Writing Discussion

Tropes that leave me peeved

There are some tropes that annoy me, and it has nothing to do with the quality of a story – I’m just not fond of them. This isn’t a list meant to improve your writing, nor do I think these tropes should never be used. I think it’s just me.

Here are a few of my pet peeves:

1. The evil twin or doppelganger. All evil things the twin does gets blamed on the protagonist, and no one believes the protagonist is innocent.

Surely there are more interesting catalysts for the protagonist’s misfortune? It sometimes feels like author intervention to me, almost lazy. Maybe I just don’t buy it. How many people have identical twins out there, really?

2. The unluckiest bastard on the planet. Every bad thing that is humanly possible happens: he is diagnosed with cancer, his wife leaves, he loses his job, he gets mugged, and at the very end his faithful dog companion gets run over – and its not the protagonist’s fault!

It’s hard to keep from getting desensitized when you start off with something horrible right off the bat. Nothing else afterwards feels like it has impact. I’m all for making your protagonist suffer, but there’s a limit. I suppose I prefer and moments of tension relief and not constantly fearing… dear God, what’s next… because you know it will be depressing. And if it’s not his fault? Wow, what an unlucky bastard. I end up feeling sorry for the protagonist, not compelled by his misfortune.  Neither can I root for him if I know that the fates are going to render his efforts useless.

3. The only reason things go badly is because of a misunderstanding. People withhold information to protect the protagonist.

You see this all the time in romantic comedies, but it makes me want to scream. I suppose if I’m shouting at the story, it means the trope has served its purpose as a successful tension device, but it still feels manipulative! Especially when one bit of knowledge is the only thing preventing the protagonist from succeeding and the story could have ended 100 pages earlier if the protagonist had known.

As a reader, or writer, are there any tropes that annoy you?

17 Comments

  1. All of those sound annoying to me. While I don’t really like the “misunderstanding” trope as generally presented (especially as it appears in comedies), I think the “withholding information” aspect of it can be useful, if done right. But “withholding information” has to have a root, I think, in character motivations – a character has to have a believable reason for withholding info.

    I’ve struggled with that, personally, though. the “believable” part can be tough to pull off. You have to get into the mindset and emotions of the character, but you also have to fully immerse the reader in that mindset, so that the withholding makes sense to them. I’ve found, in my writing, that it’s not enough simply to say “Character X is withholding this important info because of Reason Y” – even if Reason Y is totally in character, if the reader isn’t feeling it, their reaction is “That’s a stupid reason. I’d never do that.” And suspension of disbelief whithers on the vine…

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      It’s tricky. I suppose some reasons may be believable to some people but not to others. I’m not entirely against it, but if it’s the only reason, and not just one of many complications in the story… that makes it less palatable to me.

  2. I generally cut tropes slack, attempting to view them as poorly executed rather than intrinsically bad. Amateurish writing makes everything a chore to read. I actually like the “misunderstanding” trope because it’s where a great deal of our conflicts in life come from, and direct conflict grows wearisome if done too frequently. It’s the application – like gangs and departments brought into conflict in The Wire because someone kept them out of the loop, or because deception was held up for defense or fear.

    Fumbling around, the only trope I want to stomp on is the Unhappy Ending That is Deep Because it’s Sad Because it’s Deep. That can take a flying leap into the river. Trite endings are always unfortunate, but trite and unhappy squanders my time. The appropriately unhappy ending, which suits the narrative, though, I’ll always have to get behind.

  3. I’m not a fan of the twin story line. At all. And I don’t usually go for the misunderstanding, except that I do love How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Sorry. That one gets a pass for me. But of course, it’s not a book.

    As for the unlucky bastard, those books can be more exhausting than anything. It’s like “all right, already!” There has to be a balance with the pain. Although, my oldest brother is the living embodiment of this character. I’ve never met anyone with worse dumb luck than my brother. Most recently he bought a truck for his daughter (they live in Texas). It was parked on the street in front of their house. She hadn’t even driven it yet. That night it gets hit by a drunk driver and totalled. Six months later, they’re still fighting it out with the guy’s insurance and the poor girl is still truck-less. That’s not even counting the time he ran himself over. Yeah, my brother is totally that dude.

    The “girl chasing the cute boy only to realize she really loves her best friend” is also over-done. My best friend in high school was a boy, but it was never going to turn into that. And the ugly duckling/make-over story. Just because a girl gets contacts and highlights, it doesn’t make her suddenly gorgeous. I’ve always worn glasses and plain hair and I got plenty of dates damn you! Sorry. high school flashback. Of course, the exception to that is Mean Girls. Also a movie, but still.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Ehh I’ve heard of some people with that horrible luck too. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction! Still, in fiction I’d rather not read about it.

      And yes to the last two. I always get annoyed when all it takes is a makeover, because obviously the girls in question were always gorgeous to begin with (thinking movies) makeover or not! I think Mean Girls kinda flips that trope around, so it works.

  4. The misunderstanding one can work, as others have said, if there’s a reason the important information was withheld. Otherwise it’s what Roger Ebert used to call the “Idiot Plot” (where the only reason there’s a plot is because all the characters are idiots).

    My pet peeve is prophesies, chosen ones, fate. I like it when people just do stuff, not because there’s some ancient prophesy.

    Which is probably why I write mystery stories instead of fantasy (I’m quite enjoying a fantasy novel right now, but so far no prophesies).

    1. Ahh yes, there are plenty of fantasies without prophesies. I think it was in fashion at one point in time, but haven’t seen it a lot lately. I also prefer people just doing things… creating their own fates 😉

  5. I’m right there with ya.

    I’m also sick of a villain giving the hero a synopsis on his evil schemes. Really? Didn’t we stop doing that after the Batman TV show?

    Also, I’m getting tired of prequels.

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