Here it is: another writing rant, this time about tropes and other common story elements that I find problematic, because they're overdone, ethically questionable, or have a tendency to negatively affect the quality of a book. Some of these are more of a personal preference, but they're all things I'd like to see less of!
*Updated 3/23/2018* *For more thoughts related to this topic, check out this, this, and this post.*
Love triangles make your character seem wishy-washy, they're often used to add conflict to what would otherwise be an easy romance, and they're super cliche. I rarely guess wrong about which person will be chosen in the end, which adds to my frustration. Seriously, why are teenage girls in stories always in a love triangle? I've almost never seen one in real life--unless it was called "cheating." To my eyes, love triangles make your main character into someone who has a serious problem with commitment and loyalty, and I don't have a lot of patience for that. You need to make your choice and then be loyal to the person you're with, you know?
(Usually, with love triangles, the girl is the one who has to make the choice. But don't make the mistake of thinking that if a guy is the center of the triangle, it's better.)
A few exceptions apply, as with almost anything. I've mostly enjoyed love triangles that shake things up a bit. For example, though the The Hunger Games' triangle did get cliche at times, it had power because Katniss really didn't care either way. I also appreciate the fact that many love triangles ultimately represent a greater life choice, not just a choice between two dudes--but it's easy to make that symbolism way too obvious. So if you're leaning towards a triangle in your own writing, please consider other ways of spicing up your plot and of addressing your character's major life choices.
Animal as the Main Character
I can only think of one exception for this--oh, that plus The Lion King. Otherwise, I find this trope to be strange and awkward. You can do it for little kids (although I can't say I was a big fan of animal main characters like Bambi and the like back then, either), but once you get up to middle grade, it's really time to stop. Animal side characters work sometimes, like in The Chronicles of Narnia. But if you write the book from the perspective of an animal character, and especially if all the other characters are animals too, it's really hard to relate to. I want human stories, about all the diverse people that exist out there facing the same problems and wonders that have been a part of the human experience for millennia. And yes, fairies and mermaids and aliens are exceptions to this rule, because they're a) fictional creatures and b) human-esque. Real actual animals that do not talk in real life just don't work as main characters, and I stand by that.
Girl with Sudden (Romantic) Confidence Issues
Teenage Girl: "Oh my gosh! This boy is so hot! And he's obviously very into me, since he's kissed me and stuff, like, a lot, and is always giving me sexy looks and telling me that he likes me!"
Teenage Girl: "Well... because there's no conflict left in this story, I'm going to suddenly decide I am unworthy of this super hot guy, and that he could never love me, despite all signs on the contrary, because that doesn't set a terrible precedent for all the teen girls who are already having confidence issues without any hot guys liking them at all!"
Stop it. Show us heroines who, if they have confidence issues, don't just suddenly get them when a guy shows up. Show us some heroines who know they're worth loving! Give girls permission to be confident and to feel strong in themselves even and maybe especially around men, and it'll have a good impact, I promise. It sets a better example for what a healthy relationship looks like, which everyone needs.
So if, like many authors, you're doing this to add conflict, be more creative. There are better ways.
This is more of a personal preference, but I can't read books where animals die, especially cats. I just can't do it. When I see a pet in a book, particularly a thriller or horror novel, I wince because it's highly likely it'll take a bad turn and I'll have to stop reading. If the only logical conclusion of your book includes a pet's death, maybe please don't include the pet? It'll save me a lot of trauma. Kthx.
Too Much Worldbuilding
This especially applies, I think, to language. Obviously language is a huge part of any culture, and it's not always going to match what the reader sees as "normal." (Especially if the fantasy world is based off of a culture different from the reader's own.) But if you're going to write entire poems in fictional languages, give ordinary jobs strange appellations, and name all your characters "Menebopotra" and "Unlielf" or whatever, I'm out. You're just being ridiculous.
Of course, I say this as a global thinker who is terrible with details and who tends to skip over even single paragraph-long passages of description when I'm reading, so I suppose it's possible there are people out there who read books entirely for the joy of excessively intricate worldbuilding. But dude. If the story doesn't need it, the story doesn't need it.
Novelist as the Main Character
Seriously, does the amount of books with writer protagonists in existence really reflect the number of people in the world who write? I don't think so. So try to move a little further away from your own life, plzandthankyou.
I'm especially bothered by the tough-female-who-is-an-author: i.e. Jo March. It's cliche, and it's giving me a complex. It's not necessary, if you're a female writer, for you to throw off the societal norms of your gender. You don't have to be all tough! Mostly this upsets me, I suppose, because I never see myself reflected in those stories, and it makes me feel like I don't deserve to be a writer.
In other news, I'd like to see a heroine with blond hair instead of brown or red, because that's another thing that I'm getting a complex about. Or maybe a strong disabled character? Seriously, guys, give me something here.
Too Many Men or The Egocentric Male Story
You know what I'm talking about. This is primarily (but not exclusively) an issue in classic/literary fiction, where a male main character with Deep male thoughts has no one in his life but other men, plus one or two female characters who exist entirely for the purpose of Lust (aka the Sexy Lamp).
Look. Men have more than enough stories told about them in this world. This isn't to say you can't write a story with a male main character, of course, but if you do, you had better also include multiple female characters with stories, histories, and desires of their own. A Man Who Lives in a World of Men isn't just an annoying trope, it's bad writing. Because it just isn't realistic. And if you think it is, then you, my male friend, need to pay closer to attention to what's going on around you. Men Who Live in a World of Men are egocentric, egotistical, and annoying. You can do better than that.
There you go! Remember that, despite my hatred of these tropes, there are exceptions to (almost) every rule. So you don't have to totally avoid said gimmicks, but I am real tired of them. You better come up with something unique and awesome if you're gonna go for it.
What tropes do you hate?
Come back next time for the start of a two-part listing of my achievements. It'll give you some more perspective into my life experience, in case you want to ask some questions about such things. Hasta la vista!
Images via somebodymagical on Tumblr and giphy.com.
I'm an unpublished novelist, primarily of YA fantasy, and a freelance editor. I love psychology, cats, social justice, and love! I'm also a huge fangirl. More than anything, stories are my life.
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