My Least Favourite Book Tropes: Part Two

In Part One I discussed just some of my least favourite tropes.  Now I’m ready to go on another time-wasting researching TV Tropes spree.  At least it didn’t take me five hours to research this article.  Let’s get into some bad tropes and why they’re so bad now, shall we?  As with my first article, let me give you the caveat that tropes are not necessarily clichés.  They’re just devices used by authors to tell a story but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally stray into the world of cliché as you’ll see with the following examples:

Dystopia

1.  Easily Conquered World

Generally speaking, it’s not easy to take over a territory and hold it for an extended period of time.  Especially if you do everything possible to alienate the local population, which will inevitably cause an uprising in 9 out of 10 situations.  So why is it that in books, especially YA, worlds are conquered quite easily?  If the heroine (and it’s almost always a girl) throws out the old, oppressive government in a dystopia there’s rarely a counter-revolution or any resistance to the new rule.  In truth when oppressive governments are overthrown as happened during the French Revolution, a counter revolution is pretty much inevitable from those who profited under the reign of said oppressive government.

Conquering isn’t as easy as a lot of books make it out to be and ruling a conquered land is even harder.  Yet we see bad guys take over countries/worlds like it was nothing.  Things are rarely so simple in real life.

Parental Obliviousness

2.  Parental Obliviousness

This one is usually cranked up to 11 in YA and it’s getting a little ridiculous.  Basically, the Parental Obliviousness trope is when the parents know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in the lives of their children, usually teenagers.  I know teenagers keep things from their parents and sometimes the lines of communication are not open anyway, but really?  Parental Obliviousness is taken to ridiculous highs in YA as the teenage daughter starts changing her personality completely: she starts sneaking out, she’s moody, loses interest in her old hobbies, etc.  Usually it’s because of a boy but do the parents notice this?  Usually not.

I would hope that most semi-caring parents would even try to guess at what causes sudden changes in their children like the ones I’ve mentioned.  Most parents would not ignore half of the stuff that teenagers in YA books get away with.

Ignorance is Bliss

3.  Dumb Is Good

I see this more and more in YA, particularly dystopias and it makes me want to scream.  Why is ignorance celebrated?  For example, in Divergent the Erudites are all bad guys.  They’re all smart, meaning they have lost all sympathy for their fellow human beings and look a life as just another puzzle to analyze rather than searching for some greater meaning or way of helping people.

This trope essentially celebrates ignorance.  All ‘smart’ people are evil because they cannot connect with ordinary human beings.  All ‘dumb’ people are good because you have to be ‘smart’ to have the capacity for evil.  Anyone with basic experience in the real world knows that this is patently untrue.  There are some people who follow these tropes and there are many more that don’t.  So why does it always seem to be this way in fiction?

Deus ex Machina

4.  Deus ex Machina

This is an old trope and I’m getting more and more tired of it.  Basically, a situation is perceived as hopeless and then suddenly out of nowhere someone or something unnoticed comes to the rescue.  One example would be a spy caught on a rooftop surrounded by gunmen and then the reinforcements (who were never mentioned before) drop in to save him.

Deus ex Machina is annoying because it’s like the protagonist gets the easy way out.  In this trope they usually don’t save themselves; someone else saves their hides and it feels like the reader is being cheated.  Like the skills they were developing over the course of the story weren’t important at all.  It’s kind of annoying and a cop out on the part of the author.

Tv Tropes

Basically, these are some of my least favourite tropes.  What are yours?  Do you see any in my list that particularly annoy you?  Do you disagree with any of the examples?  Let me know in the comments section!

14 comments

  1. Matthew Wright

    I agree. Tropes are too easy to write. There are many others than the ones you’ve given here. And yet it’s also possible to see their appeal, to the extent that they provide an anchor – a sense of familiarity – to the story telling, even something for a reader to identify with. One of the measures of the skill of an author is whether they can provide that familiarity without succumbing to the more obvious tropes.

  2. Harliqueen

    Some great examples, all very true. Sometimes it’s just so easy to fall into cliches and tropes, got to make sure I try hard not too! Great post, and research 😀

  3. DogG6

    #4 is definitely outstandingly overused in so many stories, it becomes jarring to me.

    However, that is not to say it is in itself a bad tool for a story, I know many stories that pull it off spectacularly. Mainly, especially noticeable in movies,is that the writers use it in very unoriginal ways.

    Thinking about it, I’d say to use it effectively, it should be very rarely used, the timing for being the character being saved should be offset, and a unique spin to the perspective and circumstances should be used.

    For offset timing instance, notice that in the default common style, usually a gun would be to someone’s head, and in the split second the trigger is squeezed, antagonist is knocked out/killed.

    Now imagine instead, antagonist is talking it up before executing protagonist — as is common in stories — and during that, he pulls his gun out, checks that it is loaded — while pacing and talking, and then mid-sentence as he reaches an apex of his pacing and rotates around, he is shot by whatever good guys come to rescue the protagonist.

    In that case, the timing would be unexpected by viewers whom are used to the last-second timing of most stories. Removing the if-gonna-be-saved-gotta-be-saved-right-now inevitabilty and telegraphing would surprise the viewers, putting them closer to thought process of the protagonist than the all-seeing cliche-buffet of many stories.

    The best stories are where people can speculate what might happen in the story, instead of straight up predicting it.

    Also on the conquering one, yeah, they usually compress rebellions and wars into one-battle affairs, whereas realistically it can be a slogfest over months to fight for one city, nevermind slogging it out for years and years to go against an empire.

    Thanks Carrie for giving me something to think about. I like to think up my own stories and settings, and reading your blog really does help to see the full picture of what makes a story good, thrilling and original. To me, an ideal writer would take inspiration from Kurosawa, Asimov and many of those other great oldschool writers, and Carrie Slager. 😉

    Thanks again. Good post!

    • Carrie Slager

      Now, that scenario is definitely one I’d read. Like I said, tropes aren’t inherently bad; they’re simply tools for telling a story. The best stories take tropes and modify them to jar the reader because we’re so used to the old stories.

      And thank you very much. I’m honoured to be included in that list of writers. 😀

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