal growth, such as “The Alchemist.”

Redemption and Forgiveness: The idea of redemption and the possibility of forgiveness for past mistakes is a deeply resonant theme in literature. Characters like Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” or Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series grapple with the desire for redemption and the possibility of atonement.

Immortality and Legacy: Many people are fascinated by the idea of leaving a lasting legacy or achieving some form of immortality through their actions or creations. This theme is explored in works like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” or “Frankenstein,” where characters grapple with the consequences of their pursuit of eternal life or fame.

Those are some bird's eye view universal fantasies, but you can dig even deeper, for example:

  • Banging the beast 
  • Hot guy likes the geeky girl (very popular in 80s films!)
  • Makeover scene
  • Love triangles 
  • Not just any gift – the right gift 
  • Wounded main character in need of love 
  • Fixer upper

Authors can leverage universal fantasies and tropes in various ways across social media, covers, and blurbs to attract and engage their audience.

Social Media Posts
   – Content Creation: Authors can create social media posts that explore themes related to universal fantasies, such as sharing quotes from their books that evoke a sense of adventure, romance, or self-discovery.
   – Engagement Strategies: They can engage their followers by asking questions related to common tropes, inviting discussions about favorite characters or plot twists, or encouraging fans to share their own fantasies or interpretations of the story.
   – The Book Hook: This is a way to position your book in the hearts and minds of your ideal reader by hitting a nerve using already existing pop culture books, movies, TV shows, or games. What you need are two instantly recognizable names to connect your book to the ideal reader. For example,  Ocean's Eleven meets Inception this mind-bending heist novel, or Pride and Prejudice meets The Great Gatsby in this captivating tale of love, ambition, and societal upheaval.

Book Covers
   – Visual Representation: Book covers can visually evoke the themes and tropes present in the story. For example, a cover featuring a mysterious forest might appeal to readers of fantasy novels, while a cover with a romantic couple could attract fans of romance.
   – Symbolism: Authors can use symbols or imagery on the cover that hint at the universal fantasies explored in the book. This could include motifs like a key for unlocking secrets, a dragon for adventure, or a heart for romance.

Blurbs and Book Descriptions
   – Highlighting Tropes: Authors can incorporate tropes into their blurbs to give potential readers a sense of what to expect from the story. For example, they might mention a “forbidden love” or a “dangerous quest” to pique curiosity.
   – Emotional Appeal: Blurbs can also emphasize the emotional resonance of the story by highlighting universal fantasies that readers can relate to. For instance, mentioning themes of longing, redemption, or self-discovery can draw readers in by appealing to their own desires and experiences.
   – Compelling Hooks: Authors can use blurbs to create intrigue and excitement by teasing plot twists, character arcs, or conflicts that tap into universal fantasies. This can entice readers to pick up the book to discover how these elements unfold.

By strategically incorporating universal fantasies and tropes into your social media presence, book covers, and blurbs, authors can effectively capture the interest of their target audience and compel them to explore their books further.

Utilizing Universal Fantasies in our writing through the promotion phase of your book is an excellent way to find your ideal reader and build a fan base. We all have Universal Fantasies that resonate with us and others that leave us feeling, “Meh,” which is totally fine. There’s plenty to go around! Read Theodora Taylor’s book 7 Figure Fiction: How to Use Universal Fantasy to SELL Your Books to ANYONE to learn more about how to explore Universal Fantasy in your writing.


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