Guide to TV Tropes, Part 2: Navigating the Site
Know what you’re looking for before you go in
Pylon @constablewrites again! Last time, we discussed the various benefits to cultivating an understanding of tropes. TV Tropes is a phenomenal resource for that, but the site can be a bit, well, dangerous. It’s a sprawling web of intriguing titles, fascinating discussions, and in-jokes; it’s no exaggeration to say that I have lost weeks of my life at a time to that site.
(That’s setting aside the other way it’s dangerous: once you start to see these patterns, you see them everywhere and become much harder to surprise as a reader/viewer. Can’t help you with that one. Welcome to Media Studies, kids.)
That said, you don’t have to learn the site inside and out to find it useful. Here are a few tricks that can help you get in and out and back to your writing.
You know how they tell you never to go grocery shopping hungry because you’ll just wander and toss a bunch of stuff in your cart you don’t actually want or need? Same concept applies here. This, beyond anything else, is the golden rule for research, especially on TV Tropes. We’re gonna be referring to this a lot.
Are you writing a film paper and just can’t remember in which movie James Bond has a nice dinner with the bad guy so you can reference it properly? Are you starting to dip a toe in a new genre and want an idea of some of its prominent works? Are you trying to determine if there’s a historical basis for a certain trope? Set a goal before going in, even if that goal is just, “I have an hour to kill and want to read something interesting.”
When researching, you have to continually ask yourself, “This is fascinating, but is it relevant?” If the answer is no, set it aside.
A few site-specific techniques for doing just that:
-> Don’t read the examples. I recently directed an asker to the page on The Masquerade (where there’s a magical world hidden within the mundane one). The description and discussion of the trope is about 850 words. The entire text of the page including examples is 20,000 words. Obviously this represents a very different level of time investment! The first section of a trope page will usually give you a pretty good grasp of the concept and how it relates to other tropes.
If you do need examples, observe the Golden Rule. The examples are organized by medium and collapsed under headers, so only open up the headers relevant to you. For instance, if you want to find a real world example of a trope, just click the Real Life header and leave the rest alone.
-> Set a timer. This is critical for if you’re just poking around, because it is appallingly easy to look up and discover that about eight hours have passed. But even if you’re going in on a mission, still determine how long you’re willing to give yourself on a session and set some sort of reminder to bump you out when it’s done.
-> Be wary of tabbed browsing. I’m not saying I’ve crashed my computer with the combination of TV Tropes and “Open link in new tab”, but I’m not not saying that, either.
Here’s my trick: I open up the site in a separate window, so it’s easier to tell which tabs are TV Tropes and which aren’t. Then, if I still have tabs I haven’t hit by the end of my session (or if my tabs have just spiraled out of control), I’ll go to Bookmarks > Bookmark open pages… (this is for Chrome, other browsers likely have similar functionality). This lets me create a new folder in which I can dump all those tabs, and then I can close that window without fear of losing something potentially important. Along those lines…
-> Use bookmarks. I find bookmark folders extraordinarily robust for organizing information for later reference, especially if I’m juggling a couple of different projects. It’s particularly helpful for all those “fascinating, but not relevant” chestnuts, so you can peruse them at your leisure when you’re not on a mission.
-> Look for definitions. So you’re reading up on a trope that’s relevant to you, and it references some other trope you’re not familiar with and you don’t quite understand the point they’re making without that knowledge. Congratulations, you’ve just rolled out the red carpet to the entrance of the rabbit hole.
If all you need is a quick definition and want to avoid tangent temptation, look for a bubble at the top of the page that says Laconic. This provides a 1-2 sentence description, which may be all you need. If that bubble’s not there, the first paragraph or two usually provide a general overview, so you can read those and bounce back to what you were doing without getting into greater detail.
If you’re brand new to the site, I’d recommend looking over the Tropes of Legend page, which provides brief definitions for many of the most commonly referenced tropes. Otherwise you might find yourself making a whole lot of detours just to be able to finish one sentence in an article!
Assorted other tricks
Individual works usually have their own pages! The level of detail can vary (because wiki), but popular ones usually have a plot synopsis and a listing of tropes used in the work. This can serve as a sort of reverse lookup for trope names; if you don’t know what a trope is called but can think of an example, you can check the page for that movie/show/game/what-have-you and see if you can find the trope listed there. (You can also try the You Know That Show… link in the sidebar to get help from other site users.)
Many pages have a bubble at the top that says PlayingWith. This leads to a page that discusses variations on a trope: the different ways it can be subverted, invoked, deconstructed, reconstructed, and more. Can be very helpful in getting the creative gears going.
Like many other wikis, pages usually belong to various indexes, which are listed at the bottom. Indexes provide a bare-bones listing of related tropes without additional descriptions, so they can be useful for trying to navigate quickly.
Finally, if you create an account on the site, you can utilize the default display options in the sidebar. I’m particularly fond of night vision, especially if you find yourself in the rabbit hole at 3am.
There we have it! Now you can go forth and explore with confidence and pride. If you need further advice/help on using TV Tropes, feel free to drop me an ask on my personal blog. Happy troping!