For the past few months, tropes has been a little bit of a hot topic for book bloggers. And there have been quite a few posts I’ve come across where people seem to be a little confused as to what a trope is. A trope is a recurring or significant theme that appears in all kinds of media. I don’t want to sound like I’m a genius, but I do frequently visit TV Tropes when I’m bored, so I kind of thing I know what I’m doing here.
A lot of people have confused this with “cliche”. Some tropes are so overused that they are cliches, while others are not. Tropes aren’t bad things, they’re tools, and works shouldn’t be punished just for having tropes because every work has tropes. We have those that we like and those that we don’t. And these are the tropes that I don’t like and part of me dies whever I see them. And I won’t be mentioning any of the obvious ones (love triangles, insta-love that kind of thing) because they’ve been talked about to death.
“Pardon My Klingon”
I don’t know why, but it gets on my nerves so much when an alien or monster character in an SF or Fantasy work only ever use their native language to swear. You’ll have perfect English in either a Midwestern American or RP British accent, and then instead of saying regular swear words like fuck or shit, they say something completely made up.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Racoon tends to say “krutacking”, in the DCU Lobo says “frag”, and Battlestar Galactica uses “frack”, but the strange thing is that I have never heard real-life multilingual people do this. Ever. I don’t actually know very many multilingual people who speak English as a second language, but the only time I’ve heard people swear in other languages is when they’re telling racist people to get lost and they do full sentences, not just single words.
Sure, languages change and stuff, but at least in English swearing has been the same for over hundreds of years. I can’t think of a single one that’s a loanword. But maybe I’m ignorant and real-life multilingual people do this.
“The Chosen One”
There are so many Chosen Ones in fiction that the trope should really be renamed to “The Chosen Many”. Let’s see, we have Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, Katniss Everdeen, Percy Jackson, The Pevensies, Buffy Summers, the Power Rangers, King Arthur, Jesus, Link, Fry, Homer Simpson, and just about everyone in Lord of the Rings.
That’s a lot of people. I know I said that tropes aren’t bad, but when tropes are overused and beaten to death, they become cliches. Now cliches aren’t necessarily bad either, but this one is. Please stop. I want more stories about those who choose to save the world themselves, not because some prophecy said they will or else everyone will die.
Imagine this scenario: you’re a soldier in a horrific war. All of your friends and allies have been brutally murdered and it looks like you’re next. You turn to the other person left on the field, and they make a quip to lighten the mood. That’s what this trope is. And I absolutely loathe it. Why? Because there are times when it is completely inappropriate to use it.
Sometimes you really don’t need to shatter the tension with a joke, just let the moment be tense, or let the moment be emotionally weighted. There are ways to do this well (i.e. the supersuit scene from The Incredibles, and the Wonder Woman movie) and ways to not do this well (the entirety of Thor: Ragnarok imo).
This trope is exactly why I’m so critical of Marvel movies. Marvel movies are so fixated on making things so light-hearted and “fun” that there’s no breathing room because of all of the jokes (jokes that aren’t even that funny, but that’s something else). Let people breathe, let them be sad. Let people mourn character deaths and feel tense because if there’s only one note, and that’s humour it’s going to get stale fast. You can’t just shove jokes down your audiences’ throats to distract them from a bad plot.
Oh, and while I didn’t review it back in November, this trope is exactly why I was so let down by Justice League. And that’s all thanks to Joss Whedon, who I blame for this trope being so popular.
I don’t hate every May-December romance that exists because age gaps aren’t always a bad thing. And by that, I mean that age gaps aren’t bad when both characters are adults. It really, really gets under my skin when an author tries to justify a young man being romantically or sexually involved with a teenage girl. It’s not ‘erotic’ or ‘sensual’, it’s predatory.
In a very select few cases, it doesn’t make me completely hate a work, but it does hinder me loving it completely. For example, I adore the manga series Fruits Basket, but I hate the relationship between Tohru’s parents, Kyoko and Katsuya. Why? When they first meet, Kyoko is a ninth grader and Katsuya is a student teacher at her school. The fact that they really do love each other enough to get married, have a baby, and then plan to have another doesn’t make it any less gross. Or illegal where I live.
Here are a few others that I can name off the top of my head:
- Rose (17) and Dimitri (24) from Vampire Academy
- Bella (17) and Edward (over 100) from Twilight
- Elio (17) and Oliver (24) from Call Me by Your Name
- Michael (14) and Hanna (over 30) from The Reader
- Dolores (12) and Humbert (who cares how old he is he kidnaps a child and then constantly rapes her) from Lolita
Okay, that last one doesn’t count because he’s a gross paedophile and the whole point of the story is to show just how disgusting it is (and yet so many people miss the point), but still. It’s gross. Please stop putting children in romances with adults, it’s gross.
“All Just a Dream”
This here is the very first thing you’re told to never do when you take creative writing classes. CW teachers hate stories that end with the characters waking up, and I do too.
Remember when the original Roseanne series ended and it turned out that it was all made up by Roseanne and Dan actually died at the end of season 8? I don’t because I’ve never watched that show, but I would have been so pissed off if I was old enough to watch it when it first aired. But, I have read a lot of old superhero comics where it all turns out to just be a dream and they made me roll my eyes so much.
Like all tropes, there are ways to do them well, like how American Psycho is completely ambiguous on whether everything in the book really happened or not, or how Labyrinth invokes it and then subverts it in the same scene. But when it’s played straight… Really? In this day and age?
“Bury Your Gays”
If you do this in your book, video game, movie, TV show, or even plot outline, I will find you, come to your house, and wring your neck.
This trope is so homophobic that I can’t believe that it still exists. Gay people deserve happy endings too because they are also people, so why do so many LGBT+ stories have tragic endings where one or more gay or trans characters die from illness, commit suicide, or are murdered?
Unfortunately, there is a bit of truth to it because LGBT+ people are at a higher risk for mental illness, suicide, assault, and even murder, and the AIDs crisis was a horrific event that shouldn’t be erased from history, but the time for tragic queer stories has surely passed by now.
Even though I still haven’t seen Love, Simon (damn you, financial situation) I was overjoyed that it’s been so successful because it shows young queer people that happy endings do exist for them, and even though they will face hardship in their lives, it isn’t always awful.
“Insane Equals Violent”
This is another trope that really gets under my skin because not only is it horrifically ableist, it’s one that has strongly affected the world’s opinion of people with certain mental illnesses. Naturally, I take issue with TV Tropes using the word “insane” but they use tons of outdated terms that I don’t have the time to talk about (notably how they always refer to transgender people are ‘transsexuals’ or ‘transgenders’).
Basically, this trope states that if someone isn’t stable mentally, or has an illness like schizophrenia or Dissociative Identity Disorder, they’re automatically violent criminals. In real life, this couldn’t be further from the truth as people with these illnesses are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than they are other people.
It’s because of this trope that mentally ill people are wrongfully scapegoated whenever an act of terrorism is performed by a white man. Instead of being a ‘radical’ as he would be labelled if he were brown, he’s ‘unstable’ and immediately gets slapped with an armchair diagnosis. Usually of schizophrenia, which is probably the most misunderstood mental illness, all thanks to fiction and the media.
Tropes aren’t bad? Well, this one is. It’s horrific and needs to stop being used.
Pandering to the Fanbase
This isn’t a trope, but it’s still something that I really don’t like. I haven’t exactly seen this going on in books, but in video games, comics, and TV shows, this happens a lot. And I can’t stand it.
Probably the biggest example I can think of is how the script for Thor: The Dark World was rewritten to put more Loki in, which unfortunately made the real villains of the movie bland and almost non-existent. While I liked the movie at the time, I now agree that it’s pandering. So is putting Iron Man into almost every MCU movie whether he needs to be there or not, but I won’t be ranting about MCU movies much more in this post.
Even JK Rowling’s annual “apology” for killing off a character is enough to get on my nerves. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t need to be done every single year. Be sorry for the lack of diversity and being a TERF instead.
I’m pretty sure that the only time I’ve liked this is when the Mortal Kombat staff made rumour characters real, but that’s about it.
“Rated M for ‘Manly'”
TV Tropes defines this trope as “a work that is heavily dependent on things, situations, or actions that are stereotypically masculine, in order to appeal to a predominantly male audience.” Y’know because men don’t already have enough things made to appeal to them and only them.
In these kinds of works you can expect lots of violence, guns, blood, and boobs. The “good” stuff. If you know me, you’ll probably be a little confused because a lot of things I like could be described as being “manly”, but while some do play them straight and I like them for how ridiculous they are, there are others that have more depth to them. For example, TV Tropes lists Cowboy Bebop as one of these and one of their reasons is “have we mentioned Faye Valentine”. I disagree with them on this because if the series was truly a “manly” show, Faye would be nothing but a pair of boobs and nothing else. We actually get a few episodes that focus on her and expand her character. And then you have things like everything written by Frank Miller where women are nothing but set dressings and nothing else. Those works are bad.
Brooding or Snarky Love Interest
We all know that brooding love interests are deader than the dinosaurs at this point, but here’s an unpopular opinion for you: I hate snarky characters. Why? Because it’s become the default. Every single character these days is snarky and sarcastic, and sometimes it gets taken so far that they end up just being mean.
I’m not very good at detecting sarcasm. Someone says something sarcastic to me and I end up thinking they’re being flat out insulting. Put that together with a love interest and you’ve got one love interest that I’m bound to hate because I’ll misunderstand them and think that they’re just an awful person who doesn’t deserve the MC. Good job.
So, can we have more variations in character personalities, please instead of having everyone be snarky? Thanks.
“Our Monsters are Different”
Having your own variation of an already established monster is great. But you know what isn’t? Using said variation of that monster to put down another variation that you don’t like. And yes, I’m referring to every single vampire writer who has at one point or another said “my vampires don’t sparkle” (there’s actually a book called Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle, by the way). And that includes me. I said it once too.
Are sparkly vampires silly? I personally think so. But that doesn’t mean that in my book that I will eventually write I’m going to do the whole “oh I’m not going to end up sparkling am I?” thing as if I’m the writer for Deadpool. I like to think that there are certain ground rules for monsters that already “exist” and everything else is free reign. But you’re not going to get any brownie points from me for outright explicitly saying in your text that your vampires don’t sparkle or your werewolves aren’t just hot men who turn into dogs. The whole “hurr durr Twilight sucks” thing is so old now.
Teen Characters Hating Old Music
This one I don’t necessarily hate, but I do kind of roll my eyes a bit whenever I see it pop up. Music can play a huge part of growing up, and it definitely did for me. But, not every single teenager in the world is interested in listening to chart music. I’ve seen people say that it’s ‘unrealistic’ for teen characters in YA to have bands like The Smiths on their iPod, but it’s really not. Maybe it’s uncommon but it’s not totally unrealistic.
Most of the kids that I know who do listen to chart music will listen to artists like Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande, rather than what I was into when I was their age ten years ago. I listened to bands like Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte, and Foo Fighters, who were in fact in the charts at the time, but they weren’t at the top and very few kids I knew were really into them like I were.
The internet makes it a lot easier for us to find bands and artists to listen to, whether they’re old or new. Lots of kids like The Beatles just as much as they would like Taylor Swift. It’s not ‘unrealistic’ at all for kids to like older music.