My Top 10 Least Favourite Tropes

Earlier this year, I wrote a Top 10 Favourite Tropes article talking about the tropes I most enjoy when reading – done well, of course. [Click here to read that article.] Here, I will discuss the top 10 tropes I don’t like to read, even when done well.

Not to say that any of these tropes are inherently bad; they just aren’t what I personally enjoy. (Disclaimer, some tropes are just examples of bad writing. For example, the Mary Sue character.)

10 Fantasy Jargon

This one ranks lowest on my list because I can make the most arguments in favour of it. When done well, meaning the specific jargon is set up within the story making it as easy for readers to understand as regular words, I quite enjoy the uniqueness it gives.

What I don’t like is when this jargon is thrown around with nothing backing it up – new words are created for the sake of something new, without really adding anything to the plot. This just serves to confuse a reader who might either not be able to retain the new information or will retain it and remain confused when it doesn’t come up again.

9 The “Pure Evil” Villain

While a villain who is evil for the sake of being evil is fine for younger readers as a way of enhancing the contrast (ex. Voldemort), I’d much rather read about a complex villain. Villains that the reader can relate to – maybe even agree with – are given the kind of depth you can’t have with those one-note villains.

You can’t wonder what drove pure evil villains down the path of darkness because it just seems like they were born that way. Characters like Cruella Deville, The Joker, and Hannibal Lector, while they work, aren’t my favourites. In fact, I love how some stories have been reimagined to take away this trope with the movies Maleficent and Cruella, which give these villains a lot more depth than their originals. Some may disagree and declare that the originals are better, but these are the kinds of stories I love.

8 Soulmates

I’m not a big reader of romance in general. I don’t pick up books with Romance as the primary genre, but I don’t discredit books if they have romantic ties. However, I believe that love is an action, not a state. Love is something you do for others, and while attraction and chemistry may bring two characters together, healthy relationships are maintained through hard work and dedication. (Maybe this is just because I subscribe to a therapy channel on Youtube.)

I tend to dislike unhealthy relationships in media because I can see how bad it is from the outside, and I’m not sure what the point of staying is. Then again, I’ve never been in any serious relationships myself, so my understanding is bound to evolve. Still, I’m put off by relationships born of the “meant for each other” mentality. Even when I’m writing my own books, I never create characters with the idea that they’ll end up together. First, I write the characters, and if I see that they have chemistry, I might take it from there.

Coming to the idea of soulmates – again, it’s low on the list because I’ve seen some instances where I don’t hate it. I think soulmates reminds me too much of arranged marriages. Two characters are chosen to be together, either by their parents or the universe itself and from that, they are under the idea that they have no choice and are therefore perfect for each other.

My preference for this trope is, perhaps, soulmates in other ways (non-romantic or similar), some of which grow to actually love each other. I would even prefer a book where the soulmate trope is explored in more detail and turns it on its head, where two characters first go along with the hype and start to behave like they’re meant to be, but both eventually realize that they’re better off with different people.

7 Fake Relationship

I haven’t read anything with this trope, but it’s on this list simply because I’ve seen the stories and I’m not interested. I can see the argument for these to be done well, but I think it has to be the main premise if anything. If it’s a side thing, it would have to be incorporated well enough not to take away from the main storyline.

6 Enemies to Lovers

I’m going to say it – this doesn’t happen in real life.

Okay, maybe it might, but very rarely. I’m the type of reader who likes to keep established relationships as they are. The dynamics between enemies vs acquaintances vs friends vs lovers are all unique and special in their own way, and as both a reader and a writer I love experimenting with these different relationships. Each can be as interesting as the next, and while blurring the lines is fine, drastic changes aren’t my preference. Any relationship that stems from “enemies” (at least in the traditional fiction sense) is more often than not going to be some kind of abusive or volatile relationship. Unless real change happens and continues to happen, I can’t see it ending well.

I think I would like it more if it went from enemies to friends to lovers, but the line between love and hate is so thin anyway that it’s not ideal to jump from one to the other.

5 Love at First Sight

This is very similar to Soulmates, but I dislike it even more because I don’t believe in “love at first sight.” As I explained, there can be attraction at first sight, but that’s only a foot in the door. It’s what inspires people to introduce themselves and get to know the other person, but you can’t love someone before even meeting them. I suppose an argument can be made for loving the idea of someone, loving what they’re meant to represent, but without knowing that person and their individuality, how can love exist?

I’m not sure what could be done to this trope to make me like it, which is why it’s so high on my list. The rest (4 through 1) won’t have suggested changes either.

4 Amnesia as a Plot Device

I can think of no reason that “the main character has amnesia for the sake of not knowing the plot” would ever be a good story device. I’ve seen it in video games, where the playable character wakes up in the “new world” with no memory of who they are and have to play through the game, and though I’ve never read a book with this kind of thing, I can’t imagine it going well.

If anyone has a suggestion for a book where this is done well, I invite you to comment below.

3 It Was All a Dream

Similar to the Amnesia complaint, having the whole story be a dream robs the story of its impact. It says that nothing that happened really matters because it doesn’t affect anything.

The only story I know that does this well is Alice in Wonderland, but you have an idea from the start that it’s a dream, and it uses the dream’s abilities in full (most of what happens is nonsense). However, if a story is plausible, meaning it has fantastical elements to it (or not) but the rest of it makes sense, and it turns out to be a dream, the reader feels betrayed. If they’ve read through to the end of a story, it’s expected that they were quite invested, so it’s rude of an author to pull the run out from under them.

There are, however, times when this is done well. In television shows, for example, there is one Phineas and Ferb episode in which Candace has a dream that starts as a typical episode but then gets weirder and weirder as it goes on. During this dream, she discovers that their family pet Platypus is a secret agent. When she wakes, she tells her family the story, revealing the platypus’s secret agent status, which causes government agents to break into their house and drag them out. It is then revealed that the whole thing was a nightmare by Perry the Platypus, worrying that his host family would find out and get taken away. This “dream within a dream” works because of the show as a whole. The episode is not supposed to count, so it’s allowed to have all been a dream.

2 Infallible Hero

Not quite at number one is a hero without any flaws. Yes, I agree that reading an unlikable protagonist isn’t great, but having a hero who is perfect at everything is irritating. They’re often the best-looking, smart, athletic, and more, which is unrealistic. For a story to be interesting, a writer needs to know what their main character is good at and what they’re bad at, and they need to throw problems at the character that will make them struggle.

For example, in The Hunger Games, which I am currently reading, Katniss isn’t much of a people person, and she is thrown into a scenario where she needs to present herself as upbeat and likeable. This isn’t her strong suit, and she does her best, but it’s still realistically bland. This makes her more approachable to a reader and allows her to shine brighter when she gets to do the things that she’s actually good at.

1 Mary Sue

A Mary Sue is a character with no visible flaws. This is a trope, but more so than any other, it’s just a sign of bad writing. Often this character is a reader-inert done by novice writers. They tend to react to things around them as if they have the power of hindsight (in fanfiction, this is often because the writer knows how the story ends and gives their character exactly what’s needed to prevent anything from going wrong).

Join the Conversation

These are my top ten least favourites. Please share one of your own in the comments or, if you think you can sway my opinion, share a novel or story you’ve read where one of these tropes is done well. I’d love to hear about it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: