My Least Favourite Book Tropes: Part Three

In parts one and two of this series I described some of the tropes that most annoy me and I’m going to continue in that griping tradition for part three.  It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these so I’m ready to start ranting!  The usual caveat applies: 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.  Some of them annoy me but you, as a reader, may very well love these ones.  It all depends on the person.

Adults are Useless

1.  Adults Are Useless

This is very prominent in YA and in Children’s Fiction because the protagonists in these books are not adults.  So of course they see adults as hindering their progress on whatever mission they’re on rather than what the adults are actually doing: worrying about them.  Sometimes adults deliberately obstruct children’s or teen’s activities and it’s usually in the name of safety.  Other times they’re just being jerks, as every child or teen has found out at some point.

In some ways the trope makes sense—children and teens are more impressionable and more likely to adapt to events going on around them.  For example, if a child is telling an adult that there’s magic and lots of horrible things are happening because of it, then the adult is probably going to be useless and deny the whole thing.  It’s annoying but it’s at least believable.  When this trope is annoying is when all adults are useless, not just some.  That’s just unrealistic and a total caricature.  That’s somewhat expected in children’s fiction but when you’re reading YA it’s just patronizing, even if you are a teenager.

Dumb Guards

2.  The Guards Must Be Crazy

‘The Guards Must Be Crazy’ is far more prominent in TV and movies but in books it annoys me to no end.  You can have an awesome bad guy, a seemingly impenetrable fortress and all the protagonist has to do to waltz in is pretend to be a cleaning person, throw a pebble to distract the guards or bat her eyelashes at them.  I can get it in some circumstances but this one is becoming more and more common, particularly with the rise of dystopian YA and the whole ‘I need to bring down the government’ schtick.  It’s wearing a little thin.

In many cases in real life, humans are the weakness in the system.  You can have all the evacuation protocol in place and have people know it but if some idiot just stands there screaming and dies because of it, the evacuation technically fails.  In a supposedly impenetrable fortress, the guards are realistically the weakness.  However, I don’t believe that some of the craft villains YA authors cook up would be so stupid as to have underpaid, mistreated henchmen that can’t shoot straight.  It seems a little short-sighted.  I personally think most stories would be way more awesome if the guards were competent and the main character(s) had to sneak past them with a greater deal of trouble and risk.

Entitlement

3.  Entitled to Have You

This is one of the more scary and dangerous tropes in the media and while it’s particularly bad in movies, it’s also present in books more often than I’d like.  Essentially, the trope is “I, Person X am entitled to have Person Y because of z.”  It could be “I, Teen Boy am entitled to have Female Protagonist because we’re the same/I saved her butt/I love her.”  This is not an unrealistic quote because almost every woman out there could tell you a story of a man feeling entitled to her in some way or another.  But it’s really dangerous to portray that as natural and something good.

In the case of the story’s villain feeling entitled to a person it usually works because they’re the bad guy.  But if the hero who rescues a woman starts to expect her to do things for him because he rescued her (up to and including marriage), you’ve got a serious problem here.  If people constantly see movie or book heroes being somewhat decent human beings and getting a super hot girl for it, they begin to subconsciously expect a similar outcome. That’s why I hate when the protagonist is female, a man she’s attracted to tells her she will be his girlfriend or some sort of variation of that statement and she falls head over heels for him.   It’s definitely more creepy than romantic and it sort of plays into the Wants a Prize for Basic Decency trope.

Hate Math

4.  Everybody Hates Mathematics

‘Everybody Hates Mathematics’ is a trope that’s quite common not only in books, movies and TV shows but in real life.  I can’t count the times I’ve heard people proclaim their uselessness at math like it’s something normal or even something to be proud of.  That’s why the trope is pretty annoying.  Not everyone is good at math; that’s just a fact.  However, not everyone is terrible at it!  There are some people like my former high school math teacher and my dad who are good at math (but not amazing) and just love it.  I am not good at higher maths but am much better at basic mental math than most people because I have to act as a cashier at work and the till is one of the few that doesn’t tell you want change to make.

My theory is that this trope is common in books because the authors themselves don’t like math.  Your typical author has a much more engaged creative brain than a logical brain and they probably struggled with math more than they did with English or the humanities.  There’s nothing wrong with writing what you know but I just wish that some authors didn’t make hating mathematics seem like a badge of honour or a mark of normality.  It’s rather disingenuous.

Tv TropesAs I said above, tropes are not clichés.  They’re just some common elements found in fiction of all sorts that are used to help tell the story.  Some are great, some are annoying and some can be downright dangerous.  It really all depends on how they’re portrayed and how well the story itself is written.  You may not agree with everything I’ve put on the list here, but that really all comes down to individual tastes.  Everyone is different.

What are some of your least favourite tropes?  Why?  Do you see any in my list that annoy you as well?  Do you disagree with some of the items in my list?  Why?

5 comments

  1. Jemima Pett

    I ‘m so glad you raised the I hate math trope. What on earth are people proud for for not getting math? It’s appalling. I just didn’t realise it was as prevalent in the US as it is in the Uk. It’s also appalling that our teachers are so bad they allow this trope / real life attitude to continue. Heaven help us.

    • Carrie Slager

      Well, I’m not in the US or the UK but I know it’s more prevalent here in Canada than I would like. I think part of it is math teachers who are not qualified, particularly in rural areas like mine. But the other part is cultural–it’s not ‘cool’ to like or be good at math simply because you see the “everybody hates math” trope. If you hear something enough throughout your life, eventually you’re going to accept or believe it on some level.

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