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Hey all, check it out, guest post! So, tropes are an interesting thing, sort of common details that pop up in a lot of stories with regularity. They aren’t bad on their own but, just like anything else, using them badly can ruin a work of fiction. Courtesy of Reedsy’s Desiree Villena, here’s five she’d happily be rid of.

5 Terrible Tropes That Need to Die in 2019

Since the dawn of storytelling, we have read… and read… and read the same tropes: popular characters, plot devices, and even whole storylines that are used repeatedly in literature. Whether it’s the accidental meet-cute or the “chosen one,” we all have those tropes that make us good-humoredly roll our eyes a bit whenever we see them.

But sometimes tropes aren’t just silly and fun, but distractingly unrealistic. Worse yet, they can be unrealistic and problematic — especially in genres like science fiction and fantasy, which are traditionally dominated by white men. Luckily, this trend seems to be changing… but that doesn’t mean these often-harmful tropes aren’t still pervasive.

Which is why I’m here to shed light on five terrible tropes that need to die in 2019. You’ve likely seen all of these at some point, but I’ll provide examples from both books and media so you can identify them in other works. I’ll also link to the original TV Tropes pages, so you can read up on them further if you like — and to give credit where credit is due for their amazing trope titles. Now, are you ready to learn the (t)ropes?

1. Instant Expert

Ever read or seen a battle scene where someone drops a gun, and the protagonist — despite never having used a gun before — picks it up and uses it perfectly to defend themselves? That’s the essence of Instant Expert: someone who has no prior experience with a particular tool/skill is somehow able to utilize it instantly and easily, usually to dramatic effect.

To be fair, this trope is more impractical than outright harmful. But it can definitely sidetrack the reader, even if it’s flimsily “explained,” such as in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. In the second book, Stone of Tears, Richard Cypher expertly wields the eponymous sword on his first try — supposedly because it encompasses all the skills of its previous owners. Cue eyeroll.

This trope also tends to be a hallmark of, shall we say, less sophisticated literature. The notorious Twilight saga employs Instant Expert in Breaking Dawn, the installment in which Bella Swan finally becomes a vampire… and immediately masters all the skills that the other centuries-old vamps have been perfecting for, well, centuries. And while it’s not like any of us expected a great deal of consistency after four books of supernatural madness, couldn’t Stephenie Meyer have thrown in a time jump or something?

Needless to say, Instant Expert is mostly employed for convenience’s sake and I understand the inclination to use it, especially in fast-paced narratives. However, I also feel that one of the most satisfying things for a reader is seeing how the protagonist actually learns to master something unfamiliar. So a word of advice to writers: don’t disregard the context for expertise, because context makes heroic moments that much more fulfilling to the audience.

2. Black Dude Dies First

Ah, Black Dude Dies First: the signature move of countless horror, drama, and even science fiction works. As you can probably surmise, this trope is another not-so-realistic one. It also presents a real challenge in terms of diverse representation. After all, if the only person of color gets killed right at the beginning of the story, the boat has pretty much sailed on diversity for its remainder.

Black Dude Dies First tends to be more of an onscreen phenomenon, but it’s critical for authors to avoid as well — especially since it won’t look great if they ever adapt your book into a show or movie. And even the most experienced writers can sometimes fall victim to this one, such as Nora Roberts in her paranormal romance novel Morrigan’s Cross. This book follows a gang of immortal sorcerers, warriors, and other such entities, and is pretty epic in scale… but its tired depiction of a black guy being the first to kick the bucket detracts from the story, and makes the reader wary of other overused tropes and odd character/plot choices.

Another particularly egregious example of Black Dude Dies First occurs in the second Alien movie, Aliens. Though the series gets points for a heroine as badass as Ellen Ripley, the first character to die at the hands (tentacles?) of aliens in this particular movie is Private Frost, a black man — and another black man, Sergeant Apone, quickly follows. Yes, we all know that someone has to die in order to keep the stakes high…. but would’ve been nice if it weren’t these guys in particular. In any case, it’s high time for the trope itself to die, in literary, cinematic, and every other form.

3. Stuffed Into the Fridge

Also referred to as “fridging,” getting Stuffed Into the Fridge is another unfortunate fate that typically befalls female and/or minority characters. Of course, they don’t have to literally be stuffed into a fridge (the trope takes its name from an infamous scene in the Green Lantern comics), but they do have to be killed and then presented in a threatening way to another character. This character is almost always a male hero, and often the family, close friend, or significant other of the dead character, so they’re incited to take revenge on the killer.

In theory, this trope is merely gross, but given that it overwhelmingly affects female characters, it also seems pretty sexist — and even when it’s not happening to a woman, it’s almost always a minority character of some sort. Predictably, it’s used mostly by male authors, such as Scott Lynch in The Lies of Locke Lamora and Glen Duncan in The Last Werewolf. In the former, a man’s daughter is killed and delivered to him in a barrel of horse urine; in the latter, the main character’s gay companion is decapitated and his head left in the trunk of the MC’s car. (Perhaps the decapitation aspect and the equine aspect are both subtle references to The Godfather?) But cultural references aside, I think we can all agree this trope is prejudicial, gratuitous, and should be eliminated for the sake of readers and viewers everywhere.

 

  1. Beauty Is Never Tarnished

And in a similar vein to Stuffed Into the Fridge, we have Beauty Is Never Tarnished, another ridiculous (though less macabre) trope involving female characters. The premise of Beauty Is Never Tarnished is what it sounds like: no matter how much action or duress a female character experiences, she will still emerge looking aesthetically pleasing.

Like Black Dude Dies First, Beauty Is Never Tarnished is another trope that’s more common in movies than books, but can still come into play with on-page female characters. Phèdre, the protagonist of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, is one such object of this trope. Regardless of fairly severe physical injuries, Phèdre’s scars are rarely mentioned, and her lovers (Kushiel’s Dart is an erotic fantasy novel) don’t ever seem to comment on them. Perhaps this is merely a function of the “erotic” angle — people’s lovers never really care about their imperfections, after all — but it’s definitely unrealistic for Phèdre’s scars to not even come up in conversation.

Another, perhaps better-known example: as much as I love the Star Wars movies, they almost unfailingly keep Princess Leia’s beauty weirdly untarnished. She has super-elaborate hairstyles that never seem to come undone, and her clothes and makeup are always, as the kids say, on fleek. I look worse after walking down the street on a windy day than Leia does after being dumped in a literal trash compactor. So while those cinnamon buns are undoubtedly iconic, writers and on-set stylists alike should take more reality into account when formulating their female characters’ “looks.”

 

  1. Black and White Morality

Finally, let’s talk about Black and White Morality — a trope that anyone who’s ever read classic fantasy will no doubt recognize. Again, this one is pretty much what it sounds like: the idea that morality can be broken down into two distinct camps of good and evil, directly opposing each other and usually involving a Good Guy and Bad Guy who must fight to the death (spoiler: the Good Guy almost always wins).

I’m not saying that every single novel needs to be grimdark, but works that operate under strict Black and White Morality tend not be very believable… especially when they don’t give any particular reason for the bad guys to be bad. This is particularly prevalent in children’s books, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — a fantastic story, don’t get me wrong, but one that’s predicated on the White Witch wanting to kill Aslan and rule Narnia simply because she’s a wicked person. (She gets a bit more backstory in The Magician’s Nephew, but it still doesn’t explain her motivations in much depth.) Yes, C.S. Lewis was probably just trying to make his themes more palatable for the younger set… but we should also remember that children understand more nuances than grown-ups tend to think.

Of course, some of these tropes are more pernicious than others. At best, they distract and diminish the reader’s engagement with the story; at worst, they perpetuate stereotypes and poor praxis for storytelling. Luckily, just being aware of them should make you much less likely to use them in your own writing.

Comment below with your least favorite tropes and why you dislike them!

 

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She tries her best to avoid using terrible tropes.

You can check Reedsy out here!

As mentioned yesterday, my stop on the Armour Piercing blog tour is up tomorrow. That’s going to be an author guest post, so definitely stop by and check that out if you’ve got the chance.

Still dragging along on finishing that book, but I have something that might help light a fire under my butt for it.

There’s this horror youtuber, Nick Nocturn, who’s started a reading challenge for House of Leaves leading up to him talking about it on his channel. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read since something like 2012, so it’s not one that I’ve been super chomping at the bit to read but it is something that I’d really wanted to cover for Halloween or something. That especially back when Slenderman was a bigger thing in my corner of the internet. I’m like six days behind on this, so I’m probably not going to complete the challenge on time, but I figure that it’s something I’ve wanted to read and I’m not going to let myself start on it until I’ve finished the book I’m on now.

I don’t have a lot else to talk on this week, so let’s end it here.

Standard stuff then, if you like what I’m doing here feel free to leave a comment or a like. Or, if you really like what I’m doing here, you can feed my caffeine addiction and buy me a ko-fi. In either case, have a great rest of the week!

I’ve been meaning to talk about this for ages. Ages. Like as soon as I found it.

oddvoice_twitter

So, what’s my interest in this particular Kickstarter?

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but my Mom is a teacher. Has been for as long as I can remember. She and my Dad encouraged me to read as much as I wanted as a kid, with a handful of exceptions they figured I was too young for, but it was a thing growing up. Then, a bit over a decade ago, the school Mom teaches at had her develop a new class. Something to get students into a science elective they were excited for. The Forensic Science class. At first it was her and another teacher, but she wound up running it solo pretty quickly when that teacher got the chance to cover another class she enjoyed teaching.

My Mom is a nerd friends.

A nerd who found a way to get her students to think critically about the components of the books they read for class with a really cool project. See, early on she found an internet post featuring Barbie cleaning up  after apparently murdering Ken. She loved the idea and, a bit of research later, found a lot of nifty Barbie boxes that were based on scenes from movies or books. So she started putting together a list of mystery novels she liked, stuff she had read and could reasonably judge if it was forensic class friendly and if her students were paying attention when they made their boxes.

More importantly, she picked things that were solid writing so the kids would want to read them. My Mom had students come into her class who would only begrudgingly do class reading, but who would leave her class looking forward to continuing the series they picked from for their project. I don’t know if these kids stayed interested in reading, but I do know it was something they had found a love for at that time because Mom had the right books for the right project for the right class. She had something that made the chore of school reading fun rather than a slog to put off as long as possible.

Given that at the time I was suffering through Literature classes, it was mind blowing. It became something that I really wanted for other students, other classes, other schools. The whole deal.

I’m looking forward to what Odd Voice Out does with their school outreach work and, being entirely honest, I hope it results in something like this.

I’m hoping that their focus on non-typical main characters and diverse voices will grab readers’ attention and do for them what that list of mysteries and crime novels did for my Mom’s students and more.

As a fun bonus, Odd Voice Out was kind enough to send me a bit from one of their authors about why the Kickstarter is important to both the publisher and her.

“We want to begin 2019 with a mission to bring diversity in teen fiction to a much wider audience, and this Kickstarter campaign enables just that. With funding and pledges of as little as $1, we can engage with high schools and youth groups on the subject of representation in fiction, encourage their young creative minds to make a difference in the world, and send our press to YALC, the largest UK Young Adult literature convention. This is the place where thousands of influential readers, writers and industry executives take notice of new movements in fiction, a place where our Odd Voices can be heard on a global stage.”
– K.C. Finn, multi-award winning author of Fallow Heart
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So, if you’re interested in what Odd Voice Out is doing, they’ve met their goal on Kickstarter and with three days left you can help support not only their first two novels but also the next two and future authors and possible school visits and a whole rush of other fun things. Definitely give it a look!

Full disclosure, after asking if they would be cool with me posting about this approximately an eternity and a half ago, I was invited to review both books featured in the Kickstarter. That has no effect on my coverage here, nor will it affect my reviews when they go live.

Fall Into Books 10/10

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This is the second easiest question I’ve answered during this challenge. What book am I most excited for? Most ready to read? Leg bouncingly impatient to check out?

In An Absent Dream cover

Not surprising in the least, right?

In An Absent Dream looks like it’s going to be another book going back to the world its protagonist visited before she wound up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. So, something like Down Among the Sticks and Bones in that respect. It really only makes me want to read Every Heart a Doorway that much more because I think the protagonist for this one was introduced there. I want to see the end point and then the journey there.

January feels like a long way away.

Fall Into Books 10/9

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Please Dont Tell My Parents Im a Super Villan cover

This one’s a little delayed to be a super recent discovery, but I’ve been really enjoying Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents series. The whole teen super villain trying to make her own redemption arc happen thing is interesting to me.

The characters are interesting, a mix of heroes and villains in a world that is very used to both, with Penny and her best friends Claire and Ray sort of plunked down into villainhood by an over aggressive sidekick looking for a fight. There’s a lot of fun to be had and, with book three expanding on some other supers, I’m interested in seeing what kinds of character interactions we can expect as the series continues.

I’ve only made it through the first three books at this point, but it is a series that I plan to follow for the rest of its run.

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Hey, remember that big post I had about how the SINless books are criminally underrated? Yeah, the character of today might be a big part of that for me. Heads up for spoilers for Nanoshock, they’re past the Spoiler.

Spoiler Alert

So, sometimes authors try to have a twist at the end with their antagonists. A character who was set up as an ally to the hero or as a protagonist in their own right turns out to be a card carrying member of team bad guy in the last ten pages. Sometimes they give the shocked protagonist a speech about how obvious it had to have been and how badly the protagonist must suck at heroing to not have realized. Sometimes it’s a motive rant. It seldom fits with their prior characterization.

Then there’s Muerte.

Muerte is something special where eleventh hour antagonists are concerned, largely because she’s incredibly well set up. It’s the kind of things that, on a first read, are really easy to figure are setting her up as a red herring. She knows too much about Riko’s situation. The deal she’s offering is way, way too good.

But wait, here’s a guy from that crew Muerte is part of and that Riko used to be part of and he’s got people trying to kill her. She kept running with Riko after Riko called her a traitor and shot her. She’s saving the team’s lives and being one of maybe three people willing to work with our protagonist.

She’s a bright bit of fun among characters dealing with serious conflicts.

It’s easy to let the lead up fade into the background and just enjoy the ride while Muerte jokes around and is a useful team member for team protagonists. She has information she shouldn’t have but she’s supposed to be one of the best fixers in world so, if someone else has it anyway, why wouldn’t she? Those faceless corp goons seem unduly afraid of her, she shrugs it off and plays it cool.

K. C. Alexander uses all these suspicious moments to build to a reveal that feels legitimately like a betrayal from a character that’s genuinely easy to like, an antagonist that I walked away from Nanoshock wanting to see get her own series.

So, yeah, Muerte. She’s wicked. She’s awesome. And she’s a ton of fun.

Fall Into Books 10/6

FIB-under

So, I’m running a bit late posting this. It’s been something of a nothing day.

That said, underrated books, I have so many words about that given that I tend towards genre fiction. But, the prompt is just asking for one book that deserves more attention.

What book would I ever pick?

Necrotech cover

I make no secret of how much I enjoyed Necrotech and its follow up Nanoshock. I have so many words to throw at you all about these two books because they are absolutely my cup of tea. I would read as many more SINless novels as K. C. Alexander cares to write.

These books are a thrill ride of violence and aggression that hides how vulnerable Riko can feel while she’s cut off from the people she used to rely on. They pack world building and character work into the vast divide between the shiny corporate world of Malik Reed and the dregs where Riko and the other runners dwell. The grand mystery of just what happened to those months Riko’s missing and what she did in that time. It’s all stuff that I just want to dig into and find what’s next.

Necrotech and Nanoshock are the kind of books that I finish and have a bunch of ideas that I want to talk to people about. Theories that I want to throw at the wall and see if anything sticks. Like, I’m excited again just talking about them.

So, if you get the chance to read Necrotech, take it with both hands.

Fall Into Books 10/5

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This is a hard one. Like, I can’t use favorite author as a recovery question because it changes pretty regularly based on what I’m reading at the time. So, let’s try to hammer down a top five four. That should be reasonably doable. Right?

So, in no particular order:

Seanan McGuire: I’ve been talking about Seanan McGuire’s books a lot lately, haven’t I? Her writing is aces the feel to it, whether leaning on folklore in Sparrow Hill Road or painting a picture of truly terrible parents in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, is great. She has protagonists who wouldn’t usually even be characters and this amazing work with the setting that makes it almost a character itself. It makes me really want to go back and read her October Daye books.

Tess Gerritsen: I admit, Tess Gerritsen makes this list almost as much for nostalgia’s sake as because I don’t remember reading a bad book from her since she swapped to writing thrillers. Even her romance novels weren’t bad, just very much a reflection of their genre and the tropes associated with it. So, not bad, just not for me. I’ve been reading the Rizzoli and Isles books since high school when I found a copy of Body Double in the basement and, since neither Mom or I could remember where it came from, figured it was as likely mine as hers and read it. Then I went back and found the first one at the Book Rack, The Surgeon, the Rizzoli and Isles book that wasn’t. It’s been a long ways since then. I still need to read I Know a Secret.

K. C. Alexander: The SINless novels, Necrotech and Nanoshock, have been something that I really, really want more of since chapter one. I’ve been wanting to talk about the end of Nanoshock since I finished it. And the way she handles her characters is both a treat and frustrating in the best way. Being right along with Riko in not knowing if she deserves the distrust from her former team or not, but still having to deal with the consequences of it, is pretty tops. I am still bouncing to find out what comes next and I’m going to do everything I can to find out, which in this case means backing her Patreon and reminding you all about how awesome her books are.

Robert Brockway: Somehow I missed Kill All Angels being released last December. But, I’ve reviewed and really enjoyed both of the other Vicious Cycle novels as well as his work on Cracked awhile back. The way he juggles timelines leads to interesting situations where both sets of characters learn a thing, but then the way they learn it or their reactions to that knowledge are vastly different. Plus, his character work is just fun.

 

Fall Into Books 10/4

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I’m going to say the completely expected thing here.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone cover

The Harry Potter books were what I remember really getting me into reading as a kid. I know that I read a fair amount before that, mostly Nancy Drew kind of stuff. But then one Christmas one of my aunts gifted an elementary school me with these three tomes, saying that one of my older cousins really liked them. These things were each time again as thick as anything I’d read before minimum.

It was more than a little intimidating.

But then I started reading them and there was this new world to explore. There were monsters and magic and all number of things that I wanted more of. The characters were some of young me’s closest friends, and I could imagine myself at Hogwarts and along on their adventures. It was comfortable and fun and an away from the real world.

I got into more fantasy during the wait for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and then more sci-fi while waiting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It opened my reading to Anne McCaffery and Brian Jacques and Tamora Peirce.

It felt a little like someone had shown me a hallway full of doors to other worlds and tossed the keys to me. There was so much to read, so many worlds to visit and characters to meet. So many adventures waited, if only I could find the books they were in. It meant that awkward kid me could find places she belonged.

And the characters grew with me, sort of at least. As they grew, so did the threats they faced and the stakes. It stayed a pretty standard hero’s tale, but Harry was given room to be angry and to feel uninformed and like he was being used. Characters matured and made mistakes, even the adults.

I really do need to read this series again sometime soon.