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The ultimate writers guide to the Who Did This To You? trope

The image is of two women, the one is beaten up and the other is standing in front of her, asking who is responsible.

What is the Who Did This to You trope?

The "Who Did This to You?" trope is a dramatic narrative device frequently used in various genres, where a character discovers another character in a state of distress, injury, or misfortune and immediately seeks to know who is responsible. This moment is pivotal, often signifying a turning point in the relationship between the characters or marking the start of a quest for revenge, protection, or justice.

Characteristics of the Who Did This to You trope

This trope delves into themes of loyalty, protection, justice, and vengeance. It highlights the depth of the bond between characters, demonstrating a commitment to stand up for one another. The question, "Who did this to you?" signifies not just a desire to help but also an intent to confront or rectify the wrong done to the injured party. It's categorized by its emotional intensity and its function as a catalyst for action, revealing character motivations and setting the stage for future developments in the narrative.

Where did the Who Did This to You trope come from?

While it's challenging to trace the origin of this trope to a specific work, it has roots in classic tales of heroism, chivalry, and revenge. Historical and mythological stories are replete with heroes avenging wrongs done to their loved ones, and this trope has evolved as a modern narrative echo of these ancient themes. It taps into the universal human impulses of protectiveness and the pursuit of justice.

Genres & the Who Did This to You trope

  • Mystery and Thriller: Used to kickstart investigations or to deepen the plot with personal stakes.
  • Romance: Can intensify the emotional connection between characters and add depth to the relationship.
  • Action and Adventure: Often serves as a motive for the protagonist's quest or mission.
  • Drama: Adds emotional weight and can be a turning point in character development or relationships.

Cross-genre Usage: This trope can effectively be used in fantasy, science fiction, and even comedy, where it might be played for laughs or used to explore the dynamics of friendship, loyalty, and conflict in unique settings.

Examples of the Who Did This To You trope

  • “Twisted Love” by Ana Huang: The “who did this to you” trope works well in this slow-burn enemies-to-lovers with a brother's best friend dynamic.
  • “Heir of Fire” by Sarah J Maas: This trope is a classic addition to any story where the MC has Been Through It. They have scars, and a past life that they don’t like to talk about.
  • “Daughter of No Worlds” by Clarissa Broadbent: This trope also works especially well in stories with a determined MC, who’s always had to look out for themselves. It might be one of the first times when someone cares about protecting them.

How to use the Who Did This To You trope in creative ways

  • Avoiding Clichés: Provide unique and compelling circumstances or reactions that add depth to the scenario, avoiding predictable outcomes.
  • Innovative Twists: The character seeking revenge or justice could discover unexpected truths, leading to moral dilemmas or a change of heart.
  • Character and Plot Integration: Use the moment as a catalyst for character development, revealing hidden strengths, vulnerabilities, or convictions.
  • Examples of Creative Use: A comedic twist where the injury is self-inflicted but leads to a series of misunderstandings and bonding moments; or in a fantasy setting, where the question leads to the revelation of magical bonds or curses that tie characters and their fates together in unexpected ways.