Toppling Tropes

Ah, tropes. There are few things I loathe more in fiction. Nothing kills a story faster than recognizing plot elements and characters you’ve seen a thousand times before. Let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders.

-Amnesia. Good God, has amnesia been done to death, and in every conceivable way. People forgetting they’re dead, forgetting they’re assassins, forgetting they’re monsters/aliens. You name it, it’s been done, and in every medium imaginable.

-The badass lesbian. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with creating a strong lesbian character, there is a real issue of writing to a stereotype (especially when it’s one perpetuated by men who seem to have never actually met a gay woman). Just as I mentioned in my other article on women in general, gender does not limit a person to a particular set of traits. Neither does sexuality. Write people, not caricatures.

-The ghetto misconception. Same as the above. Give black people some credit and write them as individual people. They do not all have the same background, they do not all like rap, they do not all use urban vernacular, and not all black women are single mothers.

-The strong female protagonist (who had to get raped to be that way). Few things make my teeth grind more than when a work touts itself as having an empowered female lead only to degrade her in the most horrible way possible before she ever finds her strength. Whatever happens after the attack, she is marked as a victim for the rest of the story. Worse, this status is meshed with her gender, creating unhealthy implications.

-The protagonist was dead all along (particularly in a first-person narrative). This twist has not been shocking or fresh since The Sixth Sense. And honestly, it was overdone well before then.

-Stupid, sexy monster. I get I’m not the demographic for these books. Really, I do. That said, I am sick to death of going into horror sections and finding Harlequin covers staring me in the face. The Meyer contingent has made boyfriend material out of every creature imaginable. Enough is enough already.

-Countdown to pet murder. This is particularly prevalent in horror fiction/movies. Whenever a pet is introduced, one can almost see the guillotine blade rising over its neck. While effective in the level of discomfort the killings cause, these scenes are often wholly predictable and leave an awful taste in one’s mouth.

The above are just some of the overused elements I can remember off the top of my head. When you sit down to write, take the time to think about the plot element or character you’re about to set down. If you can name more than three instances where you’ve seen it, do something else. The more familiar the pieces to the puzzle you’re putting together, the faster the reader will see the whole. And where’s the fun in that?


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