Disclaimer: Each of these words might mean something slightly different to each person, but in general these are the easiest ways to describe them!
“An assumption that something is true” is a broad definition, but in literature, one can describe a premise as a teaser. Ask a friend about a book, and they will tease you with exciting elements of the characters, plot, and/or the setting. Same with a movie trailer. If you see fast cars and explosions throughout the clip, you’ll assume that the movie will be an action/thriller. The premise of this movie is that it is an action movie with lots of cars and explosions.
My definition of trope, or the most interesting definition of a trope, comes from an essay by Rigoberto Gonzalez. A trope is “an anchor that can keep the narration coherent and even helps the writer find a way into and out of the narrative.” Although “trope” covers a range of figurative language, such as irony, metaphor, and allegory, this one is most interesting because it defines a technique that most people use, but don’t know what to call. Until now.
Say you want to write about an event, maybe a very important museum trip, but you don’t know how to start or finish your narrative. At this event, however, you remember that there was a dog always present. Start here. Go from the dog to the museum trip and then back to the dog. The dog becomes a trope for your story – something to refer to at the beginning, maybe middle, and the end of your story so that you stay organized and focused. It prevents you from going on tangents. The dog could even have parallel meaning with a theme or message that you’re trying to create.
A motif is something that keeps reappearing in your story, like a color, shape, weather, phrase, etc. The motif symbolizes progression in the story and has metaphoric value. If the dog in my pervious explanation for a trope just so happens to represent the eternal life struggle, then it’s also considered a motif. Not only does the dog have symbolism, but it also reappears throughout the story.
Here’s another motif: every time you see the color red in the movie The Sixth Sense, you know a ghost is about to appear. Red symbolized a ghost, but it also appears throughout the movie, giving hints to what’s about to happen next.
Idioms are those neat phrases that you only understand a handful of. You know, like:
- raining cats and dogs
- keep the ball rolling
- busy as a bee
Idioms are used in our language every day, but unless you know the background context from which these phrases originated from, you’re going to have trouble understanding what the other person is trying to tell you.
Idioms have to originate from somewhere. For example: “don’t jump the shark” derived from the show Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a literal shark to increase television ratings. However, that episode marked the first of many where the script took an unexpected, unwelcomed turn. Saying “jumping the shark” means don’t draw attention to something in an unwarranted way.
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